Our conflict diamond infographic explores past issues and ongoing abuses impacting the diamond industry.

BLOOD DIAMOND EXPOSÉ

It’s become well known among diamond consumers that many diamonds have histories tied to violence and human suffering. But most people looking for a diamond never receive any more information than this basic word of advice: avoid buying a “blood” or “conflict” diamond.

That advice is well-intentioned, but it’s not always enough. The truth is, many so-called “conflict free” diamonds are not actually untainted by bloodshed and other serious injustices including child labor, worker exploitation, and sexual violence.

How is it that reputable jewelers could be misleading customers about such serious issues? Why isn’t the diamond industry being held accountable to a higher standard? The simple answer is that the industry has done a masterful job of setting the terms of the debate – and of encouraging any discussion about blood diamonds to end before it even starts.

 

But if you want a more complete answer, it’s helpful to take a deeper look at what happens in jewelry stores, at the history of the blood diamond issue, and at how the diamond industry developed a marketing strategy that misleads consumers and makes real change a challenge.

“IT’S NOT A BLOOD DIAMOND”

The trouble with talking about “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds” is that there is no universally understood definition of either term. That shouldn’t be such a problem – except that it gives jewelers the flexibility to say that they don’t sell blood diamonds without ever saying anything more specific.

In conversations with customers, most jewelers do not volunteer detailed information about where their diamonds come from. (Indeed, few jewelers know any information, since only a small percentage of diamonds are traceable to a country of origin.) If consumers do ask, jewelers will usually provide confident assurances that they do not, and would not ever, sell a blood diamond. They may even state that their diamonds have been certified as “conflict free” by the Kimberley Process, the international diamond certification scheme.

The discussion usually ends there. It can feel uncomfortable for shoppers to push any harder for answers. Diamond shoppers also have plenty of other factors to consider when buying a diamond. Most are happy to find a quality diamond at a good price.

Unfortunately, what consumers never find out is what their jeweler means by “blood diamond” or “conflict diamond.” That’s too bad, because many consumers mistakenly assume that a conflict free diamond is an ethical diamond. They would feel surprised and misled if they knew what “conflict free” doesn’t always cover – everything ranging from child labor to torture.

How did the diamond industry get to a place where it can sell diamonds mined by children and market those diamonds to the public as ethically-certified?

BLOOD DIAMOND HISTORY

It’s important to realize, first of all, that as long as there has been a diamond industry, diamond mining has been beset by violence, smuggling, worker exploitation, and environmental degradation.

These problems have existed for decades – since even before diamonds became the most popular choice for engagement rings in the 1940s and going all the way back to when diamonds were first discovered in South Africa in the late 1800s.

Terrible abuses have long taken place at diamond mines run by large companies, as well as in connection with artisanal diamond mining – a form of mining in which individuals mine for diamonds using simple methods like digging pits or panning in riverbeds.

However, it was not until the late 1990s that the diamond industry began to confront a consumer backlash. Bloody civil wars were then raging in Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other African countries. All of these wars had one thing in common: they were all fueled by diamonds.

Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada, two non-profit groups, took the lead in exposing the problem to the public. Rebel groups were seizing control of diamond mining regions and exchanging diamonds for money and weapons. The diamond industry was buying up these blood-stained diamonds and selling them in jewelry stores.

Press coverage soon made the terms “blood diamond” and “conflict diamond” more familiar to diamond consumers. And mounting public concern caught the attention of diamond industry executives. They were smart to realize: if consumers no longer recognized the beauty in diamonds, if all they saw was violence and hardship, then sales could plummet.

And so the diamond industry responded – just not in the most honest or effective way.

CONFLICT DIAMONDS AND THE KIMBERLEY PROCESS

The diamond industry’s response came in the form of a new diamond certification scheme called the Kimberley Process, launched in 2003.

The Kimberley Process is composed of 81 national governments and includes active participation from the diamond industry and non-profit groups. In principle, it is supposed to evaluate conditions in diamond-producing countries and certify that the diamonds being exported are “conflict free.”

At first, advocates for a more ethical diamond industry were optimistic that the Kimberley Process could become an effective tool for change. Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada helped to found the Kimberley Process and for years worked hard to improve it from the inside. Both organizations were co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

Regrettably, the Kimberley Process has failed to live up to its initial promise. One of its most glaring problems is that it has not enacted strict enough controls to stop diamond smuggling. Even when it declines to certify diamonds from a certain country, those diamonds still wind up in the international diamond supply with false Kimberley Process paperwork.

