With their enticing beauty and association with status, it’s easy to covet a diamond without
fully understanding the implications of your purchase. But if you’re the type of shopper that
chooses free-range eggs and pays more money for ethically manufactured clothing, then
you should approach shopping for the perfect diamond in the same way.
It’s highly likely that you’ve heard of ‘blood diamonds’. Well-publicized in the early 2000s,
and even the subject of a high-profile movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2006, conflict diamonds – as they are known in political circles – refer to diamonds mined in conflict zones, with the money from sales used to finance insurgency and political corruption through
military violence. This issue came to prominence during the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, but it has been around almost as long as diamonds themselves.
The Kimberley Process
At one point in the 1980s, it was estimated that almost a quarter of the world’s diamonds
could be considered ‘blood diamonds’. International NGO Global Witness picked up the issue, publishing a report in 1998 called ‘A Rough Trade’, and the UN Security Council
passed a resolution later that year to find a solution to the problem.
Launched in 2003, The Kimberley Process certification scheme is designed to make sure
your diamonds have come from a legitimate source and are not financing violence led by
organisations seeking to undermine legitimate governments. The scheme has not been
without criticism, but improvements are made every year. In 2019 there were 54 participants,
representing 81 countries, and seven working groups carrying out the various schemes
needed to implement certification.
To join the scheme, diamond production companies need to meet a set of strict criteria and
be voluntarily audited on an annual basis. While it isn’t full-proof, buying a Kimberley
Process certified diamond will give you some peace of mind, and many jewellers these days
won’t sell diamonds that aren’t certified.
The environment is the new conflict zone
The rush to make diamond mining more efficient and profitable has led to the introduction of
many environmentally unsustainable, damaging processes. In Canada, for example, the
proposed Victor diamond mine would have significant impacts on the local environment.
According to The Greener Diamond, the mine would pump the equivalent of 40 Olympic-
sized swimming pools of water into the neighbouring Attawapiskat River every day, affecting
local wildlife and fish populations, with 2.5 million tons of rock every year removed from and
dumped in the local area, leaching chemicals such as acid into the environment. Many
mines are now actively looking at how to reduce their environmental impact, while at the
same time improving pay and working conditions for their labourers. You should always ask
your jeweller about traceability.
Recycled diamonds and other precious gems are rising in popularity. Many of these stones
are not Kimberley Process certified – however, they require no new mining, so they score
highly on the environmental and ethical front.
Another newly popular option are lab-grown gems. Diamonds require a lot of human labour,
fuel and chemicals to be extracted and cleaned for use naturally, while lab-grown diamonds
only require a scientist, the same carbon building blocks as natural diamonds, and a little
patience. They are just as beautiful as diamonds mined from the ground, without the
potentially sordid history attached to them. If ethics are the most important factor in making a
choice, then lab-grown diamonds are worth exploring.
Remember, gold, silver and other gems are also mined from the ground, and can share the
same sustainability and conflict-related issues. For this reason, recycled gold and silver are
becoming increasingly popular. There are also Fairmined standards for precious metals,
helping to protect some of the estimated 16 million artisan miners working worldwide. These
standards ensure precious metals have been collected by people who are paid fairly, work in
reasonable conditions, and are usually employed by community-managed mines to make
sure locals benefit from their natural resources. Some Fairmined gold also comes with an
ecological standard to show environmentally sustainable practices have been adopted by
Buying a diamond, or a piece of gold or silver jewellery is a real investment. Why not invest
in the future of the workers, and the next generation as well?