New ‘Conflict Diamond’ Campaign Urged

Human rights groups vowed to turn up the volume on their conflict diamond “consumer awareness” campaign—kicking it off with a Valentine’s Day press conference that included amputees from Sierra Leone.

The campaign will likely include further demonstrations outside jewelers, public relations efforts, and a postcard campaign to prominent retailers, particularly Zale, Tiffany, and Wal-Mart. The day before Valentine’s Day, Amnesty International sponsored a third “conflict diamond” demonstration outside a Chicago-area Tiffany’s. And Christian humanitarian organization World Vision placed conflict diamond-related classified ads in The New York Times on Valentine’s Day.

A press release prior to the press conference stoked industry fears by mentioning the “unveiling of an ad campaign” on conflict diamonds. However, no such campaign was mentioned at the World Vision-sponsored press conference, which was cut short because of a pending vote on the House floor. Amnesty International’s Web site (www.amnestyusa.org) does have a short animated video on “conflict diamonds” that parodies De Beers’ “Shadows” campaign, complete with the original “Shadows” music. (The video can be viewed at www.amnestyusa.org/diamonds/d4.html.)

The press event featured three of the major congressional players on “conflict diamonds”—Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio); Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), whom Hall has described as his “best friend”; and Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) They plan to sponsor a bill, authored by Hall, known as the “Clean Diamonds Act.”

“I am here to add my support to the consumer education campaign on conflict diamonds organized by the human rights organizations here today,” said Wolf, who also urged the Bush administration to make “conflict diamonds” a top priority.

The human rights groups also rejected the World Diamond Council’s proposed “conflict diamond” legislation as full of “loopholes.”

Like Hall’s proposed legislation, the WDC bill would allow diamond imports only from countries complying with the rough diamond certification system. However, the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) say they have two main problems with the draft legislation. First, it does not make provisions for diamond jewelry imports. Secondly, there is a disagreement over the definition of “cooperating country.” The industry bill defines it as a country “that is negotiating in good faith to establish a rough system, acting in good faith to develop a unilateral certification system … or taking action to ensure it does not facilitate trade in conflict diamonds.” The Hall bill limits imports to countries that have actually implemented the controls—or are in agreement to provide the controls. “The industry standard is so weak it will neither screen out countries that are dealing in conflict gems, nor will it serve as much of a goad [to non-cooperating countries]” says Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights.

Matthew Runci, chairman of Jewelers of America and head of the WDC legislative committee, says the WDC will likely agree to many of the NGOs’ suggestions for changes in the proposed legislation—which he stresses is just a draft, not an actual bill. “There are some things that could be tightened up,” Runci says. “I don’t believe our differences are anywhere near as vast as [the NGOs’] street theater would have you believe. They are taking aim at an industry that isn’t fighting with them.” He complains that the NGOs said they would provide the industry with their objections to the proposed bill in writing but never delivered, opting to have a press conference instead. “It speaks volumes about their intentions that they chose to go public with the press conference rather than speak privately as they said that they would,” Runci says. “It’s an indication of the industry’s difficulty in working with the NGO community and Congressman Hall.”

The new consumer campaign also was criticized by the government of Namibia, which recently hosted a meeting meant to work out the technical issues in the certification system. “The tactics [these groups] are employing are counterproductive and potentially damaging to the African countries that depend on legitimate diamond exports,” the Ministry of Mines and Energy wrote in a press release. “The material being circulated threatens to undermine confidence in diamonds generally rather than focusing on the specific problem before us.”

For all the bad feelings, the NGOs say they do eventually hope to work together on legislation. “We are interested in maintaining dialogue,” says Rory Anderson of World Vision. “Both sides are working towards the same goal.”

So far, no conflict diamond legislation has passed Congress. Last year, Congressman Hall attached his “Conflict Diamond Elimination Act” as a rider to an appropriations bill. It eventually was struck from the bill, reportedly at the behest of the Clinton administration. A conflict-diamond-related rider from Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), which could have blocked all diamond imports into the United States, also was removed.