But its most fatal flaw is its narrow focus. Under the Kimberley Process, “conflict diamonds” are defined as diamonds used by rebel groups to fund civil wars. If a diamond isn’t funding a rebel group, it isn’t a conflict diamond, according to the Kimberley Process.

What this means is that the Kimberley Process grants conflict free certification to large numbers of diamonds tainted by bloodshed, child labor, sexual violence, and other injustices—all problems that remain very much a part of diamond mining today.

BLOOD DIAMONDS TODAY

Since the early 2000s, the situation on the ground in Africa has changed, mostly for the better. Civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone ended in 2002, putting a stop to fighting that took thousands of lives and left both countries devastated.

However, by any objective measure, conditions in diamond mining are not always ethical – and they are absolutely horrific in artisanal diamond mining. In Africa, close to a million people are artisanal diamond diggers. Almost all of them live in extreme poverty, earning an average take home pay of less than a dollar a day. Child labor is common and working conditions are very often dangerous and de-humanizing.

In addition, the connection between diamond mining and violence has yet to be broken. Diamonds during the past decade contributed to a civil war in Côte d’Ivoire (also known as the Ivory Coast), where stability returned only in 2012. Diamonds are also fueling a civil conflict in the Central African Republic, where more than a million people have been displaced from their homes.

Diamond-related violence has spilled into new contexts as well. Some of the worst diamond-related violence today does not take place in the midst of civil wars, but rather in countries that are officially “at peace.”

In Zimbabwe, for instance, the military massacred more than 200 artisanal diamond miners in 2008, then proceeded to enslave the local population and keep the profits. In 2011, the BBC discovered that the Zimbabwean government was running torture camps for diamond miners.

Similarly, in Angola, the military has been deployed to artisanal diamond mining regions where it has been beating and killing diamond miners, engaging in the systematic rape of women and girls, and demanding a portion of miners’ profits.

 

Despite all these grave problems, the Kimberley Process presently grants conflict free certification to diamonds from all but one country: the Central African Republic. Every other country, no matter what the ethical conditions, is able to sell its diamonds with the Kimberley Process stamp of approval.

THE KIMBERLEY PROCESS IN CRISIS

How can the Kimberley Process be doing so little to stop blood diamonds?

Many of the diamond-producing countries that belong to the Kimberley Process do not want it to raise standards. And this problem is magnified by the Kimberley Process’s broken decision-making process. All Kimberley Process decisions must be made by consensus, leaving it virtually paralyzed and unable to make hard choices.

Another issue is the one mentioned previously. The Kimberley Process defines “conflict diamonds” so narrowly – as diamonds that finance rebel groups – that it does not have a strong mandate to stop much of the bloodshed and human rights abuses tied to diamond mining.

But years and years of watching the Kimberley Process fail to make needed reforms – and continue to certify tainted diamonds as “conflict free” – have finally pushed the certification scheme to the breaking point.

The crisis is so severe that the very individuals and non-profit groups that helped found the Kimberley Process and once looked upon its establishment with pride are now unwilling to participate in it or be associated with it.

Most notably, in 2011, the non-profit group Global Witness grew so disillusioned that it announced its withdrawal from the Kimberley Process.

“Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes,” stated Global Witness’s founding director, calling the Kimberley Process “an accomplice to diamond laundering.”

BLOOD DIAMOND STATISTICS

The Kimberley Process’s willingness to certify blood diamonds as “conflict free” is disgraceful and disappointing. But just as outrageous is the way the diamond industry promotes the false notion that the Kimberley Process has nearly solved the blood diamond problem.

In 2006, shortly after the debut of the movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the group that represents the global diamond industry – the World Diamond Council – launched a new web site. (The web site is available at diamondfacts.org.) One of the site’s central claims, based on a 2004 statistic, is that the diamond supply is now more than 99% conflict free – or that less than one percent of diamonds are conflict diamonds.

Using its diamondfacts.org web site as a marketing tool, the diamond industry has managed to get this statistic routinely repeated in the press and in jewelry stores worldwide. There’s only one problem: it’s not true.

A closer look at the statistics reveals just how false and deceptive it is. Diamonds from the Central African Republic, Angola, and Zimbabwe – the countries where diamond-related violence has been most extreme in recent years – make up at least 10 percent of the diamond supply or more, measured by value.

Diamonds produced by artisanal diamond miners in other countries, such as Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, make up about another 5 percent. We do not believe that all artisanally-mined diamonds should be banned. Artisanal miners might only suffer more. But it is also misleading to promote diamonds mined in extreme poverty or using child labor as “conflict free.”

This combined total of 15 percent does not even begin to take into account all the diamond mines around the world where labor and environmental standards are far from optimal.

So how does the diamond industry claim that the diamond supply is 99% conflict free?

