What Are Blood Diamonds and What Do You Need to Know About Them As a Consumer?

The diamonds that are normally available in jewelry stores are mined and produced legally under ethical conditions and are hence conflict free. On the contrary, there are diamonds that are either obtained illegally or their generated profits are used to fund wars particularly in countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These diamonds are known as blood diamonds or conflict diamonds.

In the majority of the times, blood diamonds are obtained through unfair labor practices; most notably through child or forced labor. Sometimes, the workers are given inequitable wages or improper safety equipment, which often results in the loss of human life.

United Nation’s definition of blood diamonds can be explained in the following words: ‘these are the diamonds that are produced from areas that are ruled by forces that oppose legitimate and international laws and the profits from selling those diamonds are used to fund military operations against that government and decisions of the Security Council.

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Blood Diamonds – Background

Blood diamonds came in the limelight during the late 1990s when an estimated 50,000 people died in the civil war in Sierra Leone and another 50,000 perished in Angola. The profits generated from these blood diamonds played a major role in the continuation of the war.

Combatants’ food, transportation, clothing and especially weapons were funded with these profits. The prominent rebel groups UNITA in Angola and RUF in Sierra Leona found buyers for these diamonds from unethical overseas buyers and acquired approximately $200 million per annum to fund their operations.

Another reason that these diamonds attracted attention was because Sierra Leone produces very high quality gem grade diamonds that have a rough cut and are alluvial i.e. they are found on the earth’s surface usually in river beds and can be easily mined through some simple hand tools.

These diamonds stand for approximately $8 billion worth of market per year and consumer markets get a very small share of these diamonds. This happens because the areas they are found in usually end up becoming the property of the members of organized crime rings.

Later in 1998, an NGO released a report by the name of ‘rough trade’ that highlighted all the aspects of diamond smuggling. DeBeers, the prominent South American diamond seller was also accused of purchasing smuggled diamonds in this report and they were marketing around 80% of the world’s rough diamonds at that time. Another NGO by the name of Partnership Africa Canada released an additional report ‘Heart of the Matter’ highlighting the brutal and unfair diamond economy of Sierra Leone.

This stirred the diamond industry and as a result of that UN Security Council imposed the Resolution 1173 on all the diamonds exported from Angola and Resolution 1306, which prohibited the import of all diamonds imported from Sierra Leone.

These sanctions, however, had little impact on the illegal activities. In 2002, the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi died and a peace agreement was drawn up between the government and UNITA, which ultimately resulted in the Security Council lifting all the sanctions under Resolution 1448.

Eliminating Conflict Diamonds Form The Market

Several steps have been taken by the United Nations to stop the trade and production of blood diamonds. In addition to placing embargoes on these diamonds a certification system known as the ‘Kimberly Process’ was initiated in 2002 to scrutinize the diamonds’ origin process. It imposed strict regulations on the import and export of rough diamonds. The system required the diamonds to be sealed and certified by the official agencies to ensure that they have not originated from the rebel areas or had any association with them.

The government sectors worked in accordance with the NGOs to monitor the transparency and auditing of the system. In addition that, the diamond industry also voluntarily implemented a System of Warranties to let the customer know that the diamonds they are purchasing are from free of conflict sources.

Purchasing and selling of rough diamonds was half side of the story. The other side of the story involved managing the flow of polished diamonds and so another initiative was taken to address this problem in the form of Diamond Best Practice Principles. This system bound every Diamond Trading Company to purchase and sell only ‘clean diamonds.’ In case any company is found guilty of purchasing illegal diamonds, the government can confiscate the DTC customer status from the company.

In May 2000 U.S. signed the Clean Diamond Trade Act which enables it to impose certification systems designed by 50 plus countries to restrict the trade of conflict diamonds and promote lawful trade. This process had a positive effect on the trade of diamonds and now it is recorded that 99% of the diamonds available in the market are obtained from conflict free sources.

However, the trafficking of conflict diamonds cannot be reduced to zero due to the structure of the diamond industry. DeBeers is the major shareholder of this market and its disinterest in addressing this issue, on the grounds that blood diamonds are a minor portion of the market, have left some loose ends in the diamond trade. Nonetheless, the reduction of blood diamonds’ trade to 1% is an immense progress.

Consumers’ Perspective

Retailers are mainly concerned about selling diamonds rather than finding out their source of origin but as a consumer you are in a position of power to reduce this issue. When you go out for purchasing diamonds, ask the store manager to provide you with the details of that particular stone and a proof that can validate the fact that they are conflict free. Some companies like BrilliantEarth.com actually preach eco-diamonds as their products but it is good to verify claims independently.

One consumer’s demands won’t suddenly halt the trade of blood diamonds but if everyone played their part during the purchase then it will certainly send a message to the illegal activists that people are against the production of these diamonds and illegal activities related to them.

Here are some questions that you can ask the store manager to make sure you get ‘clean’ diamonds:

Are there any written documents that can verify that the diamonds suppliers have obtained these stones from conflict free source?
Are you aware of the mining source of your diamonds?
Can you show me your company’s policy with regard to conflict diamonds?
Can you assure me that none of your jewelry contains conflict diamonds?
If you are not satisfied with the answers of these questions then you should avoid purchasing jewelry from that store.

If you find out at some point that the diamonds you have purchased are obtained from conflict sources then return them to the store. Usually the stones that have green or grey hue are blood diamonds and are obtained from Marange diamond fields. Tens of thousands of these colored diamonds are sold in the market every year however, some clean diamonds also appear in green color. Therefore, the only way to be sure of their legitimacy is to track their source of origin.

Conflict Free Diamond Council; a Washington D.C. based organization has developed a set of strict rules to ensure that the imported diamonds are 100% clean. It involves laser engraving and optical signatures that can track the individuality of every stone. However, it is a complicated process that is still under construction and will take time to come into effect.