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Enough Project: To Stop Blood Diamonds, Start at Trading Hubs

The diamond supply chain is so long and complex that keeping conflict diamonds out of it is a daunting challenge. All along the way, conflict diamonds can enter the flow, much like dirty storm runoff can enter a river at multiple, shifting points. So what’s the best way to create an ethical diamond supply, free of diamonds tainted by violence?

The Enough Project, an NGO dedicated to stopping genocide, has an excellent idea: focus on the major places where diamonds are traded, cut, and polished: Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, and India. The suggestion comes as part of a new report by the Enough Project on violence in the Central African Republic, where diamonds are fueling a tragic civil conflict that has displaced a million people.

The world, to be sure, already has developed a response to conflict diamonds. It’s an international diamond certification scheme called the Kimberley Process (KP). Whenever an armed rebel group seizes control of a country’s diamond trade, the KP bans that country’s diamonds. In May 2013, after rebel groups funded by diamonds took control of the Central African Republic, the KP prohibited its 81 participating nations from importing diamonds from that troubled country.

The only problem with this approach is that it doesn’t work very well. As the Enough Project explains in its report, conflict diamonds from the Central African Republic are being easily smuggled into Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they get mixed into the general diamond supply. Almost all of these conflict diamonds will eventually receive KP certification and be marketed to consumers as “conflict free”—even though jewelers can’t verify that claim.

Sadly, this is a familiar story. We saw the same pattern when diamond-financed rebels were causing instability in Cote d’Ivoire for most of the past decade. The United Nations and the KP banned the export of Ivorian diamonds in 2005. But most of those diamonds leaked into the KP-certified diamond supply anyway, smuggled across porous borders. If nothing changes, this is exactly what will happen with diamonds from the Central African Republic. Blood diamonds will flow; meanwhile, the KP will act as its diamond ban represents a decent enough effort.

Fortunately, this time the Enough Project is calling the KP’s bluff. In its new report, it calls on the KP to send review missions not to the Central African Republic or neighboring countries, but to Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, and India. These are the places where most of the world’s diamonds are cut, polished, and traded. Basically, the Enough Project is saying to the KP: it’s time to start policing the diamond industry. And to the diamond industry it’s saying: it’s your job to make sure you don’t buy diamonds from the Central African Republic.

Could the Enough Project’s idea work? The proposal takes advantage of the fact that the diamond supply chain is shaped like an hourglass—widest at the producer and consumer ends, but relatively skinny in the middle. If only diamonds traceable to conflict free sources are allowed into the trading hubs, then conflict diamonds will be removed from a large swathe of the supply chain. The rest of the way, jewelers and consumers could step in to make transparent, ethical sourcing a priority.

The proposal makes a lot of sense, but it has another thing going for it too: it borrows an approach that has proven workable. The Enough Project during the past few years has been leading the fight against conflict minerals—the gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten that have been fueling a deadly civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The supply chain for these minerals bears a resemblance to the one for diamonds. Gold, for instance, is mined all over the world, but most of it passes through a limited number of smelters.  To be certain they aren’t buying conflict minerals, many companies (mostly electronics manufacturers) have discovered that one solution is to buy minerals traceable to smelters that, in turn, can verifiably trace all their minerals to conflict free sources.

The Enough Project’s proposal for reforming the diamond trade appears to be based on a key realization: if smelters can weed out conflict minerals, diamond trading hubs should be able to weed out conflict diamonds. In fact, the world’s diamond trading hubs could be ideally positioned to drive the change that is needed in the diamond supply chain.

So will diamond trading companies in places like Antwerp, Surat, and Dubai take responsibility for ensuring none of their diamonds come from the Central African Republic? We’re not optimistic that they’ll do what’s necessary, in the short term. But we’re glad that the Enough Project has raised the idea. For too long, the diamond industry has sold conflict diamonds that are falsely certified as “conflict free.” Now it’s time for new approaches that could truly break the link between diamonds and violence.

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