In an ideal world, you wouldn’t expect beautiful gemstones such as diamonds – known for their everlasting nature and incredible shine, which symbolize devotion, love, and admiration for millions of people worldwide – to have a dark and violent side to their story.
Sadly, though, we don’t live in an ideal world; and sadly, the truth is sometimes quite discouraging. The purity we associate with a diamond’s shine can indeed carry much more to it than meets the eye.
While it may seem like this is taking a very dark turn, there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. In this article, we’ll discuss what is a blood diamond, where do these gems come from, and which actions are being taken to make diamond production more humane.
What Is A Blood Diamond?
The term “blood diamond” refers to diamonds that not only serve to fund insurgencies (rebellious uprisings) but are mined through the means of exploitative labor, violence, and slavery.
That refers to adult and child labor, extremely low wages, unsafe working conditions, physical abuse, etc. Now, you may have also heard of the term “conflict diamond.”
These two names are almost always used interchangeably, but that doesn’t paint the whole picture, as we’re going to see. In fact, equating “blood diamonds” and “conflict diamonds” can even turn out to be dangerous for the miners who work to find them!
Where Do Blood Diamonds Come From?
In short, blood diamonds mostly come from politically unstable countries in Africa and South America.
These countries include Angola, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and the Central African Republic. However, Guyana and Venezuela are also affected by the blood diamond industry.
Now that we have a rough overview of some of the countries associated with this dangerous business, let’s dive deeper into a few most commonly talked about and see why Africa is so poor when they have so many diamonds.
During the 1990s, the country of Angola was in the midst of a civil war. During this war, different rebel groups found a great way to finance their militant efforts – through the exploitation of natural resources, and more specifically, diamond production.
Angola remains one of the most cited cases of blood diamond exploitation even today, and its decade-long civil war bears great importance.
It actually drew a lot of attention to the blood diamond and conflict diamond trade and even mobilized the creation of some of the organizations we know today!
You may already be familiar with the Sierra Leone civil war if you’ve seen the movie “Blood Diamond (2006).” The movie depicts the Sierra Leone civil war, which started in 1991 and lasted until 2002.
The diamonds at the time were reportedly still very accessible, ever since the 1930s. That caused a lot of unwanted attention, and the war that erupted in the 90s brought about a mass of atrocities upon the country’s population.
Now let’s turn to the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DOC:
DOC is the fourth-largest producer of diamonds in the world by volume. It’s a critical area for conflict diamond trading – and has been for decades. It is no surprise then that a huge part of the Congo’s population relies on diamond mining for income.
In 1999, insurrectionists managed to overthrow the Ivory Coast government, which sparked a civil war. The tension and disarray in the country were used as assets for effective importing and exporting of blood diamonds.
Illicit operations continued until 2005, when the UN Security Council established sanctions, prohibiting all diamonds in the Ivory Coast from being exported. The ban was lifted in 2014.
Related Read: Why Does Africa Have So Many Diamonds?
Are Blood Diamonds Illegal?
That is a very obvious question, and it naturally stems from learning about blood diamonds. The answer might be an obvious one, too, at first.
It’s a resounding “Yes,” right? Well, not exactly.
While in a perfect setting, it would be possible to track routes and supply chains of blood diamonds worldwide and check the origin of each individual diamond – the reality is, as always, far more complex.
People in charge of this exploitative and harsh production process do everything they can to ensure that their products go undetected.
Blood diamonds are smuggled into markets worldwide by being mixed with actual conflict-free ones.
But that’s not all.
It gets even more complicated because these diamonds have so many stops in the supply chain. They change so many hands before even reaching national markets that their origin is additionally obscured.
Another step taken to mask blood diamonds is additional cutting and polishing. This process makes them indistinguishable from the conflict-free diamonds, which is exactly how they get sold eventually.
So, the answer to the question “Are blood diamonds illegal” would technically be “Yes.”
Objectively, though, there are huge amounts of these stones flowing worldwide that end up gracing consumers’ wrists, fingers, and necks through a process whose very last stages (i.e., delivery to a diamond retailer and later purchase) are very much legal.
Related Read: Are Blood Diamonds Still Sold?
What’s Being Done To Stop Blood Diamonds?
The last 30 years have seen a great revolution in the effort of preventing blood diamonds from reaching the global market. Many organizations have risen to restrict blood diamond circulation, improve tracking and protect the human rights of the workers who work tirelessly to mine them.
We’ll be taking a look at a couple of well-known humanitarian and government organizations involved in this process.
Kimberley Process Certification Scheme
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme – or KPCS – is an initiative launched by the United Nations to unite as many countries as possible in following the same rules and regulations of rough diamond production.
