The Cost of a Treasure: Where Diamonds Come From.


Do You Know The Cost Of A Treasure?

It’s hard to imagine destruction, terror, and suffering when looking at your beautiful, one-of-a-kind diamond. Yet more often than not, the symbol of everlasting love and purity is born from human rights’ violations, environmental devastation, and pain. The lengths the industry goes through to attain even one carat’s worth of gem-quality diamond is astounding:

  • Approximately 85 million carats of diamond are mined each year. Despite this impressive number, only about 20% are gem-quality; the other 80% are used for industrial purposes.
  • Over 1750 tons of earth and ore are extracted to find a one carat’s worth of rough diamond.
  • Since World War II, there have been more than 150 wars, 80% of which were civil wars from developing countries funded by mining and natural resources.
  • The death toll from diamond-fueled civil wars is 8 times greater than all U.S. military deaths from the past 70 years.

It is staggering but true, and the cost of an irresponsibly attained diamond grows higher with the social and environmental violations it causes.

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The Social Impact of Diamond Mining & the Failure of Corrective Actions

Diamond mining is notoriously linked with a variety of social atrocities, with diamond profits funding wars and supporting the rape, mutilation, and murder that occurs during bloody conflicts, as well as contributing to the exploitation of laborers, including children. To fight these violations of human rights, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) was launched in 2003, in order to prompt diamond companies to meet requirements for controlling diamond mining and trade. However, such regulations are difficult to enforce, and irresponsible diamond trade continues, even within KP-certified companies. For example, the definition of a “conflict” is very specific, so a company may not be purchasing diamonds from a country that is in a state of war with another country, yet they may have issues of civil unrest that result in the death and unjust treatment of citizens. Under such conditions, companies can claim to sell “conflict-free” or “blood-free” diamonds acquired from these countries, yet these claims are not true. However, it is unclear to many retailers and consumers that certifications are often falsified or that certified mines may be altogether unregulated, perpetuating the mining and sale of blood diamonds. The examples of these acts against ethical processes abound.

One of the most widely covered cases is from 2008, when the Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe were found to be corrupt, causing social conflict and environmental devastation. In order to decrease the competition of this mine, the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, killed more than 200 people during efforts to extinguish other small-scale mining operations. These atrocities occurred a full five years after the KP was enacted, during the time when people assumed the scheme had been successful. Fallout from the Marange diamond fields continues even in 2012, as the livestock of local farmers are dying from drinking water tainted with runoff from the mines.

Even establishments such as the World Diamond Council (WDC), that were initiated to stop the trade of blood diamonds, were wrapped up in this fraud. Martin Rapaport, a previous member of the WDC, stated during his resignation in 2010, “The WDC is aiding and abetting human rights violations through the dissemination of misinformation and by withholding information that would limit the trading of blood diamonds. Continued trading of blood diamonds by the jewelry industry under the guise of WDC legitimization enables, empowers, and provides financial support to individuals, companies, and governments that perpetuate severe human rights abuses in the diamond sector.”

The mines of Zimbabwe are not the only ones still trading blood diamonds. As of 2012, blood diamonds are still being exported from Ivory Coast, despite the ban on blood diamond export by the United Nations. Once out of the country, these diamonds are likely smuggled into other countries and sold as conflict-free diamonds. These are just a few examples of how the KP has failed to ensure the ethical sourcing of diamonds.

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The Issues of Mining

Despite the issues with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, an improvement on “conflict-free” mining has emerged within the last several years. Many diamond companies now only mine diamonds from peaceful lands, such as Canada or Namibia. Mines in these countries have more strict regulations regarding treatment of workers, community involvement or approval, and environmental impacts. Despite these efforts, these mines are still destructive to the environment, leaving much to be desired in terms of ethically sourced diamonds.

Lands that are used for mines are turned from an integral part of an ecosystem into a barren space, unused by plants and animals. Large pits can change the migration patterns of large mammals, as is happening with caribou in the Canadian tundra. Even if vegetation is replanted after mining has ceased, the land will not return to its original state for years, if ever, and there is no way to tell if it will again be utilized by certain species.

Energy programs that some “conflict-free” mining operations have established are helpful to reduce harmful emissions. However, new roads are still created with the development of a mine, buildings are built to house workers, and billions of pounds of dirt are still unearthed, sometimes revealing toxic materials that were locked away underground.

Runoff from the water used for diamond excavation or from the piles of unearthed dirt can alter the acidity of local water resources, endangering the delicate balance required for aquatic plant and animal life. Such effects can last for decades and can affect entire food chains.

Despite all of the ethical issues that are still associated with “conflict-free” diamond mining, companies market socially ethical diamonds as “conflict-free” in order to make them more appealing to people who care about both social and environmental ethics. In fact, these companies often make tremendous efforts to start environmental assessments or rehabilitation programs in order to offset some of their environmental destruction. However, the mining of these diamonds still results in tremendous negative impacts on the environment, creating the need for a truly environmentally and socially ethical diamond provider.

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The Responsible Source

All mining is destructive to the environment, and so is not a sustainable or responsible practice. In fact, “conflict-free” mines often define themselves as “less harmful,” which points out the fact that they are, indeed, still harmful, only less so. But effects of traditional mining don’t have to be mitigated if they can be avoided altogether. To this end, Avilan™, a truly sustainable diamond company, “mines” diamonds from existing inventory, turning one person’s previously cherished diamonds into the next person’s new treasure, creating a Storied Diamond™, a diamond with a rich historical past. In this way, Avilan™ not only provides a sustainable, real diamond option, but for each diamond we “up-cycle” from one owner to the next, we decrease the need for one more traditionally mined diamond. In this way, we are changing the diamond industry—one diamond, one story at a time—and providing people with an option to enjoy the sparkle of a real diamond without the guilt associated with mining practices.

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The Why and How of Knowing Your Source

Tracing the process of any product you buy can be difficult, as many products or parts of products are made across seas in mills or manufacturing facilities that you will never see. When you are dealing with expensive goods that often come from war-torn or poverty-stricken countries, understanding where your product comes from is of even greater importance, as some merchandise is linked to mistreatment of workers and the environment. Without knowing your source, there is no way of knowing if your product was made with your values—or even basic humane processes and rules—in mind.
Diamonds are a good example, as these gems are expensive products that often come from impoverished areas in Africa or other countries. Savvy consumers know that diamonds should at the very least be certified as “conflict-free” and are hopefully also sustainable or responsibly sourced, but how can you trust any of these labels? And what if a company claims to be “certified” but they certified themselves?
Certification is a tricky word and label, as a company can technically certify itself (at a first-party certification level) if it is assuring the public that its claims are true. There is also second-party certification, in which the company is held to standards by a parent company or an organization which the company has joined. As you can tell, both of these levels of certification have plenty of room for corruption. This is why third-party certification is important.

In the diamond world, third-party certification is a process by which an independent and external party assesses a company or product against widely held standards to see if the claims of the company and product may be upheld. But knowing the certifier is also important, as the informed consumer should make sure the certifying company is not corrupt in its values or processes, and that they are using globally recognized standards in their certification assessments.
So how can you start the process of validating a company’s certification? If a company is certified, they should name their certifying establishment. On the certifying establishment’s website, there should be listed standards which they adhere to for their assessments. All of these standards should be provided or at the very least listed, so that you may learn what the certification actually means. If the information is difficult to find or is not offered if requested, you may not be able to trust the certification of a company or product.

By investigating your products, including the companies that directly sell them to you, their suppliers, and anyone claiming to certify those companies, you can make sure that the products you buy aren’t misrepresenting your values as an informed consumer. Learn about Avilan’s third-party certifier.

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