As noted, the Kimberley Process almost never encounters a diamond it won’t certify as conflict free. The only diamonds that the Kimberley Process doesn’t certify are diamonds from the Central African Republic, which produces about 0.5% of the world’s diamonds.

It is by counting only these banned diamonds from the Central African Republic – and disregarding abuses in the rest of the diamond supply – that the diamond industry can claim that less than one percent of diamonds are conflict diamonds.

In other words, the diamond industry has taken the Kimberley Process’s failure to tackle the blood diamond problem and, astonishingly, presented that failure as a stunning success.

A DOUBLE STANDARD FOR DIAMONDS

A decade after the creation of the Kimberley Process, the diamond industry has gotten much of what it wants.

By helping create a diamond certification scheme dedicated to stopping “conflict diamonds,” by defining that term extremely narrowly, and by promoting the notion that the conflict diamond problem has been nearly solved, the diamond industry has stemmed a lot of the public outrage that was building in the early 2000s.

Of course, the diamond industry hasn’t really solved the blood diamond problem. It has just done a good job of defining it out of existence – of shaping the terms of the conversation.

In jewelry stores, most consumers do not ask where a diamond comes from and the labor and environmental standards in place at the mine of origin. They ask whether it is conflict free. And since the Kimberley Process certifies 99.5% of diamonds as conflict free – and the rest receive false certification – the answer is always yes.

In other industries, abuses such as child labor have led to embarrassing scandals. Clothing manufacturers and electronics companies have faced tough public scrutiny for manufacturing their products in sweatshops.

But in the case of diamonds, the exclusive focus on whether a diamond is “conflict free” seems to have swept a lot of these problems under the rug.

WHY CHANGE IS COMING TO THE DIAMOND INDUSTRY

So can anything be done? At FLYNNI, we think so. In fact, we think that significant change is inevitable.

That’s because even as the diamond industry has sought to counter the perception that serious ethical problems exist in the diamond supply, the idea that diamonds should be ethically-mined has only become more and more accepted.

All the focus on conflict diamonds has confused and distracted some consumers, but it’s also resulted in more overall awareness that something is wrong in the diamond industry and that ethical conditions need to improve. The diamond industry can only stall for so long before the public demands higher standards.

At FLYNNI, we consider it part of our mission to hasten the day when that happens. We do this by educating consumers about continuing violence and ethical abuses in the diamond trade. We also continually push the Kimberley Process and the diamond industry to take greater responsibility and be more honest with consumers.

We believe that the Kimberley Process, at minimum, needs to explain on its web site and in its communications that a “conflict free” diamond is not necessarily an ethical diamond. The diamond industry, in the very least, should stop promoting the deceptive claim that the diamond supply is 99% conflict free.

Even higher on our wish list would be for the diamond industry to devote significant resources and expertise to a solution that could make a major difference in the lives of artisanal diamond diggers: a fair trade diamond system. Although the major mining companies don’t set or enforce labor and environmental standards in artisanal diamond mining, the diamond industry does buy up artisanally-mined diamonds and profit from them. It bears some of the responsibility for improving conditions.

As we continue to shape the dialogue, we believe it is also important to accomplish change directly. We give back to communities that have been harmed by the diamond trade, and we have helped to fund pilot projects that will make fair trade diamonds a reality.

Consumers and diamond miners alike eventually will get what they all deserve: a diamond trade that is ethical, fully transparent, and beneficial to everyone involved.

VIOLENCE

Diamonds are supposed to be symbols of love, commitment, and joyful new beginnings. But for many people in diamond-rich countries, these sparkling stones are more a curse than a blessing. Too often, the world’s diamond mines produce not only diamonds – but also civil wars, violence, worker exploitation, environmental degradation, and unspeakable human suffering.

Not long ago, the public started to become aware that large numbers of diamonds are mined in violent and inhumane settings. Consumers are now demanding, with ever greater urgency, that their diamonds be untouched by bloodshed and human rights abuses. Fueling Civil WarsSo far, however, the diamond industry’s response has been woefully inadequate. Diamonds with violent histories are still being mined and allowed to enter the diamond supply, where they become indistinguishable from other gems. Violence and injustice remain an everyday aspect of diamond mining.

FUELING CIVIL WARS

In just the past two decades, seven African countries have endured brutal civil conflicts fueled by diamonds: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Diamonds intensify civil wars by financing militaries and rebel militias.Rival groups also fight with each other to control diamond-rich territory. The tragic result is bloodshed, loss of life, and shocking human rights abuses – from rape to the use of child soldiers.

