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The One Percent Myth: Debunking a Diamond Industry Statistic, Part II

In our last blog, we discussed how the diamond industry is misleading consumers by suggesting that “considerably less than 1%” of diamonds are conflict diamonds. We explained how the only diamonds that the diamond industry counts as conflict diamonds are those from Côte d’Ivoire, where rebels are using diamonds to finance a lengthy civil conflict. Using only diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire in its calculations, the diamond industry suggests that conflict diamonds make up just 0.2% of the global diamond supply.

 

What is the diamond industry leaving out?

 

Let’s start with diamonds that the diamond industry has no basis for excluding – even on its own terms. The diamond industry relies on the definition of “conflict diamond” used by the  Kimberley Process, the international diamond certification scheme it supports and helped to found. The Kimberley Process defines “conflict diamond” extremely narrowly: as a diamond used by a rebel group to finance a civil war against a legitimate government. But even under this narrow definition, the diamond industry is failing to count some diamonds.

In addition to Côte d’Ivoire, there are other countries where rebel groups are using diamonds to finance insurgent activities.  For instance, in the Central African Republic rebels are fighting with each other to control diamond mines in the country’s east. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), rebels are exploiting the country’s natural resources – diamonds, gold, and various minerals – to finance a war that has killed more than 5 million people.

 

The Central African Republic produced about $49 million worth of rough diamonds in 2010, or 0.43% of global production value, according to Kimberley Process statistics. The DRC produced $174 million in rough diamonds last year, or about 1.5% of global production. Only a fraction of the diamonds produced in these countries help to finance rebel groups. But these two examples alone show that the 0.2% estimate is very likely inaccurate.

 

So far we haven’t necessarily disproven the 1% myth. But the picture dramatically changes when we begin to define “conflict diamond” in a less arbitrary way.

 

The Kimberley Process’s definition of “conflict diamond” is nonsensically limited. Under the Kimberley Process, diamonds tied to killings, torture, beatings, and rape are not conflict diamonds – unless those diamonds help to finance rebel groups in the context of a civil war. However, some of the worst diamond-related violence today is not being committed by rebel groups, but by despotic governments.

 

For instance, in Angola, the military has been brutally cracking down on Congolese diamond miners who have been crossing into northeast Angola in search of better economic opportunities. Angolan soldiers harass, beat, and kill diamond miners who refuse to pay bribes. Earlier this year, a group working for the United Nations documented 21,000 cases of serious human rights violations – including torture, beatings, and rape – committed by the Angolan military against Congolese diamond miners and their families. The same monitor found evidence that the military is engaging in the systematic rape of Congolese women and girls.

 

Partnership Africa Canada, a non-profit group, argues that the Angolan government’s record of violence against diamond miners “taints all of Angola’s diamonds.” We agree. And when we include Angolan diamonds in our calculations, the 1% myth is completely shattered. In 2010, Angola produced $976 million in rough diamonds – or 8.5% of global diamond production.

 

Angola is not the only country where militaries are killing, torturing, and raping diamond miners and their families. Several years ago, a massive diamond deposit was discovered in the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe. In 2008, Zimbabwe’s military seized the Marange diamond fields for itself, massacring more than 200 miners. Soldiers then began forcing local adults and children to mine for diamonds on the military’s behalf. Disobedient diamond miners have been tortured, beaten, and raped. (In August, the BBC reported that the military even runs torture camps for diamond miners.) In addition, President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s authoritarian leader, is stealing diamond revenues, using the profits to fund his political party and strengthen his grip on power.

 

Zimbabwe exported less than $50 million in rough diamonds per year until 2010. However, due to the newly-discovered diamond deposit, diamond production in Zimbabwe is soaring. Last year, Zimbabwe officially exported $340 million in rough diamonds, or 3% of the global total. It is believed that Zimbabwe could soon produce up to $2 billion in rough diamonds yearly. This means that Zimbabwe is poised to produce 10 to 15% of the world’s diamonds — which would make it the world’s leading diamond producer.

 

Together, violence in Angola and Zimbabwe demonstrate that the scale of the conflict diamond problem is not what the diamond industry suggests. These countries were responsible for a combined 11.5% of global diamond exports in 2010. In future years, they easily could produce 20% of the world’s diamonds – meaning that 1 in 5 diamonds could be a conflict diamond. This is 100 times as much as the 0.2% estimate that the diamond industry promotes.

 

To be sure, our estimate still leaves out a whole range of ghastly labor and environmental abuses in diamond mining – including child labor, poverty-level wages, and serious environmental degradation. In our next blog, we’ll examine these other problems in greater depth.

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