The Conflict Surrounding Diamonds

The popularity of diamonds surged in the twentieth century, propelled by one industry giant. In recent years, however, increased awareness about some diamonds' troubled origins has fueled a movement away from them.

Ecological Concerns

By its very nature, mining produces pollution and disrupts the local environment. Pipe mining is the most common method for mining diamonds. Large amounts of rock are shifted to search for diamonds. The mine itself displaces local animal populations, and pollution from diamond mining contaminates nearby waterways and can lead to devastating effects for aquatic plant and animal species. In addition, a large amount of waste is generated to unearth comparatively few gems. When the miners are done, the waste is left behind.

Responsible miners can take steps to mitigate the damage. Rock can be placed back in the mine when operations are finished, and topsoil can be saved and used as a valuable resource to encourage natural plant life to take hold. Different countries place different environmental regulations on their mining industries, so you might ask your jeweler where she gets her diamonds.

Faux diamonds have come a long way. The virtually perfect lab-created diamond is Moissanite. Indistinguishable from the real thing to the naked eye, the only difference you'll see is the price. Don't tell anyone it's not real and they'll never know.

Ethical Concerns

In the 1990s, illegal smuggling and sales of diamonds were used to fund wars in Sierra Leone, Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These conflicts cost an estimated 3.7 million lives and left millions more homeless.

The Kimberley Process was enacted by the United Nations in 2003 to stop the flow of conflict diamonds and promote peace and security in these war-torn countries. Each exporting government certifies that its diamonds are conflict free, and each importer agrees not to accept shipments without proper certification or from countries that do not participate in the process. The Kimberley Process has helped make sure that the profits from legal diamond exports go back into the countries where the diamonds were mined. Thanks to the Kimberley Process, more than $125 million worth of diamonds were legally exported from Sierra Leone in 2006. In the 1990s, almost all of the diamonds coming from that area were illegal.

The Kimberley Process is credited with reducing the flow of conflict diamonds in international trade. The Kimberley Process website states that 99.8 percent of diamonds are now conflict free; in the 1990s, they made up as much as 15 percent of the trade. However, critics charge that the Kimberley Process is flawed and corruption has allowed more conflict diamonds to leak into the trade than the organization admits. You should still ask jewelers where their stones come from; make sure they can provide you with authenticity.

Buying a Diamond

Here are some tips to help you make sure your diamond is legitimate:

  • Do your research. Go online and ask questions.

  • Request a certificate of origin. While it is not required, your retailer should be able to provide you with some background on the stone.

  • Shop for stones from conflict-free areas such as Canada, Russia, and Australia. Mining is still a very dirty process, but these areas are conflict-free and trying to mine in more eco-friendly and socially responsible ways.

  • Buy vintage stones and rings.

  • Shop from responsible, reliable jewelers.

Conflict diamonds have gained a lot of attention, but there are other ethical concerns associated with the diamond industry. Some suppliers take advantage of the workers — including children — who mine the diamonds, paying them scant wages and forcing them to work in unsafe conditions. Ask your jeweler if his suppliers adhere to your ethical standards.

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