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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The release of the Warner Brothers movie Blood Diamond is rocking the global diamond industry to the tune of a $15 million public relations campaign being launched by DeBeers and the World Diamond Council to counter the negative impact the industry fears it might have on consumers.
At issue is the movie's documentation of the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. During the hostilities, the exploitation of alluvial diamond mines by rebel groups helped to fuel devastating atrocities, including the creation of thousands of amputees. The utilization of diamonds as a source of funding in the war gave rise to the term "blood" or "conflict" diamond.
No one in the diamond industry questions the veracity or the horror of what took place in Sierra Leone. Rather, the industry claims that in response to the growing blood diamonds crisis, it implemented measures to combat conflict diamonds, most notably the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, which was launched in 2003.
"The concern for the industry is what image is left in the viewers' mind, and do they understand that was then and this is now," asks Michael Rae, CEO for the Council for Responsible Jewelry Practices, who noted that Sierra Leone is at peace today.
The Kimberly Process is a self-regulatory system in which its 71 member countries police themselves and refuse to allow the import of rough diamonds without proper certification that can attest to their origin, thus ensuring they did not originate from a conflict-embattled region.
Shmuel Mordechai, diamond controller for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, claims that Israel's Diamond Exchange strictly adheres to the process, citing three recent cases in which diamonds arrived at the bourse without proper Kimberly Process certification.
"If the certification doesn't arrive, we hand the diamonds back over to customs," he says.
While the diamond industry puts the number of conflict diamonds in the retail market today at less than 1 percent, leading watchdog groups such as Global Witness and Amnesty International argue that the Kimberly Process is filled with loopholes, lax government controls and poor oversight. They point to the recent discovery of $23 million worth of illicit diamonds being smuggled out of the conflict-ridden Ivory Coast through Ghana as evidence.
The general industry response is that it is working on kinks in the system and that the NGOs are riding the wave of the movie's popularity to advance their own causes.
Nevertheless, Martin Rapaport, chairman of the Rapaport Group, whose price list sets the industry standard, notes that the Kimberly Process does not deal with the internal issues within countries that are becoming a challenge to the image of the diamond today.
"It doesn't relate to wages, corruption, child labor, environmental damages and a host of other issues that are highly problematic in mining today," he explains.
Rapaport is attempting to initiate a fair trade association that will provide fair wages to diggers and ensure that harmful conditions - both to humans and the environment - are eradicated. Consumers will pay more for these "fair-trade" diamonds, but they will have the peace of mind of knowing that they were acquired under conditions that don't contradict the diamond's image of love and beauty.