by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Diamond sellers in the United States and Britain are not doing enough to ensure that proceeds from the gems they sell are not financing wars and that buyers understand what "conflict diamonds," are, says a new report.
Nearly two years after the global diamond industry committed itself to prevent the trade in diamonds from areas where they have fuelled civil war and violence, most of the retailers contacted by activists were unable to provide a clear account of the origins of their jewels, according to the survey released by Amnesty International (AI) and Global Witness on Monday.
Fewer than 20 percent of stores that responded in writing to the groups' queries provided a meaningful account of their diamonds' origins and less than one-half of retailers visited in 579 stores were able to assure consumers that the diamonds they sold were conflict-free, adds the report, 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 that 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, TJ Maxx and Kmart in the United States.
"The continued lack of systematic monitoring throughout the diamond industry suggests that it is not taking the issue seriously enough," said Alessandra Masco of AI.
"The trade in conflict diamonds has been at the heart of some of Africa's most protracted and bloody wars," she added in a statement, 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's outcome 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 -- in March.
Out of 30 retailers visited by the group's undercover investigators then, salespeople in only four stores appeared well informed about their firms' 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 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Global Witness, AI and Physicians for Human Rights, the industry committed to the so-called "Kimberley Process," a voluntary, self-policing system designed to ensure that "conflict diamonds" are kept out of the global trade.
Under Kimberley, all legitimately mined diamonds, those that 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 -- that would ensure the gems 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 jewellery 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 AI and other activist groups, has suggested that government regulation might 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 their 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 Jewellery Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC), found consumer awareness about conflict diamonds, sometimes called "blood diamonds," may be flagging.
Of 3,342 consumers (more than four out of five of them women) who responded to its survey, only 15 percent said they had heard 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 had purchased diamond jewellery in the previous six months. Nearly 93 percent of those buyers said the jeweller did not discuss conflict diamonds, and 72 percent said the diamonds they bought did not come with any documentation or certification indicating the gems 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.
October 20, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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