If you’re planning to buy a diamond for someone special on Valentine’s Day, you may want to think twice.
Two-thirds of the world’s diamonds come from countries — Angola, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic– where wars and bloody conflicts have too recently occurred, or are occurring. Under the pressure of reports about blood diamonds (pdf) mined in war zones and sold to finance the activities of invading armies, dictators and warloads, the United Nations adopted the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in 2002. Under this protocol, countries where diamonds are produced are to follow regulations to ensure that diamonds are mined in humane conditions and that those charged with illegal trafficking face criminal charges.
Before the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was adopted, U.S. Executive Orders prohibited the importing of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2001; the latter was found to serve as a pipeline for conflict diamonds.
The reality of the inhumane conditions in which many diamonds are produced has been highlighted in the public consciousness in movies (Blood Diamond in 2006 as well as a 2002 James Bond movie, Die Another Day) and music.
Certainly, no one wants to purchase something loaded with so much significance — nothing less than a token of love — from which someone’s blood and sweat has been scrubbed off. Wedding website The Knot offer tips to “shop smart.” Northern Canada has been become one source for such: Diamonds were found there in the 1990s and are said to be mined in environmentally conscious and conflict-free conditions.
But just because diamonds have been approved under the Kimberley Process or are labeled “conflict-free” does not mean they are. As Treehugger points out, the Kimberley Process has turned out to be hardly conflict-free itself, having been criticized for lacking transparency and allowing diamonds “sourced very directly from problem areas into the trade, particularly Zimbabwe’s Marange fields, which are notorious for human rights abuses.” In 2011, Global Witness,the very organization that helped to create the Kimberley Process, withdrew from it most of all because it “can’t guarantee that its conflict-free diamonds are actually free of conflict.”
Diamonds, and giving someone one, are full of deep cultural significance. But more often than not, sparkling gemstones have been extricated from the earth by individuals forced to do so and under terrible conditions. For most of history, the typical miners have not been not the heigh-ho-ing seven dwarves of Disney’s Snow White, but, more likely, slaves or laborers vastly underpaid for the physical toil they were subjected to.
You can do your research about a retailer’s sourcing process; a number of sites (GreenKarat, Ingle & Rhode) offer jewelry that is said to conform to ethical social and environmental standards. As Ira Weissman writes in the Huffington Post, diamonds are really just a “retail product like any other” (that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself eschewed) The only way to know you’re not giving or wearing a conflict-free diamond is to forego buying diamonds, period.
In place of diamonds, check out Care2 blogger Beth Buczynski’s suggestions for a zero waste Valentine’s Day!
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