An analysis of the conflict-free diamond industry

Diamonds are a staple in the jewelry industry and they are a consistent favorite among consumers, but purchasing these rare and precious stones come with a high level of risk. Blood diamonds, or diamonds that are unethically mined and produced to fund conflicts in war-torn areas, make up as much as 20 percent of the stones that are on the market today. This multi-million-dollar illicit business contributes to a human rights and public health crisis that is predominantly affecting poor areas in central and western Africa. However, there are ways to ensure that you’re buying a stone that was legally, ethically, and responsibly sourced.

Some of the most heavily affected countries are Botswana, Liberia, Angola, and the Central African Republic – among many others. Individuals from local, impoverished areas are commonly targeted and recruited by violent groups for their labor efforts. These workers often trade their freedom, health, and livelihood just to keep themselves and their families afloat – even though their revenue depends entirely on whether or not they’re able to find diamonds at all. For a diamond that’s about one carat in weight, a worker in Democratic Republic of Congo could make $100 USD. The amount of work that’s required to mine these diamonds by hand is grueling and debilitating, but it’s fueled by a worldwide demand for the precious stones. The generated revenue goes into the pockets of violent rebel groups who continue to exploit and indenture people from vulnerable communities.

In response to the damage caused by this underground trade, leaders in the diamond industry created a verification system called the Kimberley Process to evaluate diamonds for their origin and integrity. This certification process has reduced the purchase of blood diamonds since its inception more than a decade ago, but it’s not foolproof. Due to illegal smuggling and falsified reports regarding the origin of exported diamonds, many illegitimate stones still make their way onto the market. For this reason, it is imperative for buyers to conduct thorough research before purchasing a diamond from anywhere.

In order to ensure that the diamond you want to purchase was mined and processed legally and ethically, look for stones that have an extensive trail of recorded information. Traceability is key when it comes to purchasing diamonds, and there are a few reasons for that. One method to ensure that you’re buying a conflict-free diamond is to look for specific certifications, such as an endorsement from GIA diamonds. This authority uses a rigorous, multi-step verification process to determine the origin of each stone they accept. Certified stones come with an engraved inscription, or a printed and sealed certificate.

Another thing to consider when purchasing diamonds is environmental impact. While diamond mining is inevitably going to have an impact on surrounding ecosystems, buying a legally sourced stone that was mined from a responsible company is one way to refrain from supporting destructive labor mills. Reputable miners operate within the requirements of law, while also choosing sites that will have cause the least amount of damage to the environment. By default, you can also rest assured that illegal, inhumane labor wasn’t used for production in a heavily regulated mine.

To be completely sure that your diamond is conflict-free, opting for a lab-grown stone is an easy way to keep your peace of mind. While they are man made, lab-created diamonds have the same makeup and appearance of natural stones. Since they are created from start-to-finish, there is no risk that they were mined, sold, traded, or obtained from conflict-affected areas. Of course this isn’t required if you take the necessary precautions, but it’s an additional option for those who would like a real diamond without any chance of it being a blood diamond.

The process behind checking imported diamonds isn’t watertight, but many retailers can guarantee that their diamonds are conflict and guilt free. Regardless of a diamond’s place of origin, purchasing from reputable producers will prevent consumers from buying stones that were either mined by force, detrimental to the environment, smuggled to hide traceability, or all of the above. Even though the amount of blood diamonds on the market has lowered dramatically since 2003, it’s still a huge and influential business that has its hands in some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions.

The United States is the largest consumer of diamonds in the world, contributing to nearly half of the diamonds industry’s annual revenue. Since about 80 percent of the world’s gem-quality diamonds come from Africa, there is a high probability that – without proper research and information – you could be purchasing a blood diamond and inadvertently helping to fund this violent and devastating underground industry. By remaining vigilant and confirming the identity and origin of every diamond we buy, we can help to quash a powerful business that has damaged the lives of millions and millions of people.