Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blood Diamonds or Ethical Diamonds? What Are You Wearing?

The what, where, and why on conflict "blood diamonds"!  
Soldiers of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF),
waging a campaign of amputation and rape. (BBC 2013)

It began in the 1980s with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a group of rebel soldiers formed in Sierra Leone, in western Africa which claimed to, "fight for democracy."  The RUF sought to overthrow the government and take control of diamond producing regions (Princeton 2013).  The funds to purchase their weapons and fuel the group came through selling diamonds from diamond mine takeovers.  Through these takeovers, the RUF murdered non combatant citizens, raped, kept young girls as sex slaves, took child soldiers, forced children to kill their families and other civilians, took possession of rivers used for fishing, and dismembered limbs from civilians as their signature.
"By cutting off your hands, you loose the capacity to actively participate in government."
-RUF soldier to civilian as his family was burnt alive in his house

This father had both of his hands cut off by an RUF soldier.
In January 2003, the Kimberely Process Certification (KPC) Scheme was endorsed by the United Nations and created as an international certification process to  assure "conflict-free" diamonds.  However, the responsibility to follow through with the KPC is placed in the hands of individual governments.  The corruption within the regions of conflict diamonds, make the KPC unreliable.  On the KPC's homepage, you can even see a list of stolen certification numbers, which shows how certificates and signatures can slip into the wrong hands over and over again. The KPC's lack of enforcement, political will, and regulation has not stopped conflict diamonds from being produced and sold (learn more in the documentary at the bottom of this post) (Global Witness).  Also, corruption within governments prevents proper regulation of the KPC from taking place.  At this point in time many consumers like you and me were unaware that conflict diamonds even existed! 
Can you tell if this is a blood diamond or an ethical diamond?
You can ask.
"Everyone hopes that diamonds and other minerals will help rebuild the country; but in reality much of the diamond wealth does not come back to the people, or the country. The wealth remains in the hands of relatively few powerful individuals who control the business." 
- National Geographics 2003

Then in 2006 the release of the movie Blood Diamonds, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and co-produced and directed by Edward Zwick, brought the problem of conflict diamonds to the public eye.  This movie introduced conflict diamonds as "blood diamonds." The movie Blood Diamonds exposed the existence of conflict diamonds while raising questions such as why blood diamonds exist, why these diamonds continue to make it to retail markets across the globe, and how consumers can be sure if their diamonds fuel the RUF. This movie also sparked activism to reach out to the devastated communities.  In 2007, Russell Simmons founded Diamond Empowerment Fund, which is a non-profit organization that "supports education initiatives in diamond producing countries."
But, consumers like you and me can make a difference too!  With the recent discovery of diamonds in northern Canada, customers have been turning to Canadian sourced diamonds, ethically labeled with the CanadaMark.  However, it is important to also acknowledge that the diamond industry is crucial to many countries in Africa where conflict diamonds emerge.  Completely avoiding certain countries, like the 5 year EU embargo on diamonds from Zimbabwe, can cause brutal effects on a country's economy.  It is important that consumers like you and me recognize that there are ethical diamonds from Africa.  There are even companies that sell ethical African diamonds.  Some companies ethically source their diamonds from Africa then donate portions of their profit to help rebuild conflict diamond zone communities.  A few companies which go beyond simply avoiding conflict diamonds (which is still a step in the right direction, but leaves communities in poverty) by reinvesting in conflict diamond zone communities include retailers such as Brilliant Earth, who donates 5% of profits to mining communities. This extra step helps combat the repercussions created in these regions,  instead of avoiding their diamonds and leaving the communities to suffer.

What are governments doing today?
Over the next 3 days, members from 81 countries will participate in a 4 day plenary discussion in Johannesburg, South Africa, to strengthen the Kimberely Process Certification (KPC) and reduce the flow of blood diamonds.

"Going forward, I think it's fairly clear to everyone that it's not just rebels that are capable of 
handling conflict gems... across Africa, governments have been [cooperating with] people 
in a massive violation of human rights in areas where diamonds have been produced.  
In the case of Angola, it refuses to acknowledge that there is a dire violation of human rights there.  
In Angloda the KP is used as a cover for the abuses to continue.  So I don't want the KP to go there. 
 I also don't want the KP to continue to be  a legitimate shield for the government." 
Dr. Oladiran Bello, South African Institute of International Affairs 
(The Dark Side of Diamonds 2013)

Now what for consumers?
Are you getting married or plan on purchasing any diamond jewelry soon? Instead of any 'ole diamond, choose one that is ethically sourced and NOT a conflict diamond.  How do you do this? You ask! A joyful new piece to your wardrobe can either support terrorism, or can tell the diamond industry that you will not stand for diamonds that end in deaths.  Be aware that you can ask questions which make a difference.  Retailers sell because consumers buy.  Make retailers sell diamonds that are conflict-zone free! I would suggest to go beyond simply "conflict free."  If you ask the right questions, you can help change the sourcing of diamonds. If consumers demand, supply will change.  :) 

Documentary by History Channel: Blood Diamonds Sierra Leone Diamond War

Infographic on diamond sourcing:
Blood Diamond Infographic
Reasons to Care Where Your Diamond Comes From provided by Brilliant Earth.

Art Director: Alexandra Jensen
Copywriter: Denise Duffy
2011 Gold, Graphis New Talent Annual winner

All links within this article provide sources for this article.  Please click the links to further educate yourself on conflict diamonds and please remember how your ethical diamond purchase can help show governments that you will not stand for your diamonds to be a result of bloodshed!

Special Thanks to Dr. Trina Hamilton and Seth Cavello for guiding me and allowing me to assist them in research on the ethical diamond trade through the Ronald E. McNair PostBaccalaureate Summer Program 2012 which helped me understanding in writing this post!  -Christine Tjahjadi-Lopez

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1 comment:

Camille Marie said...

how absolutely sad. but thank you for the education.