Blood Diamonds: Healing the wound
Not many people knew about where diamonds came from prior to the gripping 2006 movie “Blood Diamonds”. Set in war torn Sierra Leone, Africa, it tells the story of a man forced to mine diamonds for a local warlord and his desperate struggle to flea with his family to a safer place. It is a violent movie which highlighted the horrible and devastating practices surrounding the mining of blood diamonds. When one character, in the midst of the violence, says “Sometimes I wonder… will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other? Then I look around and I realize… God left this place a long time ago”, you can’t but help wonder if that was true. Yet the movie did end on a slightly positive note with its reference to an international conference that was held to deal with the issues surrounding blood diamonds. This conference would become the ‘Kimberly Process’ which sought to end the misery producing trade in blood diamonds.
Conflict diamonds, also referred to as blood diamonds, is a term used for a diamond mined and sold to finance an insurgency, an army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity. Currently 5-10% of the world’s diamond trade is believed to be sourced as conflict diamonds, with the highest percentage of these coming from the African nation of Sierra Leone which has about approximately 15% of its diamond trade as conflict diamonds. Most conflict diamonds are sourced through small-scale panning mines, where workers spend the daylight hours sifting through muddy clay waters in order to find small shards of diamond. If they don’t find anything – they don’t earn anything.
The consequences for those caught up in the blood diamond trade are devastating. Violence is part of daily life and since the 1960’s, more than 3 million people have been killed from diamond mining – be it from unsafe work practices forced upon them by the powerful warlords who control the mines, or as a direct result in the conflicts that have surrounded these mines. For those still working in conflict diamond mining areas the average wage is 10 cents a day. Oppressive poverty is rife, and not just as a result of the vastly inadequate wages, but also from the corruption surrounding the running of the mines. Those who actually mine the diamonds are constantly being ripped-off by being paid well under market value for what they mine.
Sadly, many of these workers are children who have forgone an education in order to support their families, and tragically they are often replacing the income of a parent who has died or been disabled as a result of diamond mining. Poverty is exacerbated by the terrible health conditions in which these people work. Alluvial mining is back-breaking work, and for children whose bodies are still developing, the impacts on later life can be terrible. Mining is also associated with high levels of mercury which can poison the blood and in some mines, asbestos is also located.
And then there are the environmental concerns. The desire to find more and more diamonds has led to increasing swathes of land being dug up and mined beyond use. Once fertile farming land has been made desolate and unusable for the local communities. It is not surprising that in countries where conflict diamond mining occurs, these communities are the poorest and least supported in the land.
So what is being done?
In 2000 a conference – the one alluded to in “Blood Diamond” – was held in Kimberly, South Africa and sought to form a process that would end conflict diamond production. In 2003, 81 nations covering 99.8% of the world’s diamond producing areas, signed up to the Kimberly Process which sought to end the trade and profit-making from conflict diamonds by introducing a certificate scheme. Diamond producers would have to prove and certify that the product was conflict-free or otherwise they would be banned from trading. As a result several major international Jewellers such as Tiffany & Co. and De Beers have publically endorsed a conflict-free policy for sourcing their diamonds, and in Australia, Michael Hill Jewellers have done likewise. The Kimberly Process, while not perfect – for example, due to its focus on rebel fighters and warlords, it does not prevent Governments from exploiting their own diamond miners – has seen a reduction in the trade of conflict diamonds from around 25% of all diamonds in 2003 to today’s level of 5-10%.
Other initiatives have risen up to complement and strengthen the Kimberly Process. The Diamond Development Initiative International was formed to bring together governments and NGO’s to help small individual miners form larger mining collectives in order to provide themselves with some bargaining power. This, along with educational programs for the miners, has seen an improvement in the take-home income these miners now receive. Other developments include a small move toward laboratory-grown diamonds. These stones are 100% diamond and retail approximately 20-30% cheaper than mined diamonds and are obviously conflict-free. However, while you can be certain of the diamond’s origin, the profits go to the lab company that grew it which does nothing to assist those caught up in conflict diamond mining. This is the same issue when sourcing diamonds from Developed counties such as Canada – yes they are conflict free, but the profits go to wealthy companies and do not assist in helping the poverty-stricken miners of conflict zones.
The issues that surround the problem of conflict diamonds remain difficult to address, especially from the other side of the world. Initiatives such as the Kimberly Process and exposure of the problems by movies such as ‘Blood Diamond’ have gone some of the way in helping those being exploited but more must and can be done. When purchasing diamond jewellery, hold the store to account by asking:
- What is your primary source for diamond jewellery?
- How can I be sure that none of your jewellery contains conflict diamonds?
- Can I see a copy of your company’s policy on conflict diamonds and/or a written guarantee from your suppliers that your diamonds are conflict-free?
If the Jewellery store cannot answer these questions or is vague about the answers – move on. If they cannot show you how they ethically source their diamonds then there is every chance you might purchase a conflict diamond and therefore be supporting that harmful trade. Further we can pressure our governments to make it law that Jewellery stores publish their diamond sourcing policy, thus allowing for transparency in the market place and for pressure to be applied to store that do not follow the Kimberly Certificate process.
In our effort to seek justice for those caught up in the blood diamond trade we must:
Challenge our cultural practices – the ‘out of sight is out of mind’ mentality must end. If we, as followers of Christ, wish to purchase jewellery (and there is nothing wrong in that) then we must confront the reality of conflict diamonds and do our part in not sustaining this evil industry. We must take the time and use our resources to ensure we do not buy unethically sourced diamonds and other jewellery.
Advocate for the oppressed – we can apply pressure to local stores to ensure they only stock conflict-free jewellery. And if they don’t then vote with your wallets and purses and refuse to buy from those stores. We can also advocate to our governments to mandate adherence to policies that are making a difference, such as the Kimberly Process. Finally we can also raise the horrible realities of conflict diamonds amongst our family, friends, and community in an effort to turn the tide against the purchase of blood diamonds.
This sort of grassroots activism does work – it is amazing how pressure on a business’s bottom line can make changes to policy. Changing the cultural practices around diamonds and thereby improving the lives of millions of poor workers is the work God calls us to do. Challenge – Advocate – Change!
“Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate” – Proverbs 22:22
“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honour him. The wicked are overthrown by their evildoing, but the righteous find a refuge in their integrity” – Proverbs 14:31-32
 Zwick, Edward, et al. Blood diamond. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007.