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"Unintended consequences' was a phrase heard frequently at the Rapaport Diamond Conference this year. In the context of the conference, it was intended to warn well-meaning people that taking action to solve a problem may wind up causing even worse problems for the people they are trying to help. The biggest unintended consequence of the actions of the NGOs to highlight the terrible conditions in the diamond fields of Sierra Leone, for example, would be a boycott of diamonds. That would simply serve to remove the only wage-earning activity open to the people it was meant to help.
Unlike Rapaport Conferences in the past that have tackled such sensitive, but decidedly business-oriented subjects, such as synthetic diamonds, treated diamonds and Supplier of Choice, this one had a loftier purpose. The aim was to talk about the situation as it now stands in Africa's alluvial diamond mining fields, particularly in Sierra Leone, and to consider ways to help the diggers without undermining the entire diamond business. The Conference took place at the Hilton Hotel in New York, in conjunction with the JCK Invitational show.
Martin Rapaport, Chairman of the Rapaport Group, opened the conference with a prayer, citing the practice as one he experienced in Sierra Leone. He began by stating, "Our mission is to transcend the normal business conference this year. There is no value for a diamond other than sentimental." Looking at the array of speakers seated at the large conference table, he said: "Everyone in government, industry and NGOs are represented. Who is representing the diggers? How can we make the lives of those people better? This is the first step. It is a process. I believe that government, NGOs and industry are the solution to the greatest problems in the world. There are one million diggers and 4-5 people [dependents] who eat at their table."
Martin Rapaport himself discovered how unintended consequence can flow from well meaning actions. Fair trade diamonds, his …