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The ethical diamonds market continues its growth

22nd October 2017 Print
Diamond ring

Diamond necklaces, drop earrings, sparkling engagement rings, and exquisite wedding bands are always satisfying and exciting gifts to receive. However, more and more people have been considering the origin of their rare gemstones over the past decade. These precious rocks come from some of the most exceptional materials on the planet, and this increased knowledge is invaluable to understand where it all began. 

Although such elegant pieces of jewellery can represent so much love, happiness, and wealth, and last forever, often passed through generations, there is a much darker side to the diamond industry that is not apparent on the surface. Demands dropped in the industry for a while when people discovered the shadow lingering over the history of their prized possessions, but as ethical standards increased, the market started to improve again in 2017.

The truth about Blood Diamonds

Also known as conflict diamonds, blood diamonds are those extracted from mines in controlled areas. Rebel factions who oppose governments and legal bodies collect the diamonds and sell them illegally to subsidise violence and invading armies.

Piles of sparkling diamonds are not the only results of mining around the globe, human suffering, violence, civil wars, exploitation, and environmental degradation have all been happening in the shadows for years. The past two decades alone have seen civil wars start in seven different locations in Africa.

Millions of people are still living with the loss of over 3.7 million lives as a consequence of the wars sparked from the blood diamond industry. It is most often the rebel groups who are culpable of the violence, but governments and mining companies are also to blame for the destruction, especially in countries not at war. 

The release of the award-winning film, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2006 gained a lot of media attention and sparked interest in the public. Diamonds are a symbol of love for so many and suffering for so many others, which was gradually becoming more and more evident. Demand for the violent part of the industry to stop began rising. At this time, there was an estimated four to fifteen percent of conflict diamonds in the rough diamond trade.

Having grown up in Africa, Nikolay, CEO of engagement ring specialists Taylor & Hart, lived in South Africa and Zimbabwe for 15 years. He describes 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.”

Ethical sourcing methods are improving

Discovering that ethical and conflict diamonds had been in circulation together for decades caused concern among purchasers and retailers around the world. The Kimberley Process (KP) was launched in 2003, which attempted to distinguish ethical and blood diamonds. There are 80 countries involved in the certification scheme, and the number of conflict diamonds in circulation is now below one percent.

Unfortunately, the process still has a long way to go to be a foolproof solution. Joining the scheme is not mandatory, and so some countries have declined. There has also been criticism over the years because the identification method only looks at conflict-free areas based on NGO's, governments and industry professionals and does not consider human exploitation. Zimbabwe, for example, still has a high level of brutality and lack of basic human rights, but is marked as a conflict-free country. The verification of diamonds from here, therefore, marks them as such. Lack of digital records is also an issue within the KP. Everything is paper-based, which can cause imitation data, loss, and even tampering.

Increasing options are appearing with other companies trying to provide solutions to the issues in the system. A business called Everledger plans to move the entire Kimberley Process from paper-based to digital by using Blockchain technology, which aims to eliminate the risks mentioned above associated with a paper system. 

Since conflict-free and ethical are two different qualities, many retailers avoid purchasing diamonds originating in Zimbabwe and use KP as a reference only. CanadaMark helps to define the origin of the jewels by providing a certificate to the consumer. The certificate details the country and history of the gemstone.

Synthetic diamonds have tried to provide a solution to the blood trade, but this then creates further issues for the local economies of those in Africa. Millions of jobs would be lost, but the lab-designed diamonds have created a small niche of their own within the industry.

What is certain, is that as fewer sources are discovered, the value of diamonds continues to grow in an industry that most likely, like the diamond, will be forever.

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Diamond ring