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

This week, we’ve been discussing the notion that conflict diamonds make up “considerably less than 1%” of the global diamond supply. The World Diamond Council (WDC), the group representing the global diamond industry, prominently features this statistic on its web site, www.diamondfacts.org. Partly due to heavy promotion by the diamond industry, this statistic has gained widespread acceptance and legitimacy. Unfortunately, it’s misleading – misleading enough that we’ve dubbed it “the 1% myth.”

 

In our first blog in this series, we noted that the diamond industry defines “conflict diamond” in very narrow terms: as a diamond used by a rebel group to finance a civil war against a legitimate government. Using this definition, the diamond industry determines that the only diamonds that count as conflict diamonds are those from Côte d’Ivoire, and that conflict diamonds make up only 0.2% of the world’s diamond supply.

 

In our next blog, we discussed the diamonds the industry is failing to count – most notably, diamonds from Angola and Zimbabwe, which together could soon make up 20% of the diamond supply. These diamonds are tied to horrific killings, rape, and torture. However, the diamond industry does not count them because they are not associated with the right type of violence – that is, violence committed by rebel soldiers in a civil war context.

 

Should any other diamonds be counted as conflict diamonds? We believe so. But first, let’s talk a little more about how the 1% myth, in practice, misleads consumers.
 

Many diamond jewelry shoppers begin their shopping experience with some vague misgivings about ethical problems in diamond mining. But if they search the Internet, they’ll find the 1% myth on countless web sites, including on the web sites of many leading jewelers. If they go to a jewelry store and ask about conflict diamonds, retailers have a ready answer at their disposal: the 1% myth. Retailers will tell shoppers that less than 1% of diamonds are conflict diamonds, or that more than 99% of diamonds have been certified by the Kimberley Process as conflict free.

 

Most consumers will leave it at that. They’ll assume that the diamond industry now produces an ethical product. To be fair, the diamond industry does disclose its narrow definition of “conflict diamond.” Many retailers disclose this definition too. However, most consumers hearing the 1% statistic still won’t realize what has been left unsaid. They’ll interpret the statistic as more or less a general index of ethical conditions in diamond mining.

 

And that’s why we believe that in addition to including all diamonds tied to violence, conflict diamonds also should be defined to include extremely serious labor and environmental abuses, which are rampant in diamond mining. Admittedly, the term “conflict diamond” works better for diamonds tied directly to violence; so does the term “blood diamond,” often used as a synonym for conflict diamond. (On the other hand, serious labor and environmental abuses can make conflict more likely.) But terminology shouldn’t be a limiting factor. New terms can always be devised. The main point is this: if the diamond industry is going to heavily promote a single statistic describing ethical conditions in the diamond industry, it’s irresponsible not to include abuses that most consumers would be shocked to discover.

 

What are some of those abuses?

 

To start off, they include child labor. In some areas of Africa, children are a major part of the diamond mining workforce. For instance, a survey of diamond mining in the Lunda Norte province of Angola, one of the country’s principal mining areas, found that nearly half of miners were between the ages of 5 and 16. Many, if not most, child miners do not attend school, giving up their childhoods as well as their futures to diamond mining.

 

The diamond industry is rife with other forms of worker exploitation. Working conditions can be dangerous, and wages pitifully low. In Africa, for instance, a million diamond diggers earn wages of less than a dollar a day. Most of these diggers live in extreme poverty, and they often lack basic necessities such as running water and sanitation.

 

In addition, some diamonds are associated with devastating environmental abuses. In Sierra Leone, for example, diamond mining has scarred the landscape with thousands of abandoned mining pits. When it rains, these pits fill with water, become infested with mosquitoes, and serve as breeding grounds for malaria.

 