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How to Purchase Conflict-Free Diamonds

Conflict-Free Diamonds
Twenty years after the international push to ban all conflict diamonds or blood diamonds, they still exist. Conflict diamonds often have a link to rebel insurgencies in diamond-producing countries. Even without the presence of these rebel groups, however, diamond mining and trade remain unethical. Fortunately, alternatives exist, such as conflict-free and ethically sourced diamonds.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS)

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), popularly known as the Kimberley Process, began in 2000 in Kimberley, South Africa when diamond-producing states met to discuss the total elimination of conflict diamonds.  This effort occurred with the hopes that rebel groups would not sell diamonds to finance their movements. In 2003, the United Nations adopted the resolution to expand the scheme’s reach to the diamond industry internationally.

Today, the scheme has 81 signatories, with 52 nations having ratified the scheme. Countries that cannot prove their diamonds are conflict-free could receive a suspension from the international diamond trade.

The Challenges of KPCS

Many politicians, investigative journalists and diamond traders have expressed that KPCS is a step forward in ending conflict-free diamond trading. The certification, however, contains many loopholes for blood diamonds to mix in with legitimately mined and traded diamonds. For instance, according to The Next Web news site, which did an extensive report on the legitimacy of conflict-free diamonds, “no legitimate company willingly buys diamonds from conflict regions, at least not anymore.” This is a step in the right direction, but is it enough to guarantee a conflict-free diamond? The watchdog group Human Rights Watch wrote in 2018, “The Kimberley Process is narrowly focused on curbing the trade of diamonds whose sales benefit armed groups—not abusive governments or their armed forces.” Thus civilian harassment, child labor and human rights abuses still go unchecked.

There also remains the question of who is creating the conflict. In recent years, the local Zimbabwean government of the Marange mining village has become notorious for creating conflict in their diamond mining villages. The intimidation of the residents with threats and weapons has characterized this conflict, enforcing unethical labor practices, and the like.

Thus, at the very minimum when buying diamonds, the jeweler should be able to state where the diamond came from and if it has KPCS certification. But the buyer will have to do more to ensure the diamond in question is completely conflict-free.

6 Ways to Ensure a Conflict-Free Diamond

Because the systems in place are inconsistent, it is up to the consumer to do extra research. Thankfully, legitimate ways exist to ensure these criteria.

  1. Check for Certification: A visit to the actual jeweler requires questioning. A reliable jeweler should be willing to state the diamond’s history and origin and provide certification such as the KPCS and Systems of Warranties statements to ensure that the diamond is completely conflict-free. The caveat, however, is that the consumer may not know whether the diamond is ethically mined.
  2. Buy Canadian: The safest bet in purchasing a diamond that is conflict-free with ethical mining practices is to purchase from Canada. The Canadian Diamond Code of Conduct ensures that diamonds come from sustainable and ethical mining.
  3. Check for the CanadaMark Standard: Many regard CanadaMark as the “highest standard” of ethical diamonds, specifically diamonds which “are carefully tracked from the moment they’re mined in Northwest Canada to the moment they’re polished.” Both of CanadaMark’s mines have a partnership that invests in the well-being of local communities such as local aboriginal peoples to protect the surrounding land, air, water and wildlife. James Allen, a popular engagement ring retailer, is the exclusive online retailer of CanadaMark.
  4. Buy from Committed Retailers: Online retailers such as James Allen, Brilliant Earth* and Blue Nile specialize in conflict-free and ethically sourced diamonds. Brilliant Earth, for example, sources diamonds from Canada, and 5% of its profits go to a fund to benefit local African communities that the diamond industry has harmed.
  5. Purchase Lab Created Stones: Synthetic diamonds do not come from the earth but rather a lab. These diamonds have the same sparkle as a mined diamond without the baggage of human rights abuses, child labor and unfair trade. Another benefit of lab-created diamonds is that they are often cheaper than traditional diamonds.
  6. Repurposing Vintage Stones: One of the best ways to ensure that a diamond comes from a conflict-free and ethical source is to buy a used or vintage diamond. Although online retailers specialize in vintage jewelry, one can also re-purpose a passed-down family diamond and have it recut to reflect modern designs.

Concluding Thoughts

While it can be challenging to ensure that a diamond emerged from ethical practices, the above steps are an excellent starting point. By knowing where a diamond comes from as well and whether it has the appropriate certification, one can be sure they are purchasing a diamond that is conflict-free.

– Vicki Colbert
Photo: Flickr