“Diamonds are forever.” The well recognized phrase that famously brings millions of individuals into union. Thanks to this phrase coined by De Beers’ Diamonds, these dazzling pieces of carbon we know as diamonds have become the universal symbol for eternal love. However, the truth behind the diamond industry certainly does not reflect its overwhelmingly shining exterior.
Conflict diamonds are a serious threat to human rights and ethical business practices around the globe. According to the United Nations, conflict diamonds – also known as blood diamonds – are “diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.” 65% of the world’s diamonds come from African counties. The most targeted areas for diamond extraction are particularly war-wracked areas with severe government instability, like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire. The World Diamond counsel confirms that diamonds are illegally traded to fund conflict in war-stricken, “resource plagued” countries in central and western Africa. Brutal wars have caused the deaths and mass displacements of millions of people. Diamonds have actually been used by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to finance their activities and money-laundering.
The diamond trade has a long and troubled history. Diamonds were first found in Sierra Leone in 1930. It was quickly realized that this area was richly abundant with the desired resource. By 1937, one million carats were mined and exported to Europe. By 1996, $15 billion of diamonds were sold and the spoils were enjoyed by players outside of Sierra Leone. The most infamous company reveling in these riches was the De Beers group. In 1935, the De Beer company formed the Sierra Leone Selection Trust, a company which controlled most of the country’s diamond production. For over 50 years, the De Beer company controlled most of the world’s diamond trade. It was a luxurious, yet dangerous, monopoly.
In the 1970s, anti-government groups tried to gain control of part of the diamond mining and trading industry. Their initiative was to gain money for weapons to use overthrow the government. The Revolutionary United Front was the most threatening of these groups. Formed in 1991, the RUF gained control of part of the diamond trade with help from Liberia. Diamonds were smuggled across the border into Liberia by RUF soldiers.
Between 1991-1998, Liberia exported over 31 million carats of diamonds to Brussels, Belgium where the Diamond High Council is located. The Council is the organization that controls the world diamond trade. Diamonds imported into Belgium are exported to countries around the world where they are cut into cosmetic gemstones to be sold in jewelry stores. With the money gained from such enormous trades, Sierra Leone was able to purchase extensive supplies of weapons that funded mass terror. A war funded by diamonds.
Once the story broke about the blood diamond trade, organizations like the World Diamond Fund (2000) and the Kimberley Process (2003) formed to combat these human rights outrages. The KP seeks to stop the trade of conflict diamonds and to “ensure that diamond purchases (are) not financing violence by rebel movements and their allies seeking to undermine legitimate governments.” The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) imposes extensive requirements on its members (representing all 84 countries) demanding clear certification ensuring shipments of rough diamonds are ‘’conflict-free.” Participants must meet the KPCS’s minimum requirements, establish national legislation about export/import, and practice transparency with trades and data. To trade, other participants must met these requirements as well. A KP certificate accompanies diamonds proving that all requirements have been met.
We, as consumers, can and should take part in ensuring the diamonds that we buy are conflict free. Most diamond retailers now offer certificates with diamonds upon purchase. Zales and Kay Jewelers have policies detailing their efforts to sell only conflict-free diamonds. Furthermore, if you are of environmentally conscious nature like myself, you can check out Brilliant Earth. Brilliant Earth is a company that traces their diamonds back to their origins. Their diamonds are certified environmentally friendly and free of human rights abuses. Plus, 5% of profits is dedicated towards education, environmental restoration, and economic development initiatives in African (and other) mining communities.
Let’s help to make the world diamond trade as shiny as its outer facade.