Conflict-Free Diamonds: The Facts

Greenwashing is alive and well in the diamond industry, with many companies marketing themselves as being conflict-free (the jewellery industry’s equivalent of being “green”), when in fact there is little unique about what they are offering. In my opinion, there’s no need to seek out a conflict-free diamond company when buying a diamond because, as I’ll explain below, any diamond purchased today from a reputable jeweller with a stated Conflict Diamond Policy, is safe to assume conflict-free.

The concept of Greenwashing refers to using the environmental movement to market a product. A particular product is labelled as being “green” when in fact it has a limited right to lay claim to this title. It’s a questionable form of marketing usually characterized by a company spending more money on appearing to be green than they do on actually being more environmentally conscious. What’s happening in the diamond industry right now is akin to greenwashing in that some companies are highlighting the fact they sell conflict-free diamonds as if it’s a unique feature.

So what does conflict-free mean? During the late 1990’s great concern was expressed by human rights organisations about something known as “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds.” These terms were coined to describe diamonds sourced from areas that were known to fund violence or corruption with the proceeds of the diamond trade. Some countries heavily involved in the export of conflict diamonds included Angola, Liberia, Congo, and Sierra Leone. At its worst, the export of conflict diamonds was responsible for about 4% of the global diamond trade.

But the entire notion of conflict diamonds is something of an anachronism. The fuss about blood diamonds, which incidentally has even inspired a major motion picture, Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio (2006), was relevant back in the 80s and 90s. At that time, the diamond trade was the principle method of funding wars in unstable African economies. During those dark days, warlords and corrupt regimes alike were propped up by the illegal diamond trade, which produced many of the diamonds being worn by middle-class westerners who didn’t care or would prefer not to know where their diamonds came from.

In response to this diabolical situation, in the year 2000 the UN instituted the Kimberley Process, which sought to impose a set of ethical guidelines on the diamond trade worldwide. Under the process, which is still in effect, member countries have a responsibility to ensure that all diamonds leaving their borders are conflict free. In January of 2001 The United States adopted the Kimberly Process when they passed the Clean Diamond Trade Act banning the import of conflict diamonds. These initiatives reduced the funding from conflict diamonds from 4% to less than 1%.

“Problem solved” I hear you thinking, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. There are several diamond companies currently charging a premium for what are known as “conflict-free” diamonds. Conflict-free refers to diamonds that are supposedly more ethically sound than their conflict, or “blood”, diamond counterparts because they have not been mined in war-torn countries in which violent insurgent activities have been funded by the diamond trade.

So what can you do as a conscientious consumer to make sure you are not buying conflict diamonds? The simple answer is nothing at all. Conflict diamonds are no longer widely available for sale. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to get hold of a blood diamond today even if you were actively trying. The ethically conscious consumer need not worry about being responsible for death and torture when they decide to pop the question. As long as you are buying from a reputable jeweller such as James Allen, Blue Nile, or Zoara, you can rest assured that that you are not buying a conflict diamond. If you have any question or doubts, simply ask the jeweller to show you a copy of his conflict diamond policy. For example, take a look at Blue Nile’s conflict diamond policy, bearing in mind that this a jewellery company that doesn’t emphasize its conflict-free policy in its marketing. (Here is a copy of the James Allen policy)

Curious about the price difference? The premium charged by “conflict-free” diamond companies for the illusion of ethics might surprise you. A comparison of one of the most popular conflict-free diamond companies and James Allen – a jeweller who doesn’t hype the fact that they are conflict-free (but have a clearly posted policy)- reveals that there is as much as a 33% difference in price. This means that consumers are paying up to one third more for the luxury of feeling like they have purchased ethically sourced diamonds.

Moreover, two of the biggest “conflict-free” diamond sellers tout Canadian diamonds as a conflict-free alternative to blood diamonds. But not only are diamonds from African countries now conflict-free, they also provide a much-needed boost to the local economy. For example, according to DiamondFacts.org, the revenue from the diamond industry currently enables every child in Botswana to receive a free education up until the age of 13. Another example is that the African diamond industry is instrumental in the global fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. These are just a couple of the many surprising facts around the African diamond industry that you won’t hear from the companies that make massive profits promoting Canadian conflict-free diamonds.

One last interesting fact- even the so called “Green” diamond companies can’t agree on what is actaully Green. For example take a look at this page on the Green Karat site.  This page, which was clearly written as a poke at one of the other large “ethical diamond companies”, goes on to claim that even Canadian Sourced diamonds are not really ethically sourced. Green Karat tries to out “green” Brilliant Earth by claiming that only recycled jewelry is Green enough for there standards!

In Summary-  When looking for a diamond that is conflict free

1)      Always buy from a reputable Jeweller –  whether online or in person.

2)      Always ask your jeweller for a stated policy on conflict free diamonds that guarantees that all diamonds sold adhere to the Kimberly process.

3)  There is no need to spend more money for a conflict free diamond at companies such as Brilliant Earth and Green Karat.

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