“In this economy, the consumer is king,” he told CNA. “The day that consumers want to get worked up over diamonds, this will stop, whatever abuse it is we’re trying to eradicate, it will stop.”
While there are many steps in the process and levels of moral responsibility from consumers to the diamond exporters themselves, Torres maintained that ordinary people can still work to change large-scale moral problems in the industry.
“Do not underestimate the power of the consumer to move supply-chain decisions throughout the economy,” he stressed.
Clear stones; Blood-red controversies
Despite the 2006 hit film “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, many consumers are still unaware of the controversy surrounding the diamond industry. Meanwhile, the need for accountability and higher ethical standards is still sorely felt by many working to mine the precious gems.
In recent decades, the conversation surrounding diamond mining has focused on the so-called “blood diamonds” – those mined in conflict areas whose profits are used to fund the bloody war efforts. Also called “conflict diamonds,” these previous stones are most associated with the illicit industries backing of civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Liberia.
These countries all now have, at least in theory, legitimate diamond mining industries subject to international standards.
The most well-known international standard, the Kimberley Process, was set up in 2003 following a United Nations resolution against the sale of blood diamonds, to ensure that any given shipment of diamonds does not finance rebel groups. Certified shipments of rough diamonds must be transported in tamper-resistant containers and must be accompanied by a government certificate verifying their compliance.
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.
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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