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Blood Diamonds & The Kimberley Process - What is it and Does it Really Work?

19 January 2022 5 min read

If you’re looking for ethical diamonds, you may have heard the term ‘blood diamond’, brought into mainstream consciousness thanks to the 2006 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

So, what is a blood diamond?

A blood diamond or ‘conflict diamond’ is a diamond that has been illegally traded and used to fund conflict and civil wars.

Behind those gorgeous stones sadly lurks an extremely dark, violent history. 

We’ve written before about the harsh reality of mining and the impact it has on the planet and on millions of people worldwide. From environmental damage caused by mining operations to the myriad of human rights abuses and exploitation that takes place as a result. In many of the countries where diamonds are mined, often through exploitation and slave labour, profits are used to finance warlords and rebel groups, leading to continued violence and bloodshed.

Since the early 2000s the international diamond industry has, to some extent, been regulated by the Kimberley Process. Seen by many as a saving grace, thanks to the Kimberley Process you can now buy a certified ‘conflict-free’ diamond, safe in the knowledge that the sparkling gem now in your possession did not contribute to funding a civil war.

Great, you might think. But, is that really the case?

Here’s what we know about the Kimberley Process, how it works and if it works.

History of the Kimberley Process

In the mid 1990s, Angola was in the midst of a decades long civil war, with the political party UNITA fighting for control of the country. Despite UN sanctions, the group was still able to fund its war efforts, thanks to the diamond trade. The UN sought a solution and, in May 2000 in Kimberley, South Africa (where large scale diamond mining first began 150 years prior), several diamond-producing states met to discuss possible remedies. In 2002, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was launched, with the aim of preventing the trade of conflict diamonds.

Participants in the scheme must certify that diamonds coming from their countries have not been used to fund conflict. Ideally, certification should follow each diamond from its rough state, until after it is polished, cut and sold.

Members gather twice a year and many participate in sub-committees, tackling specific issues. Currently there are 85 members. Two countries have been expelled for lack of compliance: Cote d’Ivoire and Republic of the Congo (although the latter was reinstated in 2007).

How does it work?

The scheme is open to all, with strict guidelines for admittance, including:

  • Putting in place national legislation and institutions;
  • Controls on export, import and internal controls;
  • Commitment to transparency and the exchange of statistical data;
  • To only trade with other Kimberley Process Certification Scheme participants who have met these requirements.

Adherence is monitored by ‘review visits’ and annual reports. Shipments of rough diamonds must have a Kimberley Process Certification Scheme certificate, stating they are ‘conflict-free’ before they can be sold internationally.

Since its launch nearly 20 years ago, the Kimberley Process has helped reduce crime rates and limit the flow of money and supplies to rebel groups. Not to mention the number of conflict diamonds on the open market. According to statistics, 99.8 percent of rough stones on the open market are now accounted for by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. Prior to the scheme, it was thought that between 4 and 15 percent of all diamonds on the market were used to fund conflict.

Without doubt, the Kimberley Process has been a step in the right direction for the international diamond trade.

But sadly, it’s not nearly enough.

Blood Diamonds

Diamonds, Unsplash

Criticism of the scheme

According to the Kimberley Process, the term ‘conflict diamond’ means ‘rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments’.

For starters, this definition is just too narrow. The Kimberley Process’ definition focuses solely on preventing the mining and selling of diamonds that contribute to rebel movements. While this is a major problem, unfortunately, funding conflict is just one of many ethical issues surrounding the mining of diamonds.

Ignoring broader issues

By concentrating just on the funding of rebel movements, the Kimberley Process ignores many of the broader issues, such as child labour, exploitation of mining workers and other human rights abuses. Even if a diamond has not contributed to conflict, the odds are it has, in some way, contributed to human suffering. Meaning that, in practice, a diamond certified by the Kimberley Process as ‘conflict-free’, may have been mined by a child labourer or a worker who is a victim of rape at the hands of their overseer. These stones are far from ‘ethical’.

Back in 2006, a diamond exploration company discovered diamond deposits in the Marange Valley, Zimbabwe. In 2008, the government, led by Robert Mugabe, took control of the Marange Valley diamond fields, killing over 200 people. Despite these horrific events, plus ‘overwhelming evidence of serious human rights abuses taking place’ the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme authorised the sale of Marange Valley diamonds. The Kimberley Process received a lot of criticism for this decision and several key parties subsequently lost faith in the process, including the NGO Global Witness, which was instrumental in bringing to light the issue of conflict diamonds and in setting up the scheme. 

In 2007, the organisation released a report, citing multiple loopholes, with weak regulatory controls allowing conflict diamonds to enter the open market. Plus, millions of dollars worth of illegal and suspicious trading in violation of the scheme. It also found several members still trading with non-member countries, including those who have been expelled.

Problems with smuggling and traceability

According to the report, it is also common practice to smuggle conflict diamonds in batches of Kimberley Process Certification Scheme certified ‘conflict-free’ diamonds. Weak controls and a lack of enforcement means this practice can continue virtually undetected.

Diamonds are notoriously difficult to trace. Once they have been cut and shipped, the trail often ends. By the time it reaches the jewellery store case, odds are no one will be able to tell you where it has really come from. It is extremely difficult to distinguish a conflict diamond from a conflict free diamond. So, it is rare that any jeweller could say with 100 percent certainty that a particular stone is truly conflict-free.

Many have criticised the Kimberley Process for its lack of transparency and potential loopholes, which curbs its effectiveness. As a voluntary scheme, all participating members must agree on any decisions, making it difficult to vote against any member country. Penalties are seldom imposed and, if they are, they cannot be enforced.

Critics have said that it’s a broken system that is being kept going by those who benefit from its failings. Unless countries face real consequences, such as dropping profits, the diamond industry will never improve.

How can I ensure a diamond is conflict-free?

Flaws in the scheme means that, sadly, when it comes to earth mined diamonds, it is incredibly difficult to guarantee that it hasn’t contributed to conflict or human suffering.

For a 100 percent guarantee that your diamond has been ethically sourced, without harming people, lab-grown diamonds are the only choice. Not only are they ‘real diamonds’, with the exact same chemical, physical and optical properties, but each one can be easily traced to their place of origin.

It's important to note that there are still question marks over the amount of energy required to create lab-grown diamonds but, overall, lab-grown diamonds are the best way to ensure no human rights have been violated to create the diamonds in your jewellery.

So, if you’d rather own or gift a diamond that is truly ethical, shop our range of lab-grown diamond jewellery online today.

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