Sorry, Diamonds Aren’t Anyone’s Friend

Retailers may have you believe otherwise, but they can’t guarantee their diamonds are ‘conflict-free.’
The only way to really ensure you're not buying conflict diamonds is not to purchase real diamonds at all. (Photo: Michael Coyne/Getty Images)
Jan 31, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Amy DuFault is a sustainable fashion writer, consultant as well as Digital Content & Communications Director at the Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator

Gemstone expert Ira Weissman reports on his site that jewelry label De Beers is responsible for the way our culture prizes diamonds as the ultimate gesture of love. In 1946, De Beers launched their “A Diamond is Forever” campaign, which positioned the stone as a symbol of affection and eternity, as well as a wise investment strategy. Consumers bought into the slogan, and the diamond evolved from a pretty decoration into an emblem of status and power.

In recent times, however, the stones have taken on a more sinister meaning, becoming symbols of brutal overseas insurgencies. If you’re not familiar with the term “blood diamond,” you should be, especially if you’re thinking of giving or receiving any diamonds this Valentine’s Day.

A blood diamond is a stone mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency or a warlord’s activity, usually in Africa. According to the Global Policy Forum, conflict diamonds date back to the early 1900s when European entrepreneurs gained control of diamond mines by instigating wars between African tribes. Over a hundred years later, conflict diamonds are still affecting the lives of people throughout Africa.

According to Global Witness, an investigative group campaigning to prevent natural-resource-related conflict and corruption, a lot of footwork has been done to educate both buyers and sellers about the blood diamond industry.

In 1998, the organization launched a campaign to expose the role of diamonds in funding wars as part of broader research into the link between natural resources and conflict. The group was instrumental in the establishment of an international diamond certification method. Known as The Kimberley Process, the system was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and launched in January 2003.

Even with that in place, statistics reflect that only 11 percent of U.S. jewelry stores have a conflict-free diamonds policy, and 67 percent won’t even discuss the topic when asked if they have one.

While the certification has been in place for over a decade, there are currently many ways to get the conflict-free stamp of approval and still be a blood diamond hailing from a war-torn country.

Global Witness tells TakePart the Kimberley Process suffers from a series of structural weaknesses, including impaired traceability along the entire diamond pipeline.

Emily Armistead, who manages conflict resources for the organization, says it’s incredibly difficult for consumers to know whether the diamonds they’re buying are conflict-free, and though many jewelers will refer to KP certificates when consumers inquire, that can be misleading as the Kimberley Process only covers the trade in rough diamonds, not polished ones.

“Our current major concern is the sale of Zimbabwean diamonds, which our evidence suggests is funding Zimbabwean state bodies which have been involved in human rights violations,” says Armistead. “Without jewelers following proper due-diligence processes, which allow them to trace where their diamonds have come from, they won’t be able to guarantee a diamond is conflict-free.”

Something to consider this Valentine’s Day is the purchase of a synthetic diamond that is 100 percent conflict-free and made in a laboratory. Moissanite, cubic zirconia, and pure carbon “diamonds” are hard to distinguish to most people and help making the choice to support peace (and of course love) on February 14th a whole lot easier.

If money were no object, would you purchase diamonds, or is their connection to conflict enough to keep you away? Let us know in the Comments.