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World Diamond Council

Oct 5, 2000 11:50 AM   By Martin Rapaport
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Martin Rapaport recently met with World Diamond Council Chairman Eli Izhakoff to discuss the goals of the newly formed council, which examines the issue of conflict diamonds.

Martin Rapaport: What is the World Diamond Council (WDC)?

Eli Izhakoff: The WDC is an organization that was established as a result of the resolution adopted this June by the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) and International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) in Antwerp at the World Diamond Congress. The main purpose for the establishment of this council was to do everything possible to eradicate conflict diamonds from the legitimate diamond trade.

MR: Do you really believe that there is a problem with conflict diamonds?

EI: Absolutely.

MR: Some people in the diamond industry think that it is not really a problem, that it’s a public relations thing. Why is the problem so strong? What is the danger to the industry?

EI: When you speak about what people have been saying, namely that conflict diamonds are only 4 percent of the entire production of diamonds, is 4 percent too many? Even with 1 percent, it’s a problem because if one person is maimed or killed it is one person too many. We as diamond dealers, and as members of the industry, are responsible people and always have been. All our organizations are based on moral character and ethical conduct.

Our industry has the type of membership and outlook that is clean. A situation like this must not and should not be tolerated. We can be here in New York, or in Antwerp or Israel and not directly feel it ourselves, but we know from our history that when people suffer and the world keeps quiet it is absolutely not right.

A lot of people do not know about the problem of conflict diamonds because they are far from the situation. But I am sure if they were more aware of the problem they would recognize the urgent need to do something about it.

MR: Is there a danger that nongovernmental organizations (NGO) such as Amnesty International can harm the diamond industry by demonstrations?

EI: Of course. This scenario can develop into a situation that will be uncontrollable. I believe that the NGOs have played a responsible role working together with the trade. We appreciate their input about what’s going on because we do not really have the means to get the information that they have. The information they brought us helped us understand what is going on and together we are working on a solution.

MR: What is the industry doing to solve the problem?

EI: After the formation of the WDC, we held the first meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel with all the organizations of the diamond and jewelry industry including banking, shipping, and government officials. We created an infrastructure and committees to deal with specific problems at hand. Right now they are meeting and they have begun to work.

One of the most important committees is the technical committee which is entrusted with coming up with a certification system, from the exporting countries to the importing countries, that will be foolproof. This has to be a very efficient system. We have to do something that is very strong, foolproof and viable.

The technical committee is headed by Bill Boyajian, president of the GIA. He is currently working on certain procedures that we will enact and propose to governments. We expect to have the findings of this committee within 30 days.

There is also a banking committee which is entrusted with creating a system of monitoring money being transferred for diamond payments, making sure that all money that is being transferred is for legal shipments and not for conflict diamonds.

We will also be asking the three major shipping companies to join this effort because every link in the diamond distribution chain is important.

The work of the WDC is to include everyone in this global effort to make the system work. We are very united in this. We did not have any problems at the meeting in Tel Aviv —there was no dissent. We have to explain to everyone in our industry and to our membership, exactly what we are doing and how it benefits all of us in the trade to take these actions to restrict the flow of conflict diamonds.

Information about what we are doing will help us deal with the situation. A WDC information and research committee headed by Michael Kowalski will impart information to the public, various industry groups and their members. It is vitally important that only the true and correct information goes out. We plan to have seminars and symposiums that will bring the message of what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve.

MR: Some people are concerned that the international system of rough controls will hurt the legitimate diamond business. Is that the case? Will all these efforts hurt the small diamond dealers and make it hard for them to earn a living?

EI: No. I don’t see it this way because we do not intend to hurt legitimate business. The purpose of establishing the WDC is to make sure that we can continue to do business without unnecessary restrictions and complications. If we were to leave everything in a vacuum and not take action, then there would be legislation by government, the UN and other bodies that would unintentionally do things that would harm our industry. By taking the initiative ourselves and coming up with our own programs to solve the problem, we will be able to protect the legitimate industry while doing everything possible to eradicate the 4 percent of diamonds that are conflict diamonds.

The people who are working on the technical committee are people from the industry and they will make sure that the flow of goods is going to be natural and normal — no one is trying to intervene in the way we do business. But we must create a system that is foolproof and does not allow conflict diamonds to go through. However, we have to make sure that the system does not interfere with the regular shipping of goods, so people are free to do business as they always have.

MR: What did you think of Tony Hall’s act?

EI: I think that some of the legislation he has been putting forward is undoable. I believe he means well, but we need to have more input from the industry. We are doing our best to develop a working relationship with Congressman Hall. Once we work with him I think we will be able to come up with legislation that will be favorable and acceptable to both Congress and to the industry.

MR: Hall called for reparations by the diamond industry for suffering in Africa. What’s your opinion of this?

EI: When you talk about helping people who are suffering in Africa, I think all of us should try to help. Our industry, throughout its history, has given help to many causes and if we need to do more for Africa we will do more. But to be held responsible, I think that is the wrong approach.

MR: What advice do you have for jewelers who might be confronted on the conflict diamond issue this Christmas season?

EI: They should learn and be familiar with the issues. I believe the Jewelers of America (JA) and other organizations are currently doing a lot of positive work educating jewelers on this matter. Educating the retailers is very important because they must be knowledgeable when talking with consumers about this very important issue.

Retailers are urged to check that their sources of supply are conflict free. Once they are sure of this they can issue a warranty to the consumer assuring that the diamonds are conflict free.

MR: What message do you have for the trade?

EI: I am delighted with the strong and positive response I receive from everyone I have approached about this subject. I am delighted that the leaders of our industry are so cooperative and so willing to join in and help our efforts to solve this issue. To me this is an indication that whatever we are doing is for a worthy cause.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "You have nothing to fear but fear itself." Members of the trade that are concerned about our efforts need not worry because what we are doing is for the good of the trade. Let us all work together on this issue, conquer it, and take it off of the diamond industry’s agenda.
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Tags: Conflict Diamonds, Consumers, GIA, Government, Israel, Jewelers of America, Jewelry, NGO, Production, Shipping Companies, World Diamond Council, World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB)
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