Thursday, March 29, 2007

Annual Rapaport Conference

Event Title: The Annual Rapaport Conference
Sponsor: The Rapaport Diamond Corporation
Location: The Grand Hilton New York
Date: February 5th, 2007
Time: 7:30 am-4:30 pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 250
Intern Attending: Evan Davies

Featured Speakers: Mr. Martin Rapaport Chairman and Organizer of Event; Eli Izhakoff; Ms. Barbara Fiorito from The Fair Trade Labeling Organization; Mr. Ed Zwick, producer of “Blood Diamond”

The Annual Rapaport Conference is held every year as a summit in the diamond business. Both heads of the diamond industry and NGOs convene at a round table discussion. This year’s conference was different from years past in that it was a debate over the responsibility of the diamond business to countries in which they mine diamonds.

The event started with the chairman and organizer of the event, Martin Rapaport, speaking on the problems of Africa. After discussing the “Dark Continent’s” damaging post-colonial time period, Mr. Rapaport addressed the failure of foreign aid as a result of corrupt governments’ misuse of funds. The question addressing the day’s invitees was if diamond companies should attempt to alleviate Africa’s woes.

NGOs at the table questioned whether diamond workers receive fair wages for work in the terrible conditions where diamonds are mined. The morning centered on this topic. Some NGOs promoted boycotting the diamond industry. But representatives of the diamond business answered that doing so would not solve the issue at hand. The answer to the issue should ensure that diamond workers receive fair wages.

Next, the Kimberly Process (KP) was highlighted as a proud achievement of the diamond industry. The Kimberly Process is a certification method that all diamonds are required to go through in able to certify that they are from conflict-free areas. Though this is a step in the right direction, it is clear that the KP is not enough; it is limited to protecting only the trade of rough diamonds. There still needs to be stricter regulation of the movement of diamonds from where they derive to where they are exported.

Ms. Barbara Fiorito, from the Fair Trade Labeling Organization, spoke next on the possibility of making diamonds a fair trade product. If made fair trade, a lengthy monitoring process of working conditions and environmental impact would ensue. The diamond industry viewed these possible outcomes with concern not because they do not support these ideas, but fear that some diamonds would be privileged over others. If demand for fair trade diamonds increased, and not all diamond producers can achieve this status, job losses will incur as low-demand diamonds cause companies to pull out of countries.

The last speaker was Mr. Ed Zwick, producer of the five-time Academy Award nominated movie, “Blood Diamond.” He too expressed his concerns about the diamond business. Zwick remarked that the diamond business has a great marketing ploy by convincing people that diamonds are rare when they are in fact not, and that diamonds are a sign of love; a superficial idea. Diamonds are mined by underprivileged and under-paid Africans working in destitute environments. Mr. Zwick was harshly accused by jewlers in the audience of hurting their businesses. And releasing his film just before the biggest season for jewelers was very untimely. As Zwick parted, he claimed that the decisions lie in the hands of the public. Citizens will understand that the diamond is a merely commodity that causes dire work conditions. The diamond business has a choice to either treat people justly or unfairly.

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