Embedded within engagement rings, necklaces, and bracelets around the world, diamonds symbolize a $81.4 billion-a-year industry juxtaposing Afican mines containing 65% of the world’s diamonds, and elegant jewelry retail salerooms. Rooted within these jewels, however, are political strife and human rights violations surrounding the process of their manufacture in Angola, Sierra Leone, and most prevalently the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR).
Synonymous with “blood diamonds,” conflict diamonds are defined by the UN as gems that “originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.” These diamonds are illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas, most prominently in central and western Africa and entail high levels of exploitation in their extraction. The illicit trade of diamonds represents four percent of the world’s diamond population, a significant decrease from 2003. Despite this decrease, the manufacturing of blood diamonds is still a prevalent problem.
The Congo River serves as the center of the world’s most important sources of gem-quality diamonds. Dispersed around this center, these mines symbolize a process rooted in the forced labor of men, women, and children. Furthermore, these underpaid miners are subject to torture and other abuses while navigating unsanitary and unstable work environments. Due to the shanty construction of mines located on the banks of small streams, many of the victims of this exploitation die as a result of tunnel collapses that remain under reported every year. These individuals spend days shoveling and sifting gravel in small artisanal mines in southwest DRC, and are not compensated adequately for this grueling toil.
Seeking to address the growing consequences of blood diamonds, the Fowler Report was released in 2000 and shed light on the ways in which various companies, and African and European governments violated sanctions imposed by the UN. Following recommendations from this report, UN General Assembly Resolution 55/56 established the Kimberley Process (KP) in 2003 to prevent blood diamonds from entering the mainstream rough diamond market. Furthermore, this resolution aims to reassure consumers that the diamonds they buy are conflict-free, and nations who agree to participate in the KP must provide certificates accompanying their rough diamonds stating the diamonds were produced, sold, and exported through legitimate channels. Comprised of 56 participants and representing 82 countries, the KP is open to all countries that are willing and able to implement its requirements. They are additionally not permitted to trade with nonmember nations. This accomplishment was highly successful in that it significantly reduced the quantity of blood diamonds in the world from 25 percent to less than 5 percent. Likewise, KP members are responsible for eliminating 99.8% of the global production of conflict diamonds.
Dispersed around this center, these mines symbolize a process rooted in the forced labor of men, women, and children.
Despite these significant results, however, the KP does not go far enough in addressing a number of issues stemming from blood diamonds. Unfair labor practices and human rights abuses do not disqualify diamonds under the protocol, and conflict diamonds under this process are solely defined as gemstones sold to fund a rebel movement attempting to overthrow the state, which allows room for diamonds produced through the same exploitative methods that are not utilized for this purpose. Watchdog groups have also documented the exploitation of human rights within and surrounding mines in nations permitted to export diamonds through the KP, which exemplifies an additional loophole in this system.
Moreover, many countries, including Russia, China, and Zimbabwe, have opposed the notion of inserting human rights language that is perceived as a threat to their national interests. The KP also has a narrow scope in that it emphasizes the halt of the trade of diamonds whose sale benefits armed groups, which does not address abusive governments or their armed forces. Another limitation of this process is illustrated in its application to rough diamonds, which allows stones that are fully or partially cut and polished to fall outside the focus of the initiative. Despite the KP’s efforts, there have been and continue to be major smuggling operations surrounding blood diamonds.
In addition to the substantial process made by the KP, solutions to alleviating this issue not addressed by this process are additionally significant. Although boycotting the purchase of diamonds or purchasing synthetic alternatives resembling diamonds initially seem like proactive solutions to reduce the production and circulation of blood diamonds, the money accumulated from these diamonds greatly benefits diamond miners. Serving as a vital source of income for Congolese miners, diamonds provide means to live for about 1 million artisanal miners. Due to the fact that over half the population in Congo lives on less than $1.25 daily, living conditions could worsen without the profitization of this commodity. An effective solution to alleviate the severity of this dilemma would entail a fair trade system. Organizing miners into cooperatives would similarly be a principal factor in bettering the system in that they can both accumulate their resources to obtain better mining equipment and exchange knowledge within groups to work in a safer work environment. Likewise, this would allow them to set fair prices according to global markets, contrasting depending on the offers made by local buyers.
On the part of merchants selling diamonds, jewelers should practice responsibility and inform themselves of each step of the diamonds they sell in the path from the mines to their salerooms. Furthermore, it is crucial that companies check their supply chains and report their findings to confirm that they do not play a role in the trade in blood diamonds. This process of supply chain due diligence is an essential step in the endeavor to end the abusive and exploitative trade of blood diamonds. On the consumers’ end, these individuals can question jewelers and keep them accountable to the ethics of their business. On the scale of government response, the UN General Assembly passed another resolution in 2014 to continue severing the connection linking armed conflict and illicit diamonds. In addition to UN General Assembly resolutions, it is necessary for governments of countries that receive and produce diamonds to ensure that diamonds being manufactured and profitized are not conflict diamonds. If the manufacture and distribution of conflict diamonds will be completely eliminated, it must be done so through the collaboration of governments, resolutions, and accountability between merchants and customers.