WORKSHOP: CASE STUDY - ActionAid tackles conflict diamonds

Annie Kelly

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Background: So-called "conflict" diamonds are the uncut diamonds that are smuggled abroad and sold by warring rebel armies to fuel war and human rights abuses in Africa. It is estimated that over the past decade, rebel soldiers have sold diamonds worth $300-400 million a year to fund conflict in Africa.

In order to tackle this crisis, the diamond industry, governments and NGOs, including ActionAid, started a two-year series of UN-brokered negotiations in 2000 called the Kimberley Process.

The aim of the negotiations was to introduce the registration and warranty of rough diamonds to install some official regulation into the industry.

This would mean that any diamond could be traced back to its origins, which would help identify conflict diamonds.

During the last few months of 2002, ActionAid's delegate to the Kimberley Process became increasingly concerned that the diamond trade was unprepared for the official implementation scheduled for January 2003. The industry had devised no written regulations, despite agreeing to do so.

Aims: ActionAid wanted to run a campaign that would shame industry negotiators into producing a written code of conduct on conflict diamonds. It also wanted to increase awareness among the UK's high-street jewellers that conflict diamonds were a real problem that could affect their sales. The charity would also try to raise the public profile of the issue.

How it worked: The charity conducted research into the UK retail market's awareness of the Kimberley Process. It then commissioned a report on the UK precious metal and diamond jewellery market. It found that no jeweller on the high street was aware of the Kimberley Process.

A publicity stunt was organised to launch the campaign. A Marilyn Monroe look-a-like wearing a "diamonds are a girl's best friend" evening dress joined ActionAid campaigners for a press call outside the opening of the World Diamond Congress in London on 28 October. The protesters aimed to draw attention to the abductions, mutilations and deaths that follow the trade in conflict diamonds, lobby delegates as they entered the Congress and act as a focus for media attention.

Results: ActionAid claims that before the start of the World Diamond Congress, conflict diamonds were being dismissed by the industry as an issue that had been resolved through the initial Kimberly Process negotiations. Following the demonstration, the Congress named conflict diamonds as being one of the main issues on the official agenda. By the end of December, the industry had produced a written system of self-certification.

Additionally, while the main aim of the media push was to reach the industry, analysis undertaken for ActionAid shows that awareness of conflict diamonds has risen in the UK general public from 9 per cent in 2001 to 25 per cent at the beginning of 2003.

"This policy change is only the first hurdle," said Jane Moyo, campaigns officer at ActionAid. "We will now be pushing the diamond trade to submit to independent monitoring and to the publication of statistics of who buys what diamonds from whom and when. The point is to change industry practice as well as policy."

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