Diamonds that fuel civil wars are often called “blood” or “conflict” diamonds. Although many diamond-fueled wars have now ended, conflict diamonds remain a serious problem. In 2013, a civil war erupted in the Central African Republic, with both sides fighting over the country’s diamond resources. Thousands of people have died and more than a million have been displaced. In addition, past wars fueled by diamonds have taken about 3.7 million lives. Millions of people are still dealing with the consequences of these wars: friends and family members lost, lives shattered, and physical and emotional scars that will last generations.

VIOLENCE BY GOVERNMENTS

Diamond mining is plagued by shocking violence, from killings to sexual violence to torture. Often, rebel groups are responsible for this violence. But governments and mining companies also commit atrocities in Africa’s diamond fields, frequently in countries that are not at war. At FLYNNI, we believe it is important to end all violence related to diamond mining, regardless of the circumstances.

The diamond industry’s attempt to fight blood diamonds led to the establishment of the Kimberley Process, an international diamond certification scheme, in 2003. Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process only places a ban on diamonds that finance rebel militias in war-torn countries. When diamond miners are killed or physically harmed by their own governments, or by security guards working for mining companies, the Kimberley Process rarely takes action. Instead, it certifies these diamonds as conflict free and allows them to be shipped to consumers worldwide.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

A dangerous mix of diamonds, religious tensions, and poverty has sparked a civil war in the Central African Republic. In 2013, a mostly Muslim rebel group launched an attack on the capital, Bangui, from the north. Rebels overthrew the country’s dictator and seized valuable diamond fields. Christian militias counter-attacked, killing thousands of Muslims who had nothing to do with the rebels.

The Central African Republic is now being torn apart by militias who are fighting over diamonds and other resources. The death toll is rising and more than a million people have fled their homes. About 100,000 people live in a refugee camp at the Bangui airport. Although the Kimberley Process has banned diamond exports from the Central African Republic, the country’s diamonds are easily smuggled across its borders and sold to international consumers.

ZIMBABWE

Even after killings, torture, and outrageous human rights abuses in Zimbabwe’s diamond industry, Zimbabwe has been welcomed into the community of diamond producing nations.

In 2008, the Zimbabwean army seized the valuable Marange diamond deposit in eastern Zimbabwe, massacring more than 200 diamond miners who stood in the way. Soldiers then enslaved local adults and children in the diamond fields, beating and torturing those who disobeyed. An estimated $2 billion in diamond wealth disappeared, mostly into the hands of military leaders and allies of President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator.

The army now has put private companies in charge of mining. But community members are still being beaten and killed, relocated families live in poverty, corruption continues, and nobody has been held accountable for past crimes. Meanwhile, the Kimberley Process has decided that these circumstances are acceptable. Although it banned Zimbabwean diamonds in 2009, it lifted the ban in 2011 despite revelations that the army was running torture camps for diamond miners.

ANGOLA

More than ten years after the end of a brutal diamond-funded civil war, Angola is now a member of the Kimberley Process and the world’s fourth largest diamond exporter. But a flourishing diamond trade has not made Angola a more responsible diamond producer. Angola’s diamond fields are once again the scene of horrific violence.

In recent years, diamond miners from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo have been streaming into northeast Angola to mine for diamonds. Most miners cross the border illegally and do not have legal permission to mine. Angolan soldiers, along with security guards for mining companies, have been brutally cracking down on these foreign migrants as well as on local Angolan miners. Soldiers routinely demand bribes, beating and killing miners who do not cooperate. They also have been rounding up tens of thousands of migrants each year and expelling them across the border, raping many of the women first.

Angola’s dictatorship has refused to acknowledge these problems. Instead, it has filed criminal defamation charges against a journalist who documented more than 100 murders and the torture of more than 500 people in two diamond mining towns. The Kimberley Process has ignored the issue too. Rather than expel Angola, the Kimberley Process has picked Angola to serve as its leader in 2015.

CÔTE D’IVOIRE

For nearly a decade, diamonds helped keep Côte d’Ivoire a divided nation. In 2004, a violent civil war in Côte d’Ivoire reached a stalemate. Rebels controlled the diamond-rich north while the government controlled the south. To prevent diamonds from funding the conflict, the Kimberley Process and the United Nations placed a ban on the export of Côte d’Ivoire’s diamonds in 2005.

Rebels, however, did not abide by the ban. Every year, rebels smuggled about $20 million worth of diamonds into neighboring countries, exchanging these diamonds for weapons and strengthening their grip on the north. In 2010, a disputed presidential election led to a constitutional crisis. Rebel soldiers swept southward in support of Alassane Ouattara, their preferred candidate and the rightful election winner. In the months of fighting that followed, at least 3,000 people were killed and atrocities were committed by both sides.

