Know Your Source


Mining Practices: The Cost of a Treasure

Diamonds may be viewed as a symbol of pure, everlasting love, but the processes necessary to acquire them are quite contrary to this image. In the physical process of obtaining diamonds, miners will dig up to 1 kilometer (more than half a mile) underground, on average moving many tons of earth for each carat of diamonds found. To put this in perspective, realize that 1 carat weighs 0.2 grams, roughly the same mass as a match, and a ton is 2,000 pounds. This means that the process of diamond mining unearths thousands and thousands of pounds of dirt to find enough diamonds to equal the mass of a match. To find a single 1-carat diamond requires moving an average of 500,000 pounds of dirt. Each year, around 130 million carats of diamonds are mined, meaning that billions upon billions of pounds of dirt are moved in the process. One year of such mining practices can have severe impacts on the surrounding ecosystem, and diamonds have been mined since the 1870s, with more than 4.5 billion carats of diamonds unearthed. The total impact of such a widespread alteration to the Earth’s crust is difficult to comprehend. Yet, rather than recycling these carats and passing them from one owner to the next, new diamonds are mined every day, with more and more mines being established in previously pristine areas.

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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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Environmental Issues of All Mining, Including “Conflict-free” 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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HOW ETHICAL ARE “ETHICAL” PRODUCTS?

In today’s culture, the products we use, eat and wear are often under scrutiny based on their ethical levels. Organic foods can be mislabeled, electronics are being created with materials from war-torn areas, and the beauty and symbolism of gems and minerals are tarnished by the negative social and environmental factors associated with them. Fortunately, with a growing interest in ethical consumerism, buyers are becoming both more aware regarding the source of their products.

There are numerous ways to define a product as ethical, including social issues or the environment, such as conflict-free or sustainable items. Conflict-free refers to products with profits that avoid funding civil wars and other mass atrocities. Sustainable products are not harmful to the environment, nor do they cause the depletion of any natural resources. Other ethical levels include fair trade, a trading partnership in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries, and social responsibility, where a person or company has an obligation to benefit the community and maintain a balance between the environment and society.

Many of the products we use and rely on every day are produced with materials that are not conflict free. Some of the mined minerals used in most electronics, including gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, directly finance ongoing armed conflict or provide rebel organizations with weapons and equipment. Though technology companies do not mine these minerals directly, they do purchase these minerals, leaving the industry’s supply chain vulnerable to corruption from conflict minerals. When gems are guaranteed as conflict free, this claim suggests that the stone supply chain is completely traceable, and can be tracked from the jewelry store back to a mine or obtaining entity that did not fund rebel groups. Depending on its original location—a large-scale mine in a financially stable country, for example—the conflict free verification can be relatively simple. In 2003, in an effort to better regulate the diamond industry’s supply chain, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) was initiated to control diamond trading and mining through extensive requirements. However, the KP standards focused mainly on stopping the funding of warlord activity and armed conflict and failed to focus on any human rights or environmental factors.

The label of Sustainability addresses many, but not all, environmental and social issues. These products are environmentally friendly during their entire life-cycle, and must not cause any permanent damage to the environment. Product-oriented standards, like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Labeling and Organic Food Labeling, are applied to most foods and forms of cultivation, promoting sustainable development. While there are no official set of standards for the mining of gems and metals, some mines strive toward a more sustainable type of mining that would ideally reduce some of the negative environmental impact. Unfortunately, the effects of turning and area into a barren mining zone are lasting, and can still alter an ecosystem for years.

Fair trade aims to improve both the sustainability standards and the local economy of developing countries, as well as to create better trading conditions. International buyers pay a fair price to local workers and farmers to promote higher environmental and social standards for products such as cocoa, sugar, chocolate and gold. Currently there is no official fair trade certification system for diamonds, yet standards have already been created for many other products, including coffee and tea. Though environmental standards are promoted, devastation of lands still occurs with some fair trade products. Nevertheless, numerous groups, such as Rapaport Fair Trade, have been working to redefine the idea of fair trade to include the following four conditions: fair wages, community benefit, do no harm (to people or the environment), and credible and impartial monitoring. In the meantime, however, there is a new standard which addresses all of these issues.

Socially responsible products are the most ethical product available, as impact on the environment is not only balanced through eco-friendly programs (as with some conflict free or fair trade items), but is reduced or eliminated altogether. Additionally, these products are clear from negative social impacts, and often help support social causes and charitable organizations. The amount of available, socially responsible products is growing, and now includes clothing, eyewear, shoes and jewelry, offering countless jobs and support to countries in need.

While conflict free, sustainable and fair trade labels have all made important steps in ethics in thepast socially responsible products have made the biggest strides, as they take into consideration the issues of each of these labels and goes beyond. With diamonds, not all stones are created equally, and while many fall into one of these ethical levels, we must remember that because no official fair trade certification system exists for diamonds (and conflict free doesn’t take into account the environment), socially responsible sources are necessary for finding a truly ethical diamond.

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Diamond Identification

Coming Soon: Why is it important to inscribe and register your diamond?

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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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