New Campaign Hits ‘Conflict Diamonds’

Nongovernmental organizations plan a “consumer awareness” campaign on conflict diamonds, increasing the chance that jewelers will face protests over the issue.

The campaign likely will include actions at local malls as well as demonstrations like the one that recently took place at a Washington D.C.-area Tiffany’s. (See related story on page 29.)

“The threat posed by these groups has actually been heightened,” says Matthew A. Runci, chairman of Jewelers of America and a member of the World Diamond Council, which is trying to solve the “conflict diamond” issue. “There will be more demonstrations. All the preparation that jewelers have done over the last year and a half is going to be needed.”

Mona Cadena, an organizer with Amnesty International USA, said in mid-December that the group would ask activists throughout the country to go armed with leaflets to local malls during the Christmas shopping season. The leaflets asked consumers to speak to their jewelers about “conflict diamonds.” Jewelers were to be asked to contact Jewelers of America and express their support for the certification scheme, and to contact their congressional representative to urge passage of the Conflict Diamond Elimination Act.

Holly Burkhalter, advocacy director for Physicians for Human Rights, another group involved in the issue, hasn’t decided what form its consumer campaign will take but says it probably will involve postcards to the heads of major retailers. The group began distributing the cards at the Tiffany rally and is also considering a campaign to urge consumers to buy diamonds only from Botswana and South Africa. “If we do that, the industry better find a way to [tell them apart,]” she says.

A representative of World Vision, another group involved in the effort, did not return a phone call from JCK.

At issue is the Conflict Diamond Elimination Act, legislation sponsored by Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio). The act gives countries one year to enact rough diamond controls, after which they will not be allowed to export diamonds to the United States. The president can issue waivers if the countries are seen to be making a “good faith effort” to enact a certification system.

Industry officials say they can’t support the act-which Hall is trying to attach to appropriations bills-because they don’t feel it’s a comprehensive solution.

“We are being asked to sign off on something that really isn’t going to get anything done,” Runci says. “And once legislation is passed, it’s not easy to fix.” He notes that the industry is also uneasy about the idea of a one-year deadline, despite the waivers. “It’s a ticking clock, a gun to the head, a notion that come hell or high water, sanctions will be imposed,” says Runci. He adds that the World Diamond Council’s law firm says the act may not be fully enforceable. “You have all the questions and risks associated with something that people are trying to push through,” he says.

At an often-tense December breakfast meeting with representatives from the NGOs and Hall’s office, Runci and JVC head Cecilia Gardner were asked not only to support the Conflict Diamond Act but also to lobby for it. They declined, even though they knew it meant risking future demonstrations and consumer events. “Our assessment was that we shouldn’t respond to the gun to our head by caving in and agreeing to a solution that isn’t going to solve the problem,” Runci says. He’s asked the groups to think carefully about what they are doing. “The NGOs are not using the word ‘boycott,’ but they could [be] engendering something tantamount to a boycott,” he says. “What they are doing might hurt not only local jewelers but the countries that depend on diamonds in Southern Africa.”

But Hall spokeswoman Deborah DeYoung says the industry’s failure to support the act leaves activists with no choice but to protest.

“The industry is saying they want the bill to be perfect,” says DeYoung. “We don’t want to keep playing rope-a-dope with the industry. We want to get this into effect and not talk about it endlessly. We thought of this as something noncontroversial that would have the support of the industry, the [Clinton] administration, and human rights groups. And if we are not going to work together on legislation, our only other avenue is the street.”

Burkhalter says that action on the industry’s proposed certification scheme bogged down once the industry tried to convince governments to sign on. She says the threat of an American import ban could goose things forward. “Otherwise, an international scheme could take years,” she says. “A year is more than enough time to get this done.”

DeYoung suspects the industry is trying to block the bill, which is currently stuck in committee. Runci emphatically denies the World Diamond Council is behind any such effort. “Their legislation’s stalled, and they are looking for a scapegoat, and the industry’s an obvious choice,” he says.

Runci says the World Diamond Council does want legislation and will introduce its own bill drafted by law firm Akin Gump. “It will have many of the provisions regarding rough diamond controls but will be better drafted and more easily enforced and implemented,” he says. He notes the industry is lining up sponsors for the new bill-and hopes Hall and the NGOs eventually will come aboard.

Meanwhile, at press time, the Gregg rider-an anti-conflict diamond provision sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that could stop all diamond imports into the United States-was still “alive” but considered less likely to pass.

In a related development, the United Nations recently passed a resolution urging development of a worldwide certification system that would stop the sale of conflict diamonds. This measure was welcomed by the industry and was taken as a sign that the world is uniting behind the rough certification system. In a statement, World Diamond Council chairman Eli Izhakoff said the move “heartens us tremendously.”