Ouattara took office in 2012 and the violence now appears to be over. The United Nations lifted its ban on Côte d’Ivoire’s diamonds in 2014. For the first time in years, the country has a chance to use its diamond wealth for peaceful economic development. But memories of war, and the destructive power of diamonds, will not soon be forgotten.

ZIMBABWE AND BLOOD DIAMONDS

Human rights observers agree: diamonds from Zimbabwe are tainted by violence and exploitation. Not long ago, Zimbabwe’s diamond fields were the site of torture, forced labor, child labor, sexual violence, and murder. Diamond mining in Zimbabwe continues to be plagued by human rights abuses and corruption. There also has never been a criminal investigation into a massacre that claimed the lives of 200 diamond miners.

Sadly, the Kimberley Process (KP), the international diamond certification scheme created to halt the blood diamond trade, has failed to ensure that Zimbabwe’s diamonds meet even the lowest ethical standards.Zimbabwe Blood Diamonds In 2011, it decided to grant conflict free certification to Zimbabwe’s gems, giving its stamp of approval to shocking human rights abuses. As a result, consumers are at risk of buying a Zimbabwean diamond and the people of Zimbabwe have yet to benefit from their country’s diamond wealth.

 

ZIMBABWE’S DIAMONDS ARE LINKED TO GRAVE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES INCLUDING TORTURE, FORCED LABOR, AND MURDER.

In 2006, villagers in the Marange district of eastern Zimbabwe discovered one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits. By some estimates, the Marange diamond fields could produce as much as 40 million carats a year—worth about $2 billion, or over 10% of the global diamond supply.

Unfortunately, this diamond discovery was too tempting for Zimbabwe’s authoritarian president, Robert Mugabe, to resist. In 2008, Mugabe sent his army to seize control of the diamond fields from unlicensed diamond miners. Shooting machine guns from helicopters, the army massacred more than 200 people and buried them in mass graves.

After the takeover, the army ran mining operations itself. Local residents, including children, were forced to mine for diamonds in slave-like conditions. Killings, beatings, torture, and sexual violence were all used by the army to keep local residents working and maintain a climate of fear.

THE KIMBERLEY PROCESS FAILED TO RESPOND ADEQUATELY TO ABUSES IN ZIMBABWE’S DIAMOND FIELDS.

In November 2009, the KP placed a temporary ban on the export of Marange diamonds. Zimbabwe was asked to withdraw its army from the Marange diamond fields, curb smuggling, and end the violence. The Zimbabwean government responded by putting private companies in charge of mining operations. But otherwise, it failed to comply with the KP’s demands.

Instead of ending military involvement, Zimbabwe gave military leaders part ownership in the companies overseeing mining activities. Smuggling remained rampant and violence and other human rights abuses continued. In 2010, the Zimbabwean police raided the offices of an organization working to document human rights abuses in the Marange diamond fields, imprisoning the group’s leader for five weeks. In October 2011, the BBC discovered secret camps where Zimbabwean soldiers brought diamond miners who failed to hand over earnings. Soldiers in the camp used torture, beatings, and rape to punish the miners.

Despite Zimbabwe’s lack of compliance, the KP bowed to political pressure. In November 2011, it lifted the export ban. Zimbabwe is now permitted to export its unethical diamonds with conflict free certification. The KP’s decision was so controversial that it prompted Global Witness, one of the advocacy groups that founded the KP, to resign from the certification scheme in protest, calling it an “accomplice to diamond laundering.”

ZIMBABWE’S DIAMONDS ARE STILL LINKED TO HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AND CORRUPTION.

Unsurprisingly, the lifting of the export ban did not lead to an improvement in Zimbabwe’s diamond mining practices. Diamond mining companies have been polluting the air and water. They have failed to provide adequate compensation or even food to the hundreds of families that were evicted to make way for diamond mining. Although violence has declined since 2008, trespassers continue to be beaten, tortured, and killed. Furthermore, nobody has held criminally responsible for the massacre in 2008.

Zimbabwe’s failure to ensure that its diamonds are ethically mined affects all Zimbabweans. In 2012, the advocacy group Partnership Africa Canada estimated that $2 billion in diamonds had been lost to smuggling, much of it disappearing into the hands of Mugabe insiders. The group called it the “biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes,” the 19th century British imperialist who founded De Beers. It is also believed that Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF, used stolen diamond revenues to fund a campaign of voter intimidation and ballot rigging that helped Mugabe, a despotic leader, rig a presidential election in 2013 and win a seventh presidential term.