While it was officially established in 2003, its development history started several years prior.
The need for a unified group in which all members adhere to the same rules arose in 1998 when the sanctions imposed upon the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) by the UN failed to stop them from placing their products on the international market.
Such economic endeavors allowed UNITA to gain financial resources and continue its war efforts continuously.
A few years after, near the end of 2000, the UN General Assembly had adopted a new resolution. This resolution would allow for a certification scheme that would be used internationally.
The plan officially passed in 2003 after gaining the support of the UN Security Council.
Today, the Kimberley Process consists of 56 participants, which represent a total of 82 countries – with the states of the European Union being counted as a single member.
KPCS members account for approximately 99.8% of global rough diamond production, according to their website.
The KPCS has shown to be far from a perfect solution to problems it aims to solve.
The main criticism directed at the process is the one regarding the definition of what a “conflict diamond” is.
A “conflict diamond” is classified as a rough diamond used by different rebel movements to fund attacks on governments. That led to the KPCS receiving backlash due to the definition being too narrow and essentially allowing for further negligence of human rights.
In other words: As long as there is no actual military conflict going on, it doesn’t matter how the stones are mined.
No action is being taken to address the harm and threats of violence that the workers face. Many of these workers happen to be children who are forced to the mines by circumstances alone – they give up education early and work for days on end to potentially earn wages.
However, despite all the backlash, the process has refused to make changes to its inadequate definition. This refusal has only led to further exploitation of diamond miners and brought up thousands of casualties as well.
The next point of critique, which you might have caught already, is a bit more subtle.
You’ll notice that the definition mentioned above only applies to rough diamonds. That means that any stone – regardless of the legality of its origin – is excluded from supervision by the KPCS standards once it has been polished and cut.
Naturally, insurrectionist groups use this to their advantage when exporting blood diamonds.
The Enough Project
The Enough Project, based in Washington D.C., is a non-profit organization. The goal of this organization is to help fight injustices such as genocide and crimes against humanity in order to establish peace and prevent further atrocities.
The organization is mainly known for conducting research in Africa and the Middle East. The Sentry and Raise Hope for Congo are just some of the Enough Project’s initiatives.
Naturally, they go far beyond just focusing on illegal diamond trading, as their focus isn’t only economic in nature. Instead, they work to highlight a dark underbelly in some parts of the electronics industry, as well.
World Diamond Council
Starting in the year 2000, the World Diamond Council focused on stopping all profits made in the diamond trading industry from being used to support insurgent forces.
The council maintains activity throughout the entire diamond supply chain – from raw material mining to retail and everything in-between – in hopes of preventing the trade of conflict diamonds.
The WDC works closely with the Kimberley Process mentioned above, meaning that it shares a part of the critique pointed at them.
What Can You Do To Avoid Purchasing A Blood Diamond?
Considering everything we’ve gone through thus far, it may seem that finding a gem that wasn’t a result of inhumane working conditions or violence is an impossible task.
Luckily, we have some pointers for you to consider when buying your next ring or necklace.
The first thing you can do is simple: You can look for a retailer that has a legitimate, written policy stating that they exclusively sell conflict-free diamonds.
Don’t be afraid to dive into the details with your retailer about their diamonds’ source, either! If they are legitimate – as they should be – they will have a diamond’s certificate and will easily be able to give you information on the gem’s route through the supply chain.
Our next advice would be to pay close attention to the country of origin of the diamond you’re looking to buy.
A diamond mined in countries such as Congo, Angola, or Liberia has a higher chance of having bloody roots. Instead, see if you can find diamonds from Botswana, Namibia, or Canada.
These countries are known for ethical mining, and you can rest easy knowing that you haven’t contributed to any inhumane regimes.
Lastly, we recommend that you look for and buy new diamonds.
Simply put, the 21st century was a turning point for diamond trading regulations, and it’s an ongoing endeavor! This exact reason is why you should avoid buying antique diamonds.
Older diamonds have a greater chance of originating in conflict-torn countries and, therefore, ending up on the international market illegally.
For further information, see our article on the different types of diamonds!
Political and economic forces that drive the blood diamond market are difficult to push back. Yet despite these difficulties, organizations and collectives worldwide have been investing effort in fighting these illegal groups for decades.
The battle against exploitation and violence is still underway – and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end soon.
However, there is indeed progress being made in providing a safer environment and better working conditions in war-ridden countries whose populations rely on diamond mining.
As of now, there isn’t a method to be sure beyond any doubt that the diamonds we own don’t have a violent background. But by following the advice given here, you can significantly reduce the chances of ending up with a blood diamond in your hands.