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The name conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, typically refers to a diamond mined in war zones and sold to finance an insurgency or warlords activity. 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, resulting in death and displacement of millions of people.
It’s important to realise that as long as there has been a diamond industry, diamond mining has been beset by violence, smuggling, exploitation and environmental degradation.
These problems have existed for decades – since even before diamonds became the most popular choice for engagement rings in the 1940s and going all the way back to when diamonds were discovered in South Africa in the late 1800s.
Bloody civil wars were then raging in Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries. All of these wars had one thing in common: they were all fueled by diamonds.
Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada, two non-profit groups, took the lead in exposing the problem to the public. Rebel groups were seizing control of diamond mining regions and exchanging diamonds for money and weapons. The diamond industry was buying up these blood-stained diamonds and selling them in jewellery shops.
WHAT ARE CONFLICT-FREE DIAMONDS?
Unfortunately, diamonds that are labelled as conflict-free are still not the answer for those who desire an ethical diamond. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme that certifies mined diamonds as “conflict free” is flawed and according to their definition, a conflict free diamond is “a diamond that hasn’t financed rebel movements against recognised governments”. This means that these so called “conflict-free” diamonds may still have origins associated with violence, human rights abuses and environmental degradation. How can a diamond claim to be “conflict-free” when it’s still in conflict with human rights, in conflict with harmony on earth and in conflict with the environment?
What’s more, the Kimberley process is highly vulnerable to smuggling and forged certification, meaning that a blood diamond could still be certified as “conflict-free”.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a conflict free diamond that has been dug up from the Earth.
It was not until the late 1990s that the diamond industry began to confront a consumer backlash. Press coverage soon made the terms “blood diamond” and “conflict diamond” more familiar to diamond consumers. And mounting public concern caught the attention of diamond industry executives. They were smart enough to realise: if consumers no longer recognised the beauty in diamonds, if all they saw was violence and hardship, then sales could plummet.
And so the diamond industry responded – just not in the most honest or effective way.
In 2006, shortly after the debut of the movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the group that represents the global diamond industry – the World Diamond Council – launched a new web site. They claim that diamond supply is now more than 99% conflict free – or that less than one percent of diamonds are conflict diamonds.
The diamond industry has managed to get this statistic routinely repeated in the press and in retail stores worldwide. There’s only one problem: it is not true.
A closer look at the statistics reveals just how false and deceptive it is.
Diamonds from the Central African Republic, Angola, and Zimbabwe – the countries where diamond-related violence has been most extreme in recent years – make up at least ten percent of the diamond supply or more, measured by value.
Diamonds produced by artisanal diamond miners in other countries, such as Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, make up about another five percent.
This combined total of fifteen percent does not even begin to take into account all the diamond mines around the world where labour and environmental standards are far from optimal. The term “conflict-free” may draw a line between diamonds that have funded civil wars and those that haven’t, but it does not distinguish between the diamonds that have been mined using slave labour, child labour and other serous humanitarian issues.
So how can the diamond industry claim that the diamond supply is 99% conflict free?
Smuggling is also rampant in the industry, making the global diamond trade one of the largest black markets in the world. Diamonds are still fuelling conflict.
Diamond smuggling intensifies violence and instability in diamond-producing regions. It also reduces the amount of money flowing back into diamond-producing communities, depriving governments of tax revenues needed for basic services including basic health care and food production.
In West Africa, diamonds from the rebel-held area of Côte d’Ivoire are being mined and are smuggled through neighbouring countries to international markets and for nearly a decade, diamonds helped keep Côte d’Ivoire a divided nation. A civil war in Côte d’Ivoire reached a stalemate. Rebels controlled the diamond-rich North while the government controlled the South. To prevent diamonds from funding the conflict, the Kimberley Process and the United Nations placed a ban on the export of Côte d’Ivoire’s diamonds in 2005.
The rebels, however, did not abide by the ban. The United Nations has recently reported that poor controls are allowing up to $23 million of conflict diamonds annually from Côte d’Ivoire, entering the legitimate trade through Ghana and Mali, where they are being certified as conflict-free, in exchange for weapons and strengthening their grip on the North. At least 3,000 people were killed and atrocities were committed by both sides in 2010.
Ouattara took office in 2012 and the violence now appears to be over. The United Nations lifted its ban on Côte d’Ivoire’s diamonds in 2014. For the first time in years, the country has a chance to use its diamond wealth for peaceful economic development. But memories of war, and the destructive power of diamonds, will not soon be forgotten.
The Kimberly Process
A PERFECT ‘COVER STORY’ FOR BLOOD DIAMONDS
As consumers, we have been told not to be concerned about blood diamonds or conflict diamonds because this issue is now under control and positive steps have been taken in the diamond mining industry to protect all of us.
