A conflict or “blood diamond” is a diamond mined in a conflict or war zone, with the profits of the diamond funding the ongoing conflict. The government or rebel organization controlling the mine sells the rough diamonds and uses the money to purchase weapons, training, equipment and other resources to continue their civil wars, armed conflicts, terrorism or insurgency.
Through the early 2000’s, these conflict diamonds came from numerous locations in Africa including Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo and Zimbabwe. Conflict diamonds were then estimated to be 4-15% of the total world annual production. They contributed to the deaths of over three million people, forcing millions out of their homes, turning children into slaves or soldiers. Those diamonds are still in circulation on the world diamond market.
In 2003, the “Kimberley Process” (KP) was established as a self-enforced procedure to regulate the flow of legal rough diamonds. Member countries of the Kimberley Process voluntarily document the import and export of rough diamonds through their country, done primarily through tamper-resistant containers and shipping certificates.
Since its introduction, the Kimberley Process has stemmed the flow of conflict diamonds and has guided many countries toward the right path, making them compliant with KP minimum standards. Diamond industry organizations like the World Diamond Council claim that over 99% of all rough diamonds travel through the UN-mandated KP system1.
While the Kimberley Process is a step in the right direction for stopping blood diamonds, the system in its present form is not working to its full potential. Illicit conflict diamonds continue to enter the diamond trade and mix with diamonds from legitimate sources. There are currently less than fifty participants in the Kimberley Process. The worst-case consequence for violation is a country being suspended from the Kimberley Process and UN sanctions being imposed, as seen with Cote d’Ivoire. This forces 100% of that country’s diamond production to be sold through illicit channels. On the other side of the spectrum, Venezuela “voluntarily suspended exports and imports of rough diamonds” through the KP, yet still actively mines and sells diamonds outside of the KP2. Any violations within a country are up to the local legislative systems, many of which are poorly regulated or enforced.
The Kimberley Process does not regulate cutting or polishing facilities, polished diamonds or jewelry. Conflict diamonds can enter legal channels through cutting and polishing facilities, or any rebel group could simply cut two facets on a rough diamond, calling it “polished” and rendering it exempt from KP regulations3.
The KP has been criticized for having too limited resources to enforce and oversee the legal flow of diamonds. The KP certificates are left to the for-profit diamond industry to issue upon itself on behalf of the governments. In countries like Guyana, blank signed certificates can be purchased on the streets for $1 per carat of falsified export4.
According to the 2009 edition of Partnership Africa Canada’s Diamonds and Human Security Annual Review, the Kimberley Process is failing.
In Angola, up to 30% of diamonds by value come from illegal mining. The Democratic Republic of Congo has active conflict zones, with armed groups controlling many mines. In many countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea, independent, individual diggers source their diamonds from artisanal mines. The KP records do not begin until the diamonds are sold from the digger to a comptoir, or field buyer, creating opportunities for laundering diamonds into the ‘conflict-free’ KP certified channels. The PAC report estimates over 15 million carats per year are laundered through methods such as these. In other countries such as Sierra Leone and French Guinea, lax or nonexistent legislation allow smuggled diamonds to be legally exported through the KP. Countries such as French Guinea, Guyana and Lebanon report unbelievable or inconsistent export statistics, suggesting smuggling and laundering.
Government-led massacres and widespread human rights abuses have been occurring in the Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe since 20085. Numerous NGOs and industry members have asked for trading bans and sanctions against Zimbabwe6. Over a year later, only after being invited by Zimbabwe, the Kimberley Process has appointed a monitor to oversee the serious KP violations and to supervise exports, yet has no power to stop any smuggling or abuses7. In June 2010, Global Witness released a Return of the Blood Diamond report detailing KP’s continual failures in Zimbabwe .
In May 2009, Ian Smillie, one of the Kimberley Process founders, departed KP due to ineptitude and failure to discipline violating countries. Martin Rapaport resigned from the World Diamond Council in February 2010 primarily due to their coverup of the abuses in Zimbabwe. “Tens of thousands of carats of blood diamonds are now in dealers’ inventories and jewelers’ showcases–and are being actively sold to consumers…Instead of eliminating blood diamonds, the KP has become a process for the systematic legalization and legitimization of blood diamonds,” says Rapaport8. In August 2010, the Kimberley Process certified approximately 900,000 carats of questionably mined diamonds from Zimbabwe9.
The only country under UN sanctions, as of August 2010, is Cote d’Ivoire. Their diamonds are the only diamonds officially counted as “conflict diamonds” by the Kimberley Process, despite numerous NGO and industry reports stating otherwise. Cote d’Ivoire diamonds are still being mined and entering the market, believed through Mali, Guinea, Ghana and possibly other countries.
Any country is susceptible to importing and selling conflict diamonds. In September 2006, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report stating US systems do not inspect rough diamond imports or exports against their KP certificates, making them vulnerable to illicit trade. Even in developed countries, the effectiveness of the entire Kimberley Process comes into question.
Once diamonds are polished, they are no longer monitored by any entity. It is impossible to determine from what country and time a polished diamond originated from, so there is no way to guarantee the conflict-free origin of any mined diamond. There is however a self-regulated “system of warranties” included on invoices from one diamond vendor to the next, stating the diamonds are believed to be conflict-free.
With a laboratory grown diamond you have peace of mind–it is conflict-free by definition and origin-guaranteed.
Conflict-free is not Fair Trade
The Kimberley Process does not address human rights as part of its ‘minimum standards’ that countries are expected to follow10, nor do they have a mandate to deal with human rights violations, like those occurring in Zimbabwe. NGOs have reported thousands of children being forced to dig in diamond mines. Many miners work in slave-like and sub-standard conditions for long hours earning merely pennies per day.
By contrast, synthetic diamonds are created in a controlled laboratory environment by well paid scientists, engineers and technicians. Our diamonds are then hand-cut by some of the finest cutters in Antwerp.
Mined Diamonds’ Positive Impact
While there is obviously a dark side, the mined diamond industry also provides jobs, education and healthcare to many nations and millions of people with few other economic options. There are many countries who operate their diamond mines ethically with well-paid employees and fair working conditions. Some of these countries include, but are not limited to: Canada, Australia, Russia and Botswana.
Whenever we use mined diamonds, such as in select micro-pave white diamond jewelry designs, we source our mined diamonds from these responsible countries.
- Partnership Africa Canada’s Diamonds and Human Security 2009 Annual Review
- Global Policy Forum – Diamonds in Conflict
- Global Witness – Combating Conflict Diamonds
- Stop Buying and Selling Blood Diamonds – Feb 2010
- Kimberley Process
- Kimberley Process Rough Diamond Statistics
- MSNBC – A Diamond’s Journey
- World Diamond Council’s Consumer Website