Despite having entered the public eye at the start of the century, the issue of blood diamonds and regulation in the industry remains murky.
Diamonds are supposedly regulated by the Clean Diamond Trade Act. Signed in 2003, this implemented the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) – a process designed to stop ‘conflict diamonds’ from entering the mainstream rough diamond market. Although generally viewed as a step forward, both flaws and loopholes remain.
Primarily, it is seen by many as being too narrow. Yes, it does place added scrutiny on the mining and distribution of diamonds in conflict areas, but equally it has next to no influence on broader issues such as working conditions, health and safety, pay and the use of child labour. It is also seen as infuriatingly vague as to what constitutes a conflict zone.
Secondly, it applies to batches of rough diamonds rather than an individual stone, so discovering the source of the diamond on the ring of your dreams is far easier said than done.
Further undermining the KPCS is that some major players have walked away from the scheme. Global Witness – one of the pioneers in uncovering the often-harrowing background of diamonds sourced from conflict zones – left in late 2011 citing a lack of evolution in the KPCS in fixing old problems and adapting to new ones. The departures of Ian Smillie and Martin Rapaport – key figures in the development of the KPCS – also hit its credibility.
Question marks even remain over its true influence, particularly following last month’s announcement that it would not interfere in Zimbabwe’s diamond trade after Harare announced plans to nationalise its diamond mines. That comes despite continual allegations of forced labour, poor working conditions, torture and smuggling.
The European Union did announce plans for increase disclosure on the movement of conflict minerals, but admitted it would be an opt-in scheme with question-marks over whether diamonds would be covered, immediately weakening its position.
One of the major problems is that while proceeds from a blood diamond could well be funding a war lord in countries ravaged by conflict such as Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of Congo, the industry equally provides income for thousands of low-skilled workers in need of employment. The continent of Africa contains 65 per cent of the world’s diamonds, and it represents business worth $8.14b every year.
So what exactly is the answer?
Avoiding diamonds from countries such as Zimbabwe and Angola is a good start. Diamonds from Canada are widely recognised as being ethical purchases. Their labour and environmental standards are rigorously enforced, although this does increase the cost of the final product. Some companies also use the ‘tack-and-trace’ model, which means each mined diamond has a unique ID number laser-inscribed on the stone. There are calls for this system to be adopted world-wide.
De Beers’ Forevermark diamonds have a guarantee that each was mined and sourced ethically. Critics, however, point out that this is hard to prove, particularly as the customer is still not able to trace where the stone was mined in the first place. Other companies such as Tiffany and Cartier invest in cutting and polishing plants in Botswana to keep as much revenue as possible in-country.
All of this may not bring an immediate end to the issues facing diamond mining in Africa, but it does at least represent progress.