However, we do have the possibility to purchase products that are fair, organic and produced nearby.
Diamonds are a strong symbol of wealth, beauty, love and eternity. And they have not just magically popped out of a ground but they were also quite often ripped from someone’s back.
A big part of the diamond mines are located in countries with a high risk of human rights violations. Michael Chen, who has been a diamond dealer for 25 years, says that customers are normally not really interested in where their jewels come from. ‘People are mainly interested in the size and colour of the diamond and of course in its quality.’
If the consumer asked where a diamond comes from, Chen would not be able to give him an answer. It is almost impossible to track the origin of one specific diamond.
In the late 90´s, the organisation Global Witness released the report A Rough Trade, which revealed how diamonds were used to fund the brutal civil war of Angola. In 2006 the big audience was introduced to the subject through the Leonardo DiCaprio Hollywood movie Blood Diamond. The movie was set in the civil war of Sierra Leone. Diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance conflicts are called blood diamonds or conflict diamonds. These gems profit diamond companies across the world as well as warlords.
The KPCS (Kimberley Process Certification Scheme) is a voluntary collaborative partnership between international governments, NGOs and the diamond industry to banish conflict diamonds from international trade. It has been operational since 2003. The Kimberley Process was not established because western companies felt it to be their responsibility to not finance violence in Africa, but it was founded after several South African diamond-producing countries wanted to start a battle against conflict diamonds in 2000.
Antwerp is one of the diamond centres of the world. The Antwerp Diamond Office deals with 84% of all the rough diamonds and 50% of all the polished diamonds worldwide. The Diamond Office acts as a supervising body for the Belgian government, for all import and export of all types of unset polished and rough diamonds, industrial diamonds, boart, synthetic diamonds and diamond powder.
‘Each parcel will be opened and several diamonds in the parcel will be controlled to a profound extent. Due to the fact that a parcel can contain hundreds of diamonds, it is impossible to check all the diamonds in it,' tells spokeswoman of the Diamond Office Margaux Donckier.
Still, if it is not possible to track the origin of a diamond, it brings out the question how it is possible then to confirm the circumstances in which diamonds are produced and sold.
Does conflict-free mean ethical?
At the moment Venezuela and the Central African Republic are suspended from trading conflict-free diamonds because of the instability of the country. Congo Brazzaville, Ivory Coast and Liberia have been brought back into KP, after having been suspended before.
Diamonds are the world’s most controlled minerals and at the moment there is high pressure to widen the concept of conflict diamonds by including essential human right violations and environmental issues. Still, it seems that it will not happen anywhere soon.
Congo for example is, after being back under KP, in a many ways a conflict country. According to the Human Rights Report of U.S Department of states: ‘Government corruption remained pervasive, and some corporations purchased minerals from suppliers who financed mining activities by armed entities that committed serious human rights abuses.’
The report also states how the government is highly corrupted and how members of the state security are using violence against civilians, human rights defenders and journalists. Also they actively carry out societal discrimination against ethnic minorities and women, there is child labour, and a lack of protection of workers' rights.
Furthermore, many indicators tell something about the situation in Congo. According to Freedom of the World, Congo is considered as a ‘not free country’. The Human Development Index tells that Congo has a low human development rate and that the child labour risk is extremely high. The human right risk index states that there is an extreme risk of human rights violations and that the country in under the international poverty line.
It is a bit hard to claim that diamond assortments including diamonds from Congo are conflict free, and if there is the intention to consider human rights and the environment under KP, taking these countries back to business is not showing a lot of progress.
In the light of statistics the proportion of conflict diamonds has declined from 15% to 0.2% after 2003, so it seems that the process is working. Still, the reliability of the Kimberly Process certificate can be questioned since it can be authorized by corrupted governments.
Text and photos: Marie von Bell