The myth of conflict-free diamonds

A new report reveals how a lack of regulation has made separating clean from dirty gems nearly impossible

Topics: diamonds, conflict diamonds, blood diamonds, international law, Labor Rights, Foreign policy, ,

The myth of conflict-free diamonds

According to a recent piece in Foreign Policy, the odds are a staggering 1 in 4 that a diamond on the market today is a conflict stone. What’s even more troubling: It’s become nearly impossible to tell the difference between the clean and dirty gems.

After being shipped in from Africa, Central Asia, and other mining hot spots, thousands of diamonds end up in Surat everyday, a growing metropolis in the Indian state of Gujarat. Once there, stones of different origins — both legal and illegal — are mixed together to get cut and polished inside the city’s many microfactories. As Foreign Policy’s Jason Miklian writes:

In Surat, I discovered legitimate merchandise mingling openly with undocumented diamonds in a trading free-for-all. Indeed, so-called conflict diamonds — illicitly mined stones that fund conflicts in the world’s war zones — are for sale by everyone from small-time street hustlers to the Indian government itself. And the entire system is protected by an intricate familial society of brokers and middlemen that operates almost exclusively on the black market.

Once the Gujarat Mail reaches the end of the line in Mumbai, the stones have had their damning histories washed away, and buyers ship more than $40 billion of certified merchandise annually out of a country that international authorities say is clean. But if you own a diamond bought in the 21st century, odds are it took an overnight journey on the Mail. Odds are too, you’ll have no idea where it really came from.

The result of this mix-and-match style of diamond sourcing is that the Kimberly Process – an international trade standard established in 2003 to prevent “conflict diamonds” from entering the market — is nearly impossible to enforce. In fact, verifying each stone’s origin has become so difficult that many dealers have just stopped asking questions.



The global diamond market has turned the small town of Surat into an international business center where more than 90 percent of the world’s unpolished diamonds are now processed. But in addition to the lax oversight that allows conflict diamonds to freely mingle with those that were legally sourced, the processing factories themselves have become notorious for their hazardous working conditions. According to Miklian:

After two decades of constant squinting and 100-hour workweeks, most boys who come here to make their fortunes in the polishing trade no longer have the eyesight to do the work. By 35, if they haven’t been lucky enough to become dealers, those polishers already suffering from early-onset vision loss are shown the door and left to fend for themselves. And decades of continuously inhaling microscopic diamond grains often leads to tuberculosis and respiratory diseases (“diamond lung,” as it’s called locally), which afflict tens of thousands of workers. Most go back to their villages to try to farm the land they abandoned years earlier — literally sent out to pasture.

The piece is long, and devastating, but well worth a read. And for those still in the market for a diamond? If you don’t want your bling to come with ethical and ecological baggage, you might want to consider a synthetic stone. Better safe than sorry, right?

 

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Api Étoile

    Like little stars.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Calville Blanc

    World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chenango Strawberry

    So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chestnut Crab

    My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    D'Arcy Spice

    High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Esopus Spitzenberg

    Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Granite Beauty

    New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hewes Crab

    Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hidden Rose

    Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Knobbed Russet

    Freak city.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Newtown Pippin

    Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Pitmaston Pineapple

    Really does taste like pineapple.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>