Blood diamonds, and the harrowing stories behind them, entered public consciousness more than a decade ago. But while attitudes towards how gems are sourced have shifted, in practice little has changed in the diamond jewellery industry. The very system set up to eradicate the trade in conflict diamonds is now giving the industry a perfect cover story, something to hide behind, yet another marketing pitch the industry sold and consumers have bought into as it continues to operate in the same opaque way it always has.
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established in 2003 by a United Nations resolution following a series of reports, which first exposed the link between the diamond trade and the financing of conflict. The Kimberley Process is subscribed to by 81 national governments and includes active participation from the diamond industry and non-profit groups. It was set up in an attempt to end the trade of conflict diamonds and to ensure that all rough diamonds are only traded between member countries, accompanied by a government-issued Kimberley Process certificate. It’s a voluntary and self-policing international certification system, pledging not to import or export rough diamonds tainted by conflict. Except, it is unfit for purpose.
The Kimberley Process has failed on its own terms: corruption and smuggling are still rife, and in the past few years, the system has begun to unravel further from the inside. It is widely known in the diamond jewellery industry that blood diamonds are smuggled into other regions; these illicit diamonds then become indistinguishable from legitimate stones.
It’s a system of self regulation, set up and controlled by the vested interests.
This system was set up and is controlled by those who have most to gain from the trade in cut and polished blood diamonds. These vested interests keep public attention, and the media, focused on the mining sector and away from the far more lucrative cut and polished diamonds where most of the value is added and gained.
The Kimberley Process is not effective and has two main flaws. First, its narrow definition of conflict in terms of certification focuses solely on the mining and distribution of conflict diamonds. Yet the violent nature of diamond mining in nations that are not in a “technical” state of war and whose diamonds are therefore considered “clean” means that broader issues around worker exploitation – including the health and safety of working conditions, the use of child labour and fair pay – are not addressed. It also fails to deal with entire populations being evicted from their ancestral homes to make way for mining.
Second, the Kimberley Process lacks enforcement or regulation, so it remains easy to smuggle diamonds across borders. A certificate does not apply to an individual stone but to a batch of rough diamonds that are then cut and shipped around the world and without a tracking system, this is where the trail ends. Any claim that the Kimberley Process guarantees the consumer that they’re purchasing a clean diamond cannot be verified with substantial direct or indirect evidence.
“Despite widespread acknowledgment in the industry of their existence, these stones have been smuggled into other regions and are now indistinguishable from the rest of the supply”
DIAMOND IDENTIFICATION: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?
In other industries, abuses such as child labour have led to embarrassing scandals. Clothing manufacturers and electronics companies have faced tough public scrutiny for manufacturing their products in sweatshops. Yet Kimberley has become an excellent marketing scheme that provides great cover for jewellers who simply want to continue to do business as usual. If a consumer went into almost any jeweller in the UK and asked for the origin of a diamond on display, staff would most be most unlikely to be able confirm which country, let alone the mine, it was sourced from.
When consumers ask about a conflict free diamond, they are often guaranteed that they are purchasing an ethical or fair trade diamond, Kimberley Process Certified and therefore produced in accordance with ethical standards. The discussion usually ends there. It can feel uncomfortable for shoppers to push any harder for answers. Diamond shoppers also have plenty of other factors to consider when buying a diamond. Most are happy to find a quality diamond at a good price.
All these pressures (including the price) lead many consumers to mistakenly accept a conflict free diamond is an ethical diamond. They would feel surprised and misled if they knew that “conflict free” does not prevent activities ranging from child labour to torture.
Any jeweller who solely relies on the Kimberley Process to market themselves as ethical have not done their homework; it’s a sad reflection of the apathy prevalent in the jewellery industry and consumers should not be fooled by claims that diamonds are conflict-free on the basis of a bogus “system of warranties” based on compliance with the discredited Kimberley Process.
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme absolutely does not address environmental abuses resulting from diamond mining. Nor does it assure ethical labour in the digging of diamonds, in small scale mines are under compensated and children work in unregulated environmental conditions.
In particular, it does not prevent the cutting and polishing factories that allow conflict or illicit diamonds to enter legitimate channels of trade.
In a nutshell, the goal of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is to regulate the diamond trade, tracing diamonds from mine to market through a clear and documented chain of custody.
In 2011, Global Witness withdrew from the Kimberley Process coalition. This was due to their refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny which has rendered it increasingly outdated, saying that it felt the effort no longer effectively ensured that conflict diamonds did not make their way onto retail markets.
Global Witness is the first advocacy group to leave the program. While the organisation had expressed concerns over the operation of the Kimberley Process for some time, the final straw leading to its withdrawal was the decision to allow Zimbabwe to export diamonds from the Marange fields, where there have been reports of widespread human rights abuses by government security forces.
Global Witness and other independent non government organisations have reported what they consider to be woefully inadequate regulations in the diamond industry.
“Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes” said Charmian Gooch, a Founding Director of Global Witness.
And Annie Dunnebacke, the senior campaigner for Global Witness said “The diamond industry was hiding behind the Kimberley Process.”