There has been a lot in the press in recent years about conflict diamonds. The 2006 film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio did much to trigger the public’s interest in the topic, but it still remains a fact that most people do not have a clue where their diamond came from and many do not care. But recent news of the situation in Zimbabwe has brought the topic to the forefront again and a recent BBC Panorama programme has highlighted the problems with the diamond industry once more.
The diamond industry has been blighted for years with the tainted knowledge that historically, many diamonds have come from conflict-zones and these conflict or blood diamonds have often been used to fund wars. In 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was set up with the aim of preventing diamond sales from funding rebellious movements, by stopping blood diamonds entering the market. It also served to reassure consumers that their purchase was not financing war and human rights abuses.
Many people however feel like the process doesn’t work and the Scheme has come under fierce criticism from organisations such as the NGO Global Witness for “failing to address the issues of smuggling, money laundering and human rights abuses in the world’s… diamond fields.”
On top of the criticism, the Scheme, after banning the export of diamonds from Zimbabwe’s controversial Marange diamond fields in 2009, recommended that the country be allowed to sell its diamonds again as conflict-free in June 2010. It should also be noted that the original suspension did little to prevent the smuggling of diamonds into Mozambique and South Africa and so diamonds from Zimbabwe have been entering the market anyway.
The Marange diamond fields contain the most significant find of diamonds the world has seen for many years. Deposited 1.1bn years ago, they were found to cover an area of 26km2 when they were discovered five years ago.
This reinstatement of the label conflict-free is such a controversial issue, as the BBC’s Panorama programme recently reported, because the situation in the Marange fields is horrendous. By late 2008, mining in the area was being carried out by soldiers, using local villagers for forced labour. The documentary amassed evidence of a systematic massacre in 2008 where it is thought that police and soldiers cleared the area of an unknown number of civilians illegally searching for diamonds. The military operation was concealed and despite journalists presenting evidence to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, it is unknown at this time if any prosecution will happen.
At the end of June this year, the Chair of the KPCS stated that “We have decided to lift the measure which prevented Zimbabwe from exporting its diamonds in the Mbada and Kanadai mines in the Marange region.” This is despite strong opposition from many pressure organisations and the US, EU, Israel and Canada, not least because the decision was made unilaterally, which goes against KPSC rules of approval by consensus.
Although the exports will be monitored, the US has pleaded for continued suspension of Marange diamonds until the situation is resolved and the World Diamond Council has told their members to avoid diamonds from Marange until a consensus decision is made at the next meeting.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure – the recent decision has done nothing to add to the credibility of the Kimberley Process. And for now, the only sure-fire way to avoid a potential conflict diamond is to source one that can be traced to the mine of origin, for example from the traceable mines in Canada. It might take a little extra effort to source, but it will keep your conscience clear for life.
This article was written by London-based jewellers, Ingle and Rhode – suppliers of ethical wedding rings, engagement rings and other fair trade jewellery. Photo Credit: oregonOATH
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