In April, the second largest uncut diamond ever discovered was mined in Botswana. Called Lesedi la Rona (“our light” in Tswana, one of Botswana’s official languages). It is an 1109-carat diamond. The largest diamond ever discovered was the Cullinan, discovered in South Africa in 1905.
Diamonds are beautiful. Diamonds have an ancient history and mystique. But diamonds also have a history of violence, which is why they are sometimes called “blood diamonds,” or “conflict diamonds.”
For example, Angola’s civil war, which lasted for more than 27 years, was funded in part by diamonds mined in Angola and sold for weapons by Angolan rebels, according to the United Nations’ Fowler Report. Those diamonds went to jewellery dealers in Africa and Europe.
Diamond workers have suffered abuse and often been kept in conditions akin to slavery. Human rights groups have reported that children younger than 12 work in some African mines. Amnesty International has released a report documenting the diamond trade in Central African Republic, claiming that the government there fails to check whether the diamonds finance armed groups that rape, loot and execute the country’s citizens.
In 2003, the Kimberley Process – an initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds – was set up by the UN. Based on its 2000 Fowler Report, documenting mine abuse, the Kimberley Process’ goal has been to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the mainstream diamond market. Enrolment in the initiative is open to countries willing and able to implement its requirements. As of 2013, it had 54 participants, representing 81 countries, including the US, with the European Union’s 28 member states counted as a single participant. Kimberley Process members account for approximately 99.8 per cent of the global production of rough diamonds. However, that is still a lot of diamonds unaccounted for, and there is some question if all Kimberley Process members are as thorough as they need to be.
More people are becoming aware of using ethically mined diamonds. Various jewellers, including Tiffany and Co, offer ethically produced gems. (Tiffany also discontinued making coral jewellery because the world’s coral reefs are being depleted.)
Another US company, Brilliant Earth, began in 2005 with the purpose of “cultivating a more humane jewellery industry.” It started when co-founder Beth Gerstein became engaged and wanted to find a conflict-free ring. This spring, Brilliant Earth was part of the first Solidarity Festival held at Vincentian-run St John’s University in New York. The company pledges to donate five per cent of its profits toward diamond mining education, environmental restoration, and economic development.
Many other jewellery companies use ethically mined gold, silver and platinum or recycled metals in their jewellery. Improper mining of these metals can cause arsenic, mercury and cyanide – used in the extraction process – to be released into ground water.
So when you prepare to buy that special diamond – whether for a wedding, anniversary or even a graduation – take some time for research. Find out where that diamond or gold came from. Most major companies now explain their acquisition process on their websites or in the store. If they don’t, find someone else. There is enough information out there today to make an ethical, as well as a dazzling, choice.
This editorial first appeared in the The Compass, newspaper of the diocese of Green Bay, in the US.