Public Awareness of Conflict Diamonds Increases

Both Hollywood and the rap industry are promoting a diamond term more serious than “ice” or “bling.” In a world where looks are everything, and the jewelry worn by a star is envied and emulated by peers and fans alike, a movement is emerging that raises awareness of a serious issue – the importation of conflict diamonds.

Also referred to as blood diamonds, conflict diamonds are those which have been stolen and sold over bloodshed to finance rebel African armies in regions of unrest. These diamonds can easily get lost in the shuffle and work their way into the mainstream diamond supply – a great source of concern for the world. Broad based awareness, aided by the entertainment industry in recent months, is the first step to fighting this problem.

Warner Brothers tackles the conflict diamond issue in its upcoming film, The Blood Diamond, which might star Leonardo DiCaprio. The plot explores the intertwined lives of a conflict diamond smuggler and a Sierra Leone farmer whose son vanishes into an army of child soldiers.

Rapper Kanye West also denounces conflict diamonds in his new single “Diamonds From Sierra Leone: “Little was known of Sierra Leone, And how it connect to the diamonds we own, How? when I know of the blood diamonds, Though it’s thousands of miles away, Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today.”

While the entertainment industry assists with increasing public awareness of conflict diamonds, reputable jewelers are already knowledgeable about and have been fighting against conflict diamonds for years. Neustaedter’s Fine Jewelry in St. Louis has been dedicated to the issue for decades and is committed to educating the public.

Conflict Diamonds: Products of Bloodshed with a Centuries-Old History

According to the Global Policy Forum, conflict diamonds date back to the early 1900s when European entrepreneurs gained control of diamond mines by instigating wars between African tribes. Over a hundred years later, conflict diamonds are still affecting the lives of people throughout Africa.

You might be astounded that over 3.7 million people in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola have died in diamond-related wars. About 6.5 million people in these nations have lost their homes during the wars.

How do conflict diamonds play a role in these wars? Rebel armies, many composed of child soldiers, kill miners and steal the diamonds which are sold on the black market to fund their weapons and other illegal activities. Oftentimes the conflict diamonds are traded and routed through neighboring countries through many middlemen, making it hard to trace their origins.

How the Government Regulates the Importation of Diamonds

Fortunately, many nations are trying to prevent the trade of conflict diamonds. Ratified by 52 countries in 2002, Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) “is a voluntary system that imposes requirements on participants to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free,” according to Amnesty International USA.

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Clean Diamond Trade Act into law, creating restrictions on the importation of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone into the United States. The act strictly prohibits the importation of rough diamonds from Liberia into the U.S. The Clean Diamond Trade Act also bolsters KPCS by requiring an annual review of anyone in the U.S. who issues KPCS certificates.

But both the KPCS and the Clean Diamond Trade Act have loopholes through which conflict diamonds can pass undetected. Some organizations, including the Global Policy Forum, believe that the KPCS-established World Diamond Council is not monitoring the issue well enough and that many nations have done a poor job of applying KPCS.

Despite its strong implications, the Clean Diamond Trade Act does not require the inspection of sealed diamond containers. The law only calls for U.S. customs to review and record information on a form that accompanies the import. This can lead to false documentation, including inconsistencies between the form and the actual contents. Organizations like Amnesty International USA believe that occasional random checks should be performed on diamond imports to better regulate the industry.

The Diamond Industry Takes a Proactive Stand

De Beers, who controls over 60 percent of the world’s diamonds, has performed many measures to help control this issue. The company has entirely embargoed diamonds from Angola and stopped purchasing diamonds from Liberia and Sierra Leone almost 20 years ago. De Beers only sells diamonds from its own mines, most of which are located in South Africa and Botswana, and provides guarantees that all of its diamonds are conflict-free.

Aside from De Beers, the diamond industry in general has a self-regulatory system that issues warranties for conflict-free diamonds. This system is a result of KPCS, which allows the government to trace your diamond back to its untainted origins.

Your Important Role

All of these regulations mean that you don’t have to worry about conflict diamonds, right? Wrong. Neustaedter’s Fine Jewelry encourages customers to ask jewelers the following questions when purchasing diamonds:

What countries do your diamonds come from?

Do not buy a diamond from areas of conflict in Africa, namely Angola, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. Even if the jeweler says that the diamonds are from safe regions, most jewelers cannot trace their diamonds’ origins since they travel through three to 15 middlemen.

Instead, people should look for jewelers with direct connections to the mines and cutting facilities. For example, Neustaedter’s conducts business directly with Festdiam, the prestigious Diamond Trading Company sightholder. This means that Neustaedter’s knows exactly where each of its diamonds comes from.

Have you visited the mines and cutting facilities that produce your diamonds?

A trip to the diamond mines allows the jeweler to personally observe how their diamonds are mined and how the workers are treated. As one of six American jewelers recently invited by De Beers to visit Bultfontein Mine in South Africa, co-owners Richard and Jacqueline Neustaedter received the piece of mind they needed, knowing that their diamonds are mined and cut in a safe, humane environment.

Do you have a conflict-free diamond certificate?

The most reputable jewelers provide customers with written guarantees or display certificates in their stores that attest to the non-conflict origins of the jewels. Without authentic and written certification, you will not know if a jeweler’s diamonds are conflict-free.

While many important steps have been taken in recent years to end the distribution of conflict diamonds, we must all continue to play an active role in their elimination by educating ourselves. Patronize jewelers who are committed to combating conflict diamonds, and who can prove that they are taking steps to help end this tragic situation.