Rapaport Magazine

IDC Human Rights Panel Discussion

Rapaport International Diamond Conference 2009

By Panel Discussion
RAPAPORT... The final session of the Rapaport International Diamond Conference (IDC) wrapped up with a panel discussion on human rights and the diamond industry. Six speakers who have expertise in human rights and the diamond trade weighed in: Martin Rapaport of the Rapaport Group; Georgette Gagnon of Human Rights Watch (HRW); Brad Brooks-Rubin of the U.S. State Department; Robert Headley of Jewelers of America (JA); Ian Smillie, a former leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) participant in the Kimberley Process (KP) now at Diamond Development Initiative International (DDII) and Cecilia Gardner of the U.S. Kimberley Process Authority Institute, the World Diamond Council (WDC) and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC).

Martin Rapaport: What I’d like to do is take this discussion to the next level. Everybody agrees the KP is very important. It would be great if the KP could do more about human rights and we can ask them to do that. But we’re dealing with governments and the KP is an organization that works by consensus, which means that one government can make things not happen.

Realistically speaking, the diamond industry is more powerful than governments because we wave the dollar. We say, “If you want me to buy your diamonds, you’re going to have to meet certain conditions.”

Perhaps we need to think about something above and beyond, somewhat similar to the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). Should we, as an industry, transcend the KP and make an organization that certifies the source of diamonds?

Ian Smillie: First of all, nobody said that the KP should do everything itself. The KP has asked countries if they want to join. The KP’s job is to see if they are meeting minimum standards.

In countries like Angola, after five years of recommending what they have to do to remain compliant, they are still not doing it. But there’s no need to create a new organization. Why don’t we use the organization we’ve got?

Rapaport: Cecilia, is the KP effectively stopping human right abuses across the world today?

Cecilia Gardner: The UN isn’t even stopping human rights abuses.

Rapaport: Fine. But is the KP effectively dealing with human rights abuses? Because I don’t want the diamond industry saying, “Don’t worry everybody! Buy your diamond, because the KP is taking care of it,” if the KP is not taking care of it. That is false advertising.

Gardner: Nor is it curing cancer. It’s not its job.

Rapaport: So we can agree on that. Now, can we talk about human rights abuses without mentioning the KP, so we can get to the real issue, which is an effective alternative way to deal with the issue?

Gardner: There are certain institutions that are well funded, which have resources, which have authority and armies. Their job is to address violations of human rights. Are you saying that these organizations are not doing their job?

Rapaport: Yes.

Gardner: If they can’t do it, who can? Is it your position that the diamond industry can address this problem?

Rapaport: Yes. The fundamental premise of the diamond industry being part of the KP is that people who spend money have a responsibility because they are causing a series of events. We’re going to think about establishing an organization that certifies sources based on standards. I’m trying to see if other people would share this view.

Georgette Gagnon: If the diamond industry did bring in such a mechanism, it doesn’t let governments off the hook. Our major recommendations are to the Zimabawean government and its supporters and backers. But if it worked, of course that would be wonderful. I don’t think you should throw the KP out.

Gardner: What we have been talking about here today are the problem countries. We have reduced conflict diamonds to a negligible level. So it is not a useless effort. The government of Zimbabwe has to react. They see that they are about to be suspended eventually. That is pretty obvious to everyone.

Smillie: Martin, here’s $100 that’s going to be a donation to HRW if Zimbabwe is ever suspended or in any way punished for anything it has ever done.

Rapaport: It’s not going to happen. I agree with you. I will add another $100 with Ian.

Brad Brooks-Rubin:
Cecilia and Ian are both right. Ultimately, it comes down to the industry. You can create another body, but ultimately all the mechanisms already exist.

Robert Headley: It seems that on this topic, we’re in furious agreement with one another. The RJC is going beyond the KP, because it isn’t just about diamonds, it’s also about gold mining and all of the facets of manufacturing, retailing and anything else in between. And auditing is going to be a very important part of that.

“Conflict diamonds” have been defined by the KP as diamonds that are used by rebel armies to fight against legitimate governments. We’re spending $2.5 billion in UN peacekeeping operations in countries that have had diamond wars. It’s costing us that much just to keep the lid on these places. If we can’t make sure the KP is solid in terms of its ability to prevent recurrence, then we have a problem.

As a human rights organization, to us, it is rather ludicrous that somehow people see a difference between the definition of “conflict” and human rights abuses. Whether it is shooting people in the back or forced labor, this distinction, to us, is really very artificial.

Rapaport: I think that it might not be wise for us to walk around saying to everybody, “This diamond has a KP certificate, so that means that everything about it meets all the standards that any consumer would ever expect of a diamond.” I don’t think that’s sufficient.

We should see what the RJC is doing. If you really want to create a higher standard, then define it and deal with it. Really, it is about how much we want the diamond industry to be a great industry and our products to be of the highest quality on a spiritual and moral level.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2009. To subscribe click here.

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