But many advocates say the process is inadequate at addressing the problems underlying the diamond industry. For starters, there is no guarantee beside the exporting government’s assurance that a given shipment of diamonds is, in fact, conflict-free. Issues of corruption and bribery surrounding some governments’ certification, and a lack of transparency has led some key groups to pull out of the process altogether.
The 2003 National Geographic special “Diamonds of War” found that despite the early efforts of the Kimberley Process to regulate the industry, illegal transactions at the time were still rampant in some areas. A Sierra Leone official said that some 60 percent of the diamonds exported from the country were smuggled rather than going through officially regulated channels. One expert in the documentary estimated that 20-40 percent of the global rough diamond trade at the time was done illicitly.
Another complaint about the Kimberley Process is that while it works to combat funding of conflicts, it does not deal with other issues in the diamond industry, including forced labor and violence against workers, substandard and exploitative working conditions, the use of child labor and environmental concerns.
These problems show that the current definition of “conflict-free” is “far too limited in scope,” said Jaimie Herrmann, director of marketing for Brilliant Earth, a San Francisco-based jeweler that focuses specifically on providing ethically-sourced diamonds, gemstones and metals.
What the Kimberley Process “doesn’t include is human rights abuses, violence, sexual abuses, and severe environmental degradation, as well as corruption,” Herrmann continued.
“For that reason, we go above and beyond the Kimberley Process’s definition of conflict free,” she said. Brilliant Earth gets its diamonds from select sources in Canada, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Russia. “We feel like those diamonds really do go above and beyond that guarantee and they are untainted by human rights abuses.”
The chance to establish a legitimate and ethical source of diamonds has also been an economic opportunity for some countries. In Botsawna, the government and DeBeers diamond company each own half of the Debswana mining company, and the nation has seen a rapidly growing economy and increasing economic freedom thanks in part to its booming mining industry and trusted industry standards.
Canada too has invested heavily in its mining infrastructure and increased production, quickly becoming a key diamond-producing country since the discovery of large diamond deposits in the 1990s.
Synthetic diamonds too offer promise for more ethically-produced diamonds, though currently the lab-produced stones comprise only two percent of the diamond gemstone market, with the remainder of the synthetic stones used in industrial settings.
The Ethics of Luxury and Necessity
Dr. Christopher Brugger, professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado, told CNA that in the diamond industry, as in any other work, Catholic social teaching instructs employers that “people come before profit.”
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For businesses, he said, this means “pay employees a fair wage; respect the integrity of the marriages and families of employees; respect the faith of employees; permit labor to organize in socially constructive ways; work for fair access for all to goods and services necessary to living a dignified life.”
“Do producers who use their profits to fund conflicts or who use forced labor fulfill those duties?” he asked. “Emphatically no.”
Sustained abuses ranging from the funding of bloody conflicts to mining practices that exploit and demean workers not only fail to fulfill the moral duties of employers, Brugger said. The unjust practices also affirm that the high profits coupled with neglect for moral obligations have been “attracting scoundrels” to the industry.
But business leaders are not the only people with moral stakes in the diamond industry, he continued.
“It seems to me that morally conscientious people have an increasing responsibility to ‘shop ethically,’ i.e., to keep in mind where things come from, the conditions of those who supply things, the processes by which they are supplied,” Brugger suggested.
While it may not be possible to know the sourcing behind every product in every store, he said, it could be easier to find information on larger suppliers and specific industries.