The diamond industry is a thriving one. From statement earrings and delicate necklaces to symbolic engagement rings and wedding bands, the sparkling rocks appear in an array of elegant jewellery around the globe. Usually a representation of eternal love, sometimes passed on through generations within a family, and almost always given to someone in the hopes of the sentiment and love lasting forever, it is therefore unsurprising that people are becoming more interested in the source of their diamonds.
As one of the rarest and most extraordinary gems on the planet, there is great value in understanding the origin of the stones and the journey taken from mine to ring. The increasing knowledge led to a decline in demand for diamonds for a few years, before picking up again in 2016. Although the market is currently thriving worldwide, there are still some dark corners that aren’t representative of the happiness and love typically portrayed by the gemstones.
What are conflict diamonds?
Also known as blood diamonds, conflict diamonds are those excavated from mines dominated by rebel units opposed to governments. These factions sell diamonds illegally to fund violence and invading armies.
Mountains of jewels are not the only outcome from these mines. Civil wars, human suffering and exploitation, environmental degradation, and destruction are all results from multiple diamond mines around the globe. The past two decades alone have seen seven countries in Africa experiencing civil wars, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, the Republic of Congo, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic.
Approximately 3.7 million lives have been lost from the wars fueled by the black diamond trade so far, with millions more missing. To date, there are still millions living with the consequences and suffering from broken homes, families, and lives. The rebel gangs are often liable for the violence caused in these areas. However, governments and mining companies are also responsible for a lot of the destruction caused in countries that aren’t at war.
Consumers are increasingly gaining awareness of the violence and histories of these diamonds, supported by the recognition of award-winning film, Blood Diamond, 2006. As a consequence, the fight against the carnage is rising, yet violence is still present in many mining areas around Africa, and a notable amount of gems are still joining the market undetected. Just ten years ago, the industry was predicted to be made up of between four and fifteen percent of conflict diamonds.
Having lived in both South Africa and Zimbabwe for 15 years, Nikolay, CEO of Taylor & Hart, recalls his time there:
“Growing up in South Africa, we were acutely aware of the human rights violations that were happening in neighbouring Zimbabwe, under the government of President Robert Mugabe. Millions of people were being oppressed by his regime, and thousands crossed the borders into South Africa as refugees, trying to find work illegally. When in 2008 we heard about the crackdown by the government on miners in the Marange mines, we decided to take an active position, and though at the time Zimbabwean diamonds were not considered ‘conflict’ by international standards, we would ensure we no longer knowingly offered them and have not ever since.”
The growth of ethically sourced diamonds
Concern grew as the ability to differentiate ethically sourced diamonds from blood diamonds became apparent. This resulted in the Kimberley Process (KP) being established in 2003, in an effort to make the entire industry conflict-free. There are 80 countries involved in the certification scheme so far, which has managed to reduce the number of conflict diamonds infiltrating the supply chain, leading to less than one percent of diamonds in current circulation estimated to be unethical.
Unfortunately, the KP is not flawless as multiple countries have declined to be a part of the scheme. There has also been a lot of criticism about how sufficient the verification of the diamonds is. Only governments, NGO’s, and professional industry bodies are included in the identification process and workers in areas such as Zimbabwe, who work under extremely high levels of brutality and denied fundamental rights, are excluded. Zimbabwe is a certified conflict-free country, and so any diamonds acquired from this country are marked as such, yet the suffering endured is not considered. Being paper-based is also an issue due to increased possibilities of tampering, imitation records, and loss.
The evolution of the fight against the blood diamond trade is accelerating, and more people and businesses are getting on board to help the suffering stop. The latest breakthrough comes from a company named Everledger. They are working with Blockchain technology and aim to transition the Kimberley Process to an entirely digital system. This will make information available to retailers and consumers, and the whole process will become more accurate.
Many people in the industry avoid any diamonds coming from Zimbabwe, due to them being unethical, even though they are conflict-free and so the KP is used as a reference guide only. CanadaMark can fill the gap of information for many traders as it details the origin and history of the gem. Consumers on the high street can also request certificates for their diamond purchases, which will state the country of origin.
Synthetic diamonds have been introduced as a solution to the problems in the verification of ethical diamonds and have a successful niche in the market. However, this could not replace authentic diamonds due to the additional challenges that would arise. The diamond industry is the only source of income for the local economy in many countries in South Africa and replacing that for lab produced gems would leave a more significant issue. 10 million people are currently affected by the financial economy from the diamond industry, and so millions of jobs would be lost if synthetic gems were to become mainstream.
Value of diamonds is increasing as demand rises and fewer sources are located.