Lately, I’ve gotten a few questions about “conflict” or “blood” diamonds. I am taking it upon myself to provide some education since seeing a preview for the movie Blood Diamond does NOT count as an education. Several people I’ve encountered in real life seem to know no more about the situation than what they saw in the preview — or at best, the movie — leading them to believe all diamonds are bad and wars that ended years ago are still being fought.
Here are some facts:
- Conflict diamonds are generally defined as diamonds whose proceeds are being used to fund war against a country’s legitimate, internationally recognized government. For those who don’t read the newspaper, here’s what’s happening:
- The events in Blood Diamond took place in Sierra Leone in 1999. Sierra Leone is still a hot mess, but the civil war ended in 2002.
- Angola’s civil war also ended in 2002. By the way, that 27-year war was funded by oil proceeds as well as diamond proceeds. Killers tend to use anything that’s at hand to finance their evil plans. UPDATED IN 2010 TO ADD INFORMATION ABOUT ANGOLA’S GOVERNMENT: Wall Street Journal story.
- Liberia’s second civil war ended in 2003. The United Nations lifted the ban on Liberian diamond exports in 2007. An embargo on timber, which was also used to fund the war, was lifted as well.
- The second civil war in Congo officially ended in 2003.
- CÃ´te d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is still subject to U.N. diamond sanctions. Cocoa and timber have also been used to fund conflict there.
- Eighty percent of the diamonds on the market today come from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia (birthplace of the Hollywood messiah, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt), Australia, Russia, Angola and Congo. The industry leaders are Botswana in terms of financial value and Australia in terms of sheer quantity. Russian diamonds are very high quality.
- Canada produces diamonds too. Not a lot because conditions at deposits near the Arctic Circle aren’t very conducive to mining.
- You can’t look at a diamond under a microscope and tell where it is from.
- Are “vintage” diamonds more ethical than new-mined ones? Depends on the vintage. A diamond mined in Botswana today is likelier to be conflict-free than a diamond mined in Angola 25 years ago.
- The history of diamond production over the past couple of centuries is absolutely filled with sordid tales of exploitation, similar to most human endeavors from agriculture to religion. Hopefully, awareness of these issues improves our behavior going forward, even though nothing can be done to change the past.
- Designers like me can and do work with wholesalers who guarantee in writing that they buy conflict-free diamonds.
- The Kimberley Process is an international initiative to keep the supply-chain free of conflict diamonds. It was started in 2000.
Can diamonds still be smuggled into the system by bad guys who use the money to do bad things? Does a bear shit in the woods? There are always going to be bad people doing bad things until Shiloh sacrifices herself for our sins, creating a perfect world where dogs and cats can live together in harmony and the dead can rise and walk the earth without causing a massive overpopulation problem. In the meantime, I’m not sure you achieve a lot by depriving an Australian miner, an Indian gem cutter and a Hong Kong manufacturer of their livelihoods in order to protest an African war that’s been over for six years.
If you really want to punish some bad guys, but you’re not ready to go Amish and give up that big trouble-maker, oil, feel free to sacrifice these all-too-common vices: illegal drugs and counterfeit goods. Those are 100% illegal, 100% of the time. Let’s say you’re a hard-partying yet annoyingly preachy actor who thinks sharing a little cocaine with your entourage is a victimless crime. Of course, you don’t care about Colombia, because you’re not going to vacation there, but you might want to read about Mexico, where drug lords have long paid off or intimidated police and government officials, and where people who speak out aren’t safe. (Even the musicians who glorify the drug lords aren’t safe.) Or maybe you’re a sober but thrifty fashionista who thinks counterfeit handbags are a funny way of sticking it to designers who make you yearn for things you can’t afford. Guess where the money goes: terrorism and organized crime (In My Bag recently did a good post on other bad effects of the counterfeit business). Personally, I would rather give my money to Marc Jacobs than Paulie Walnuts and you KNOW how I feel about Marc.