WASHINGTON -- Nearly two years after the global diamond industry committed itself to prevent the trade in diamonds from areas where it has fueled civil war and violence, retailers in the United States and Britain are failing to live up to their pledges, according to survey released by Amnesty International and Global Witness Monday.
The survey of leading diamond companies and stores in the two countries found that fewer than 20 percent of those that responded in writing to the groups’ queries provided a meaningful account of their “conflict diamonds.”
Less than half of diamond jewelry retailers that were visited in 579 stores by the groups’ activists were able to give consumers assurances that the diamonds they sold were conflict-free, according to the survey, which was released on the eve of a meeting this week by the World Diamond Congress (WDC) in New York City.
Both groups expressed disappointment with the results, noting that 56 percent of the companies who were sent letters requesting information about their conflict-diamond policies failed even to respond.
Among them were major diamond retailers, such as Asprey, Theo Fennell and Debenhams in Britain, and Costco, T.J. Maxx and Kmart in the U.S.
“The continued lack of systematic monitoring throughout the diamond industry suggests that it is not taking the issue seriously enough,” said Alessandra Masco of Amnesty International.
“The trade in conflict diamonds has been at the heart of some of Africa’s
most protracted and bloody wars,” she added, citing Angola, the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Last year, the Washington Post reported that Al Qaeda has used conflict diamonds, particularly from Liberia and Sierra Leone, to launder money in support of its terrorist operations.
The survey was similar to results released by Global Witness, which first drew attention to the way diamonds were fuelling brutal wars in various parts of Africa in 2000, last March. Out of 30 retailers visited by the group’s undercover investigators early this year, the salespeople in only four appeared well informed about their companies’ policy and system of warranties to ensure that they did not sell conflict diamonds.
After a major publicity campaign, which included suggestions of a possible consumer boycott -- carried out by a number of NGOs, including Global Witness, Amnesty, Physicians for Human Rights, and several others, the industry committed approved the so-called “Kimberley Process,” a voluntary, self-policing system designed to ensure that “conflict diamonds” were kept out of the global trade.
Under Kimberley, all legitimately mined diamonds that is, those which were not used to buy weapons or sustain insurgencies -- are to be certified at the point of origin and then subject to a system of warranties from mine site through buyers, middlemen, polishers, and wholesalers all the way to the retail display -- would ensure to the eventual consumer that they were indeed legitimate.
At the same time, the industry committed itself to informing its staff and salespeople about both conflict diamonds and the regulations designed to keep them out of the trade.
“Diamond jewelry retailers are the industry’s public face and they have a special responsibility to tackle conflict diamonds by complying with the self-regulation and by actively promoting compliance by their suppliers,” said Corinna Gilfillan of Global Witness which, along with Amnesty and other activist groups, has suggested that government regulation may be required if the industry cannot police itself adequately.
The latest survey found that 32 out of the 37 companies that responded to the questionnaire said they were implementing the warranty system and have a policy to prevent dealing in conflict diamonds, but, of those, only two provided specific details.
Moreover, despite the industry’s commitment to educate employees about the regulations, staff in only 42 percent of the stores were aware of the company’s policy, although that appeared to be an improvement over the results published earlier this year.
Similar surveys are being carried out with retailers and suppliers in
Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
Another survey, released earlier this month by the industry-linked, U.S.-based Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC), found that consumer awareness about conflict diamonds, sometimes called “blood diamonds,” may be flagging.
Out of 3,342 consumers (more than four of five of whom were women) who responded to its survey, only 15 percent said they had heard of the expression, “conflict diamond” -- a sharp drop from the 26 percent of consumers who responded to a similar survey in July, 2003.
The survey, which was conducted via the internet, found that 17 percent of respondents actually purchased diamonds or diamond jewelry in the previous six months. Nearly 93 percent of those had purchased jewelry said the jeweler did not discuss conflict diamonds, and 72 percent said the diamonds they bought did not come with any documentation or certification indicated that the diamonds were conflict-free.
But nine percent of all respondents said they considered the country of origin in their purchasing decisions, up from below one percent in 2000 and 2001.
Moreover, more than 90 percent of respondents said they would not buy a diamond if they knew it came from a country where social injustice or violence was occurring as a result of its production. That figure was up from around 75 percent in 2000 and 2001.
At the same time, almost 97 percent said they were unfamiliar with the Kimberley Process.
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