Global Policy Forum

Steps to Curb "Dirty Gems"

Africa Energy & Mining
May 31, 2000

A forum to discuss regulating the world diamond market was staged at the initiative of the South African government in Kimberley on May 11-12. Among those attending the "Technical Forum on Conflict Diamonds" included notable diamond industry figures such as Martin Rapaport of Rapaport Corporation, Andrew Coxon of De Beers, Maurice Templesman from Lazare Kaplan, Noe Baltazar from Ascorp and Sean Cohen of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA). Also on hand were NGOs (Charmain Gooch of Global Witness and Ralph Hazelton of Partnership Africa Canada) as well as government officials and aides from international organizations.

The forum came up with several proposals which will be communicated to the Organization of African Unity before its summit gathering in July. The proposals in question ranged from the most radical to the least imaginative and reflected strong differences between the industry, governments and NGOs. But they nonetheless marked the first stage of a drive to impose rules and regulations on the diamond trade.

The most radical - and detailed -- proposal called for the establishment of a transnational control system that would be overseen by an International Diamond Ethical Standard Committee with a representative in each of the producer countries. The representatives would publish statistics on the production, import and export of gems in each nation and control the issuing of certificates of origin. Each country would also adopt a Diamond Code that would provide for sanctions against anyone engaged in trading gems from a country at war.

The meeting came just as Global Witness, the NGO that launched the Fatal Transaction Campaign, was poised to publish a report on the technology involved in certifying diamonds. The diamond industry has long claimed such certification "unworkable." In a report that De Beers presented during a hearing before the House's Subcommittee on African Affairs on May 9 (AEM 275), the South African giant wrote "the physical identification of diamonds ignores the complexity of the diamond industry."

In its forthcoming report, Global Witness says quite the opposite, claiming "it is clearly possible to identify diamonds" and that two techniques in particular -examining the surface of gems and establishing a profile of a country's output -"are clearly of use."

But other methods such as scanning diamonds, establishing electronic "passports" for gems (already proposed by the Russian company Octonus), spectrometry and micro-tomography were deemed too experimental at this stage. With regard certification, Global Witness described the methods already used by industry. These included a data base on diamond "fingerprints" in Canada's North West Territories by the company Gemprint; branding by laser (3Beam Technologies) or gallium ions (Norsam Technologies) and code-bars (3Beam Technologies).

The NGO concluded that "a system using improved regimes in exporting countries and relatively low technology identification techniques could be used as a basis for reform by both government and trade."

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