U.S. CONSUMERS HAVE NO ASSURANCES THAT THEY ARE NOT GETTING AN UNETHICAL GEM FROM ZIMBABWE.

Although the U.S. Treasury Department bans the import of Zimbabwean diamonds into the United States, U.S. consumers have few protections against buying a gem from Zimbabwe. Most of the country’s diamonds are exported to major trading hubs and cutting and polishing centers where they are mixed into the general diamond supply, their origins lost. From there, the gems are legally brought to the United States.

Only a small percentage of diamonds are traceable to an origin by the time they reach the consumer. Meanwhile, retailers do not make enough of an effort to avoid unethical gems. Jeweler retailers claiming to sell “conflict free” diamonds almost always rely on the faulty KP certification, which provides no protection against the purchase of an unethical gem from Zimbabwe.

LABOR AND COMMUNITY

Many of the world’s diamonds are mined using practices that exploit workers, children, and communities. A million diamond diggers in Africa earn less than a dollar a day. Miners are dying in accidents, child labor is widespread, and corrupt leaders are depriving diamond mining communities of funds badly needed for economic development.

 

 

POVERTY

Diamond miners who work in small-scale mining – panning or digging for diamonds – produce about 15% of the world’s diamonds. But their wages do not reflect the value of their work. PovertyAn estimated one million diamond diggers in Africa earn less than a dollar a day. This unlivable wage is below the extreme poverty line. As a result, hundreds of thousands of miners lack basic necessities such as running water and sanitation. Hunger, illiteracy, and infant mortality are commonplace. Even within developing countries, diamond mining communities are often the most impoverished.

How is it that diamond miners can be some of the poorest people on the planet? Small-scale diamond mining is usually an unregulated activity. Labor standards and minimum wage laws, if they exist, are rarely enforced, subjecting miners to the whims of cruel and exploitative employers. Many diamond miners work independently,but these miners tend to be unlicensed and lack access to global markets, limiting their bargaining power. In most cases, diamond diggers have little choice but to sell their diamonds to middle-men at below market prices.

 

 

SAFETY AND HEALTH

Besides being grossly underpaid, many diamond miners work in extremely dangerous conditions. Small-scale diamond mining is often conducted without training or expertise. Miners may lack safety equipment and the proper tools. They can easily die or be injured in landslides, mine collapses, and other accidents.

Diamond mining also contributes to public health problems. The sex trade thrives in many diamond mining towns, leading to the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Environmental devastation resulting from diamond mining is another cause of disease. In Sierra Leone, miners have littered the landscape with thousands of abandoned mining pits. These pits fill with stagnant rainwater, become infested with mosquitoes, and serve as breeding grounds for malaria.

CHILD LABOR

Because children are considered an easy source of cheap labor, they are regularly employed in the diamond mining industry. In some areas of Africa, children make up more than a small part of the workforce. One survey of diamond miners in the Lunda Norte province of Angola found that 46% of miners were between the ages of 5 and 16.

For children trapped in the diamond mines, life is full of hardship. Children work long days, often six or seven days a week. Compared with adults, they are even more vulnerable to injuries and accidents. Physically challenging tasks such as digging with heavy shovels or carrying bags of gravel can leave them hurt or in pain. Because of their small size, children also may be asked to perform the most dangerous activities such as entering narrow mineshafts or descending into pits where landsides may claim their lives.

Many child miners do not attend school. As adults, these children often will have little choice but to continue working as miners. Child labor thereby condemns many children to a lifetime in the mines, robbing them as well as their countries of a brighter future. At FLYNNI, we believe that every child deserves an education. As part of our non-profit initiatives, we have helped to fund a program that removes children from diamond mines and pays for their schooling.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Governments earn significant revenues from the diamond industry, both through taxation and profit-sharing arrangements. But they often fail to re-invest these funds in local communities. In Angola, the government receives about $150 million per year in diamond revenues. But conditions near major diamond mining projects are appalling. Public schools, water supply systems, and health clinics are non-existent. Many roads have not been repaired since Angola first won independence in 1975.

Corruption, incompetence, and weak political systems all help explain why governments fail to invest their diamond revenues productively. For instance, in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe uses diamond revenues to keep the military loyal and to prop up his corrupt authoritarian regime. Although Zimbabwe has some of the richest diamond fields in the world, only a trickle of diamond revenue is available for economic development. Local residents displaced to make way for diamond mining have even gone hungry and homeless.

A different path is possible. Botswana is an example of a country that has managed its natural resources effectively. Aided by diamond revenues, Botswana has instituted universal primary education and built health facilities and roads. Since gaining independence in 1966, Botswana’s GDP has risen 7 percent per year, transforming it from one of Africa’s poorest countries into a country with a standard of living comparable to that of Turkey or Mexico.

ENVIRONMENT

Due to inadequate planning and regulation, diamond mining has wreaked environmental havoc throughout Africa and other parts of the world. But damage to the environment is not the inevitable result of diamond mining – there are ways to mitigate the effects.

 

 

ECOLOGICAL DEVASTATION

A century of reckless diamond mining has taken a heavy toll on Angola’s environment. Irresponsible diamond mining has caused soil erosion, led to deforestation, and forced local populations to relocate. Angola’s diamond industry has been particularly careless in protecting rivers and Ecological Devastationstreams from exploitation. Diamond miners have re-routed rivers and constructed dams to expose riverbeds for mining, with disastrous effects on fish and wildlife.

In extreme cases, diamond mining can cause entire ecosystems to collapse. Diamond miners in the Kono district of eastern Sierra Leone have left behind thousands of abandoned mining pits. Wildlife has vanished, topsoil has eroded, and land once suitable for farming is now a desolate moonscape. The mining pits have created a public health disaster as well. When the pits fill with stagnant rainwater, they become infested with mosquitoes, spreading malaria and other water-borne diseases.

RESPONSIBLE DIAMOND MINING

Diamond mining is generally less harmful to the environment than other types of mining, such as gold mining, because it does not make use of toxic chemicals. Despite serious environmental risks, effective regulation and proper planning can minimize diamond mining’s environmental impact. The Canadian Arctic is a very fragile ecosystem, but it is heavily regulated to protect the surroundings. Namibia and Botswana have been similarly successful in implementing environmental safeguards in their diamond mines.

In addition, landscapes altered by diamond mining can be rehabilitated. In Canada, Namibia, and Botswana, land restoration is scheduled when mining operations cease. Even in the Kono district of Sierra Leone, where the land was once thought to be beyond repair, land restoration is improving the landscape. Local communities are now working with international partners to fill in the mining pits, bring back native species, and replace lost topsoil. To further these efforts, FLYNNI’s non-profit fund has supported land restoration programs in the Kono district, helping to revive the local ecosystem and make former mining lands available for productive farming.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Governments earn significant revenues from the diamond industry, both through taxation and profit-sharing arrangements. But they often fail to re-invest these funds in local communities. In Angola, the government receives about $150 million per year in diamond revenues. But conditions near major diamond mining projects are appalling. Public schools, water supply systems, and health clinics are non-existent. Many roads have not been repaired since Angola first won independence in 1975.

Corruption, incompetence, and weak political systems all help explain why governments fail to invest their diamond revenues productively. For instance, in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe uses diamond revenues to keep the military loyal and to prop up his corrupt authoritarian regime. Although Zimbabwe has some of the richest diamond fields in the world, only a trickle of diamond revenue is available for economic development. Local residents displaced to make way for diamond mining have even gone hungry and homeless.

A different path is possible. Botswana is an example of a country that has managed its natural resources effectively. Aided by diamond revenues, Botswana has instituted universal primary education and built health facilities and roads. Since gaining independence in 1966, Botswana’s GDP has risen 7 percent per year, transforming it from one of Africa’s poorest countries into a country with a standard of living comparable to that of Turkey or Mexico.

EFFORTS TO CONTROL

Public outcry about diamond-fueled violence has led to the establishment of the Kimberley Process, an international diamond certification scheme. Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process misleads consumers and does not attempt to stop the worst abuses in diamond mining.

 

 

THE KIMBERLEY PROCESS

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is an international diamond certification system launched in 2003. It focuses exclusively on stopping the trade in conflict diamonds – defined by the Kimberley Process as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance armed conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” The Kimberley Process is made up of 80 participating countries representing most of the nations involved in the diamond trade. It also includes participation from advocacy organizations and the diamond industry.

To belong to the Kimberley Process, member countries are supposed to meet certain requirements. They are not supposed to produce conflict diamonds. They must trade diamonds only with each other. They must also attach Kimberley Process certificates to their exports of rough, or uncut, diamonds. By these arrangements, it is hoped that conflict diamonds will be kept out of the diamond supply. Regrettably, however, the Kimberley Process is easily evaded by diamond smugglers. Worse, it is so limited in scope that it grants “conflict free” certification to diamonds mined in violent and inhumane settings.

Discontent with the Kimberley Process is so high that one of the very non-profit groups responsible for creating it, Global Witness, is no longer willing to participate. In 2011, Global Witness announced its withdrawal from the Kimberley Process, calling it “an accomplice to diamond laundering.”

CERTIFYING UNETHICAL DIAMONDS

Under the Kimberley Process, if a diamond has not funded the rebel side of a civil war, it is not considered a conflict diamond. The narrowness of this definition means that a diamond receiving Kimberley Process certification may still be tied to killings, beatings, rape, and torture by a government army. It may have been mined using child labor, or by adults earning a dollar a day. It may have destroyed the local environment where it was mined. The Kimberley Process, in short, does very little to stop violence, worker exploitation, and environmental degradation tied to diamond mining – or most of the pressing ethical problems facing the diamond industry today.

Some observers even believe that the Kimberley Process may be doing harm. By certifying unethically mined diamonds, the Kimberley Process shields human rights abusers. It also misleads consumers into believing that their diamonds come from certified ethical sources – when in fact, many diamonds approved by the Kimberley Process cause untold human suffering. As diamond industry veteran Martin Rapaport says, “Instead of eliminating blood diamonds, the KP [Kimberley Process] has become a process for the systematic legalization and legitimization of blood diamonds.”

LACK OF CONTROLS

The Kimberley Process certification system does not require individual diamonds to be traceable to their mine of origin. Due to this lack of traceability, governments often give Kimberley Process certification to diamonds with unknown histories – making it easy to smuggle banned diamonds into the certified supply. “The government in [the Democratic Republic of] Congo has no idea where 40% of its diamonds come from,” notes Ian Smillie, a leading advocate for ethical diamonds. “They could be coming from Angola or Zimbabwe or even from Mars.”

Furthermore, the Kimberley Process does a poor job regulating the diamond supply chain. It does not require independent auditing of diamond buyers and sellers, permitting diamonds with unsavory origins to enter the diamond supply at any point. The diamond industry does ask retailers and manufacturers to provide a warrantee on their invoices that their diamonds are “conflict free.” But few retailers and manufacturers actually investigate the path their diamonds have taken, and most warrantees do not provide any meaningful assurances.

SMUGGLING

The Kimberley Process’s failure to enact stronger controls has left the door wide open to diamond smuggling. The thriving black market in smuggled diamonds reduces transparency for consumers and makes it harder to prevent banned diamonds from entering the diamond supply. Diamond smuggling also contributes to criminal activity. The ease with which diamonds can be brought across borders and resold into the legal supply chain makes them a favorite international currency for money launderers, tax evaders, drug dealers, and even terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

There is another problem with smuggling. When diamonds are exported through illicit channels, no tax revenue is collected. Smuggling therefore deprives governments of funds needed for basic services, reducing the amount of money flowing back into diamond-producing communities. In some cases, government officials themselves trade in smuggled diamonds. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s regime runs a giant smuggling operation, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Zimbabwean treasury.

VENEZUELA

Venezuela, a country that annually produces an estimated 150,000 carats of diamonds, officially exports none. In 2005, Venezuela ceased issuing Kimberley Process certificates on its exported diamonds. Facing international criticism, Venezuela announced in 2008 that it would “self-suspend” from the Kimberley Process. The government explained that it would halt diamond mining and trading for two years, during which time it would improve oversight of the country’s diamond mining sector.

Despite these promises, Venezuela has not rejoined the Kimberley Process, and it continues to allow diamonds to be mined and exported. Fully 100% of the country’s diamond exports are now being smuggled. Most diamonds are brought to neighboring Brazil and Guyana, where they receive false Kimberley Process certification. Partnership Africa Canada reports that Kimberley Process certificates accompanying fully one-fourth of Brazilian diamond exports are fraudulent.

SMUGGLED DIAMONDS IN THE U.S.

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative arm of the U.S. government, has determined that diamond smuggling is a serious problem in the United States. In an alarming report, the GAO states that “domestically, the U.S. systems for reporting rough diamond statistics and for controlling imports and exports of these diamonds are vulnerable to illicit trade….”

Sadly, U.S. control systems do not prevent illicit diamonds from entering the U.S. diamond supply. In 2010, the U.S. government intercepted shipments from Ghana, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo with counterfeit Kimberley Process certificates. Inspecting less than a fifth of diamond imports, customs officials found 14 shipments violating the 2003 Clean Diamond Trade Act, the federal law implementing the Kimberley Process.

OUR VISION: FAIR TRADE DIAMONDS

At FLYNNI, we believe that the Kimberley Process could potentially play a useful role, if it is completely revamped. But the most promising kind of diamond certification system has yet to be implemented: a system certifying fair trade diamonds.

More than a million diamond diggers in Africa earn less than $1 a day. A fair trade diamond certification system would give these diggers a fair price for their labor. It would also provide the ability to track diamonds back to specific mining cooperatives, while encouraging the observance of strong labor and environmental safeguards.