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Rapaport Int'l Diamond Conference Highlights

Feb 6, 2007 3:15 PM   By Leah Granof
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RAPAPORT... Blood Diamond movie producer Ed Zwick, along with a delegation of top diamond industry representatives, non-governmental organizations (NGOs,)  development experts, and government representatives including members of the United States’ State Department, the World Bank and the United Nations gathered in New York February 5, 2007 to discuss the economic and human rights conditions of artisanal diamond diggers in West Africa.

The meeting was part of the Rapaport fair trade diamond and jewelry initiative --held in conjunction with the JCK Invitational jewelry show-- and was the first of its kind to bring together delegates from the major industry and nonprofit sectors to address issues pertaining to improving  lives of African diggers beyond the goals laid out in the Kimberly Process.



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Producer Ed Zwick addresses delegates at the Rapaport International Diamond Conference in New York.


“When it comes to human rights, the Kimberly Process is limited in that it only protects the human rights of not losing a life or limb in a civil war,” explained Karel Kovanda, the current chairman of the Kimberly Process and Deputy Director General for the European Commission.

Zwick, whose movie Blood Diamond recounted the civil war in Sierra Leone during the 1990s, said his role at the conference was to “provoke and inspire” industry representatives. In his address to the conference, Zwick called upon members of the diamond industry to provide restitution to diggers for the abuses they suffered during Sierra Leone’s civil war and encouraged the industry to refrain from adopting a defensive stance in regards to their role in the mining process.

“Diamonds should be associated with good, not just love,” Zwick told the crowd of more than 260 attendees.

During lively debate, conference participants heard from industry leaders including World Diamond Federation president, Ernest Blom and World Diamond Council chairman and CEO, Eli Izhakoff, as well as prominent NGO advocates including Global Witnesses’ lead campaigner on the blood diamond campaign, Alex Yearsley.

Delegates discussed the reasons for digger exploitation and brainstormed general ideas facing the industry and how to confront these issues going forward.

To emphasis the problem associated with a 'lack of oversight,' Yearsley previewed a movie clip from an upcoming documentary for attendees, which showed the ease in which a 47th Street merchant laid-out $10,000 cash to buy a diamond with no questions asked.  Yearsley was asked by the delegation to disclose the buyer's identity, but he stated the merchant's name was unknown. 

In response to NGO accusations that the diamond industry hasn’t done enough to protect African diggers, many in the industry pointed to their rapid response to the problem of conflict diamonds and their full cooperation and leadership in the Kimberly Process. In addition, members noted the extreme complexities of the issues and the participation of numerous parties beyond the industry itself.

“While we are only one element of the equation, we can indeed make a difference,” said Izhakoff. “To truly succeed, we will need the help of governments, the international community and civil society.

Blom and others in attendance, as well as members of a protest group (African People's Solidarity Committee)  criticized conference organizers for not having representatives of African countries present to participate in the discussion involving diggers.

Protesters claimed the conference focused upon how the diamond industry could maintain control of Africa’s resources and land while “appearing to be concerned about improving the conditions of the diamond workers.”

Rapaport Group chairman Martin Rapaport stated that such representation would be included in future meetings, which he intends to organize later in 2007. 

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Tags: Conflict Diamonds, Fair Trade, Government, JCK, Jewelry, NGO, United States, World Diamond Council
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