Over the past few decades, people have been discussing the ethics around sourcing diamonds. When the movie Blood Diamond was released in 2006, it highlighted a concern that not many consumers in first world countries considered or even knew about. The movie traced the path of a large pink diamond found in Sierra Leone by a slave in a rebel-controlled diamond mine. Although the movie and that pink diamond are fictional, the story is based on facts and ignited the discord around unethically sourced gems.
What Are Blood Diamonds?
Blood diamonds are also known as “Conflict Diamonds” and are stones that are produced and mined in areas controlled by rebels, rather than internationally recognized governments. The flow of these gems stem mostly from Africa, specifically the countries of Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. The diamonds mined in these areas are sold by the rebels, and the money earned is typically used to further fund their military plans or purchase weapons.
Due to the unequal power dynamic in these areas, the diamonds are often mined through the forced labor of men, women, and children. Additionally, the forces that run these mines will also steal from legitimate diamond producers, often through a full-scale military operation.
Whether through dishonest diamond traders or simply smuggling, these blood diamonds enter the international diamond trade, where they are then sold as legitimate gems. With enormous amounts of money on the line, most of which go towards funding the rebel forces, bribes, threats, torture, and even murder are frequent elements of the operation. Due to the estimated 3 million lives lost to the diamond conflict since the late 1990s, the gems have earned the title of blood diamonds.
It is believed that blood diamonds make up 20 percent of the diamond market. Therefore, in addition the the literal blood shed, these rebel forces are also robbing indigenous communities, in some of the poorest countries in the world, of up to $8 million-worth of natural resources every year.
What Are Conflict-Free Diamonds?
As awareness of blood diamonds began to spread, governments started taking action. The United Nations hoped to block entry of blood diamonds from entering the worldwide diamond trade. So they developed a government certification process and organization called the “Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.” This process includes the use of tamper-resistant containers and government certifications during shipping, as well as a ban on exporting diamonds to countries that do not follow the Kimberley Process. Since it’s development, 81 countries are now members including the U.S., all EU member-states and Russia, which is the world’s largest diamond producer.
It is believed that diamonds sourced through the Kimberley Process are “conflict-free” and therefore can be guilt-free to consumers. However, this is, unfortunately, not always the case. The organization has been criticized for its limitations and ineffectiveness in minimizing blood diamond production, resulting in influential organizations like Global Witness leaving the scheme all together. Among other things, Global Witness condemns the process for it’s narrow definition of conflict diamonds, which prevents the Kimberley Process from addressing the broader human rights issues at play, its refusal to broaden said definition after pressure from multiple organizations, and the fact that the process only applies to rough diamonds, leaving cut and polished stones open to the trade.
What Is Being Done?
Over the years, companies began taking matters into their owns hands to ensure they were not participating in funding blood diamond production. Tiffany & Co., for example, have started providing information about newly sourced diamonds, with evidence of the stone’s legal registration as well as its history and what mine it came from. However, many consumers and humanitarian groups alike do not think this is enough. As long as mining diamonds remains prevalent, so will those who use it unethically.
Therefore, Pandora, which produces more jewelry than any other company in the world, made an announcement in early May of 2021 that it will no longer be producing and selling mined diamonds. They intend to join the ranks of Clean Origin and Brilliant Earth and only use laboratory-grown diamonds. This decision comes less than a year after Pandora announced they will no longer be sourcing newly mined gold and silver, and instead will only use recycled precious metals as part of their greater plan to achieve carbon neutrality.
What Can I Do?
As consumers, we have a responsibility to know where our products are coming from. Global Witness suggests that, if buying new diamonds, ask your jewellers to show you proof that the diamond was sourced responsibly, and then request to see their human rights due diligence report. Remember, when it comes to human rights, a Kimberley Process certification alone does not guarantee anything. As the organization says, “All responsible companies should have this report and should make it public.”
If you’d like to help those living in Sierra Leone, one of the countries most impacted by the diamond trade, please consider this gift that gives more. Through our partnership with Develop Africa, you can help microfinance loans to empower women-owned small businesses and help break the cycle of poverty.Whizzco