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Conflict Diamonds Explained

Conflict diamonds, sometimes called 'blood diamonds,' are diamonds mined in areas under the control of forces fighting against the legitimate government of the country. Specifically, where the sale of the diamonds is being used to pay for military actions against the government.

This definition came about during the 1990s as the result of several brutal civil wars being waged in diamond mining areas of central and western Africa.

Diamonds from conflict areas held by rebel forces were often mined by forced labour under brutal conditions. The resulting gems were then smuggled out of the country and mixed into the supply chain of legitimate diamonds and on to the world market.

Once a conflict diamond has been cut and polished, it is identical to any other natural diamond. Publicity about the matter raised public awareness and revulsion to the idea that their precious diamonds were tainted with slave labour and blood. In turn, this led to a groundswell consumer reaction against conflict diamonds and the businesses and organisations that enabled conflict diamonds to be mined and sold alongside ‘clean’ diamonds.

The diamond industry, both producers and merchants, understood that the distaste of consumers could affect their business. The diamond trade realized that consumers might turn away from all diamond purchases because of their inability to tell the difference between conflict diamonds and legitimate ones. There were even concerns that there could be a boycott of diamonds.

By 2000, the UN Security Council became involved when they published a report on conflict diamonds in world markets. The report was particularly scathing toward De Beers Consolidated Mining Company who, at the time, controlled around 60% of the world’s rough diamonds. Antwerp, the international centre of the diamond industry, was also attacked for not checking the origin of diamonds introduced to the market there.

Where Did Conflict Diamonds Come From?

Most of the conflict diamonds entering the diamond markets came from Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Ivory Coast, and Liberia. All are diamond producing countries that, in the 1990s and early 21st century, were undergoing violent internal conflicts. Notably, all the conflict diamond producing areas are African. Today, it is estimated that 99% of the world’s diamonds are Conflict Free.

How Was The Supply Of Conflict Diamonds Controlled?

For many years, although the diamond trade had been aware of the issue of conflict diamonds, it was not widely known among consumers. As consumers became aware of the problem, they were horrified by the conditions under which the diamonds that were given as a symbol of love and romance were produced. Consumers were unwilling to support the cost in lives that the sales of such diamonds enabled.

Awareness of the blood diamond problem grew during the early years of the 21st century following media coverage, notably with movies such as the James Bond movie, Die Another Day in 2002 and the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Blood Diamond, in 2006. The process of stopping blood diamonds entering the consumer diamond supply chain began in earnest with meetings among diamond producers that took place in 2000 in Kimberley, South Africa. The purpose was to examine ways to stop the trade in conflict diamonds and to stop diamond sales from funding violence. The immediate outcome of these discussions was an agreement between the United Nations, 74 national governments, the European Union, and the World Diamond Council and several interest groups. This agreement became known as the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process, in 2003, established a system of certification. Under the Kimberley Process, producers agreed to certify that all their rough diamond exports were sourced through legitimate mining and sales activity and that all exported diamonds were 'conflict-free'.

This certification process meant that every diamond shipment carries a certificate. The document shows the origin of the diamonds, the method of mining used, the location of the cutting and polishing work, all the stakeholders involved in the supply chain, and the final destination of the diamond shipment. The result being that all diamonds should be identified through the production process from mining to the retailer. Importantly, Kimberley Process members are not allowed to trade with non-members.

An Imperfect Solution To Diamond Violence

Because of their high value, diamonds are an obvious target for violence to control some of the vast amounts of money that these gems represent. The Kimberley Process has a rather narrow definition of blood diamonds. Although it is effective within terms agreed between Kimberley process members, there remains much violence and oppression related to diamond production that has yet to be adequately addressed.

The Kimberley Process only bans diamond sales that finance rebel militias in countries under some level of internal conflict. Violence within countries that are not under a state of civil war or violence inflicted by mining company security guards is not part of the Kimberley Process. Diamonds produced under harsh and violent conditions can still be certified as conflict-free. Even where the Kimberley Process has banned exports of diamonds due to internal conflict, diamonds from these areas are smuggled across borders. Once in an approved production area, they can be mixed with legitimately produced diamonds and then certified as being conflict-free.

Should You Buy Conflict-Free Diamonds?

If the Kimberley Process is not perfect, does that mean you should not buy diamonds? The diamond industry is aware of the imperfect nature of the certification process, and steps are being taken to stop the laundering of conflict diamonds with legitimate production. As technology advances, it is becoming possible to identify and track individual diamonds from production to retail in ways that were not possible a few years ago.

Most diamonds are now produced under much better conditions than a few years ago. Producers and intermediaries are getting better at stopping blood diamonds from entering the flow of legitimate diamonds. For that reason, it is possible to have a clear conscience about buying diamonds certified as being conflict-free.

One popular option is to purchase lab-grown diamonds that do not come from any kind of mining process; lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds created in a laboratory rather than mined. Another option is to buy diamonds mined in Canada under the Canadian Diamond Code of Conduct. Canadian standards go beyond the requirements of the Kimberley Process and set standards for ethical diamond mining rather than just avoiding conflict and violence. To ensure that Canadian Diamonds can be identified, many are permanently laser-etched. This technique will be adopted by other producers around the world who are keen to show that their diamonds are conflict-free.

All Diamond Supports An Ethical Diamond Business

Every diamond sold by All Diamond is certified as being conflict-free. We closely follow developments in the area of ethical diamond production and work with our suppliers to ensure that our products are manufactured in adherence to the highest current standards.

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