Leaders at Antwerp's diamond councilbasically the diamond chamber of commerce that's known by it's Flemish abbreviation HRDfear that the controversy over conflict diamonds might spark a consumer boycott of all diamonds. As a result, Belgium has decided to show the world that it recognizes the problem and is responding.
Mark Van Bockstael, Director of International Affairs of the HRD, is trying to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the market in Antwerp and around the world.
Van Bockstael says Belgium has changed its practices and stepped up enforcement since the UN report came out. Diamonds from Sierra Leone and Angola now must have certificates showing they don't come from a war zone. Belgium also publishes data showing where its diamonds come fromsomething other trading centers in the secretive diamond trade don't do. But Van Bockstael says Belgium can only do so much. So it's backing something called the Kimberley process, an international effort by diamond mining and trading countries to block traffic in conflict diamonds:
"Can we stop conflict diamonds today? The answer is a clear no. We cannot." says Van Bockstael. "The reason that we are working with the Kimberley process is to have the legislation in place to do so."
Their aim is to create an international certification systema paper trail for all the stones. It's been a slow and complicated process to get more than thirty countries to agree on a plan.
Charmian Gooch is co-director of Global Witness, a humanitarian watchdog group in London. She says the diamond industryin Antwerp and elsewherehas been stalling on conflict diamonds:
"The reason that everybody is at Kimberley trying to deal with this problem is because the diamond industry refused to do this. …The point here is that the industry has played a game of saying it welcomes government regulation and is waiting for governments to tell it what to do. Well, that's patently ridiculous," continues Gooch. "The industry should be really moving forward, embracing independent audit to prove to consumers that it is no longer involved in funding conflict."
While the diamonds may allow warring factions to purchase arms, food and supplies, Van Bockstael argues that blaming diamonds for the civil wars in Africa is too simplistic. He notes, "I hope people understand what we are trying to stop with the Kimberley process; this is not necessarily a guarantee that conflicts will be stopped. Diamonds have been unduly identified as the sole part of conflict."
Diamond traders say much the same thing. It's not diamonds that have hacked off children's limbs in Africa. Diamonds, they say, have only brought joy to people.
Antwerp's diamond industry is on the defensive. It can't compete against the cheap labor in Asia's cutting centers…. The luxury goods market is depressed… Americans aren't buying diamonds like they used to. The Japanese market has shriveled. And the issue of blood diamonds threatens to explode again if the international certification system fails.
Next: PART IV The Democratic Diamond