Conflict-free diamonds

What a dealer like Griffin and Highbury can tell us about conflict-free diamonds

“Conflict diamond” is a term that describes diamonds that have been used to finance a warlord, insurgency, or war effort of some type. They are also referred to as blood diamonds, hot diamonds, converted diamonds, or war diamonds. During the late 1990s, it was estimated that roughly 4% of the world’s diamond production was tied to elicit purposes.

Most conflict diamonds come from central and western Africa and were mined during conflicts in countries that included Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. In many cases, slave labor has been used to extract the diamonds.

Global Witness, an international non-profit organization that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights, was one of the first organizations to bring attention to diamonds and their connection to conflicts in Africa, with their 1998 report titled “A Rough Trade.”

The United Nations focused on the issue with Security Council Resolution 1173, which was passed in 1998. This led to the Fowler Report in 2000, which raised international awareness to the part diamonds play in third world conflicts. Following the Fowler Report came the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1295. This resolution outlined what came to be known as the Kimberley Process, a method by which buyers of diamonds could be assured that their purchases were conflict-free.

The United Nations defined conflict diamonds as “…diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”

The Kimberley Process was started when diamond-producing countries pushed for reforms by setting up a meeting in Kimberley, South Africa in May of 2000. There, they come up with ways to end trade in conflict diamonds, which resulted in an agreement between the United Nations, European Union, the World Diamond Council, and the governments of 74 countries.

Griffin and Highbury Inc., a Canadian diamond and gemstone dealer that has decades of experience in the industry, highlights just how important the introduction of the Kimberley Process was for the industry as a whole. Geoff Black of Griffin and Highbury comments, “The implementation of the [Kimberley Process] really was a turning point. It represented the first time that buyers could be truly assured of the origin of their diamonds and whether or not the diamonds they purchased were mined in conflict-free areas.”

The international certification system covered the import and export of diamonds and called for all countries to accept only officially sealed packages of diamonds, to impose criminal charges for anyone trafficking in conflict diamonds, and to institute a ban on anyone found trading in conflict diamonds. The certification process requires each diamond shipment to include details of where the diamonds came from, how they were mined, the parties involved, how the diamonds were cut and polished, and their intended destination.

The Kimberley Process and other efforts have drastically cut the flow of conflict diamonds, while also helping to stabilize volatile countries and supporting their development. In Sierra Leone in 2006, $125 million worth of diamonds were legally exported, compared to almost none at the end of the 1990s. By 1999 the World Diamond Council estimated that the illegal diamond trade comprised 3.06% of the world’s production, and by 2004 it had fallen to approximately 1%.

At this time, everyone in the diamond industry should be familiar with the Kimberley Process, and all dealers and anyone else working with diamonds should take the certification process very seriously.

Geoff Black of Griffin and Highbury adds, “The certification process is very important to us. It isn’t just an ethical issue, it is a business issue. Especially since the release of the movie Blood Diamond in 2006, consumers are more educated and want to make sure their money doesn’t go to support any type of nefarious goals. We haven’t completely eradicated the problem, but have made tremendous progress in recent years and we hope to get there soon.”

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