Diamonds have all kinds of positive connotations. Most notably, they are connected to love. A symbolism of marriage and a long-lasting romance. The sparkle of diamonds is aesthetically pleasing, and there are few people who would deny the beauty of them. But there is a very dark side to diamonds. They have been responsible for war, deaths and violence. Today it can be extremely challenging to determine which diamonds are ethical, or if indeed any are.
Funnily enough, diamonds weren’t always as special as they are now. They were not always connected to love and marriage; it was the product of marketing by diamond seller De Beers. They created an advertising campaign that intrinsically connected diamonds to engagement, they made consumers feel like they weren’t proposing properly if they weren’t proposing with a diamond ring. Their tagline ‘Diamonds are Forever’ cements this idea. Diamonds are forever and so is marriage. The idea of love being connected to diamonds fades slightly when you realise that the whole concept was made up by a company just to make more profit. Diamonds are also not as scarce a source as we are often led to believe. De Beers is also responsible for making us believe this. They bought up diamond mines around the world and took full control of the diamond trade. This allowed them to make sure that diamonds did not become too common, and loose value. Despite their beauty, diamonds have only really become special because of some clever business strategy by De Beers.
Before I began researching diamonds, I knew they had some ethical issues, but I was in no way prepared to discover quite how much damage they had done. They have been the cause of a number of civil wars in Africa, most notably the Sierra Leone civil war, which lasted 10 years. There were an estimated 50,000 deaths, with 100,000s of citizens being displaced. The war was against the government and people of Sierra Leone by a group of rebels called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The RUF sought to overthrow the government, as well as control and profit from the country’s abundance of diamonds. The money made from diamonds helped substantially in funding the war. The RUF took over small mining communities and used brutal tactics. The RUF are known for using amputation. They would amputate the hands of civilians and tell them they did this so that they can no longer vote for leaders against the rebel interests. As well as amputation, they also utilised forced labour, coercing civilians into working in diamond mines. Meanwhile, unknowing consumers were buying these blood diamonds in the western world, completely unaware of the absolute destruction it was causing to innocent lives. I recommend watching this documentary for an in-depth history and explanation of blood diamonds if you’d like to learn more.
As a response to the horrors of blood diamonds, The Kimberley Process was created. It sought to make sure that blood diamonds no longer found their way into jewellers. But it only bans diamonds that finance rebel groups (as was the case in Sierra Leone). But there are many instances in which diamonds finance governments or mining company’s violence against citizens. For example, in Zimbabwe, where the government was corrupt and state security agencies were found to have committed killings, beatings and used force labour in its Marange diamond fields. This didn’t fit The Kimberley Processes description of conflict diamonds, and so they allowed exports from there. This renders the process pretty much useless; it is not an indicator of if a diamond has come from an ethical source.
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash
Because of diamonds profitability and the extreme poverty many live in on the African continent, areas of mining often attract issues. For example, many citizens from the Democratic Republic of Congo crossed the border into Angola in order to benefit from Angolan diamond mines. However, the Angolan government used inhumane tactics in expelling the citizens back to the DRC. Whilst in detention centres waiting to be expelled, women and girls reported being victims of sexual abuse including gang rape, sexual exploitation, and being forced to witness the sexual abuse of other women and girls.
The conflict and violence alone that comes with diamond mining is enough to give anyone second thoughts about purchasing diamonds, but the work itself also comes with issues. Mining for alluvial diamonds involves spending most of your day waste deep in dirty water and doing monotonous, tough, manual labour. Industrial mining is less unpleasant, but with the fact that it takes place in countries prone to poverty wages, unionised workers and coercive workplaces, it’s not unfair to assume that citizens are working in unethical conditions.
When researching diamonds, you’re likely to stumble upon Brilliant Earth’s website. They have some good information about the issues with diamonds. But there’s a rather considerable problem with them. Brilliant Earth sell diamonds themselves. Which, of course, they claim come from ethical sources. But as soon as I looked at where they had sourced their diamonds from, I immediately felt sceptical. I saw the African countries that have been plagued with the conflicts I had talked about above. On doing some further research, I found a few other articles that stated how there’s no way to verify that Brilliant Earth’s diamonds are actually ethical. The illegitimate diamond industry is huge, and its not difficult for diamonds that have been mined unethically to slip through the net and make it into a batch that are supposedly ethical. There is really no way of telling how a diamond was mined or even where it was mined. Brilliant Earth source some of their diamonds from Russia, and they claim these diamonds are free of conflict. However as this article notes, Human Rights Watch identifies the country as ‘increasingly oppressive.’ Maybe the Russian authorities make it appear as though the diamonds are mined ethically, but can we actually trust them? Despite Brilliant Earths claims of ethical diamonds, there is really no way for that to be 100% verified.
‘I remain convinced that no system of certificates and stamps of approval or digital pictures are going to eradicate this problem. As long as there are armed groups who are acting in rebellion to a legitimate government of a country where diamonds are found. And as long as they can control diamonds, as long as they can extract the diamonds, those diamonds will get sold.’ – Greg Campbell, author of Blood Diamonds.
So what are the alternatives then? Lab grown diamonds have been growing in popularity. They completely remove the human rights issues of diamonds. By recreating natures process of making diamonds in a lab, they are able to create diamonds that look exactly the same as those that have been mined. Despite still being an energy intensive process, they are also better for the environment than mined diamonds. In my research, the biggest criticism I came up against for lab grown diamonds was that it takes jobs away from those in poorer countries who rely on mining diamonds for survival. This is a difficult situation. If diamonds were mined responsibly and workers were paid a fair wage, it could be positive, but this seems an impossible task when conflict and illegitimacy are rife in the diamond industry.
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
De Beers, the company mentioned above that are responsible (at least in part) for the issues within the diamond industry have been trying to change things. With the launch of their project ‘GemFair’ which will give tablets to miners in Sierra Leone with apps on that will teach them information about the types of diamonds they mine and how much they are worth. The idea being that equipped with more information, miners can get a fairer price for their diamonds. This is a new project though so there’s not any information out there about how affective it is. Its also easy to be sceptical of De Beers considering the disasters they have caused previously. Are they attempting to make amends simply because the demand for ethical diamonds is growing?
One great option is second hand. Second hand is always good because it has no negative impact on the environment or people. It’s cheaper too. But in reality, I think we need to reassess our relationship with diamonds. I encourage you, like with any purchase, to think about why you want it, how you will use it and how much it will get used. What I find upsetting is that thousands of people have died over a product that no one ever really needed. So if you’re ever considering buying a diamond, I encourage you to think carefully about it.