You are looking for a diamond with a good cause. You’re a diamond lover. You’ve got countless pieces of jewelry studded with diamonds. You are looking to find an engagement ring with the right cause. You are one of those people who just can’t resist the glitter and brilliance that goes with a diamond. Then you learn about the existence of blood diamonds. Your world is suddenly turned upside down.
That may be a satiric narrative but the subject is dead serious. Blood diamonds are used to fund wars and other brutal activities in certain parts of the world. Diamonds sold in this illicit trade promote violence and kill people; you want to make sure that you own non-conflict diamonds.
What Are Blood Diamonds?
During the 1990s, and into this decade, rebel armies in parts of Africa exploited alluvial diamond fields to finance wars against legitimate governments. Unlike diamonds deep in the earth, alluvial diamonds are found only a few inches or feet from the surface over wide ranging territory and are mined with ease. Associated with brutal civil war and human rights violations, these illicitly traded rough diamonds became known as conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds. The issue reached its zenith in the late 1990s, when it is estimated that between 4 and 15% of the world’s rough diamond supply was touched by conflict.
The Kimberley Process and USA Patriot Act
In 2003 the Kimberley Process was adopted by the United Nations to address the issue of conflict diamonds. Participating KPCS governments now monitor and certify all rough diamonds in their territory before export and forbid any rough diamonds from entering their territory without an approved KPCS certificate. NGOs and the United Nations monitor compliance. According to Kimberley, and supported by Global Witness, 99.8% of the world’s rough diamond production is now Kimberley compliant. Overseas manufacturers who do not maintain compliance can be excluded from international trade and/or prosecuted. Polished diamonds are covered by the USA Patriot Act: Every US dealer must maintain Kimberley compliance or be subject to stiff penalties. Failure to comply with guarantees is not a simple FTC violation. Enforcement comes from the Treasury department (IRS), Homeland Security and the US Justice department
Where we are now
The Kimberley Process is to be applauded for dramatically reducing the scope of the issue. Some estimates put rough touched by conflict at less than 1 percent today. But the global diamond industry is vast, and rogue elements trade rough of dubious origin where they can. Kimberley Process fraud was uncovered in Brazil and Guyana in 2006. In November of the same year NGOs were calling for expulsion of Venezuela from KPCS participation. Border controls are tighter in North America, especially after September 11, 2001, but the possibility of corruption in the system exists, even in Canada where “conflict-free” is a national marketing slogan for diamonds.
The good news is that Kimberley and Global Witness have estimated that 99.8% of the world’s diamonds are conflict free. Still, unless you walked the diamond yourself from mine to sorting to trading house to cutting factory to parcel buyer to retail outlet, nothing can be 100 percent certain.
The protectionist solution
The industry works hard to ensure “conflict-free” provenance for the end-user and relies on that label to put consumers’ minds at ease. For many consumers that is enough. The flaw is that it overlooks the real issue, which is the people who still suffer in Africa.
A better solution
As consumers and jewelers we can’t change governments or politics, but we can create commerce and benevolence to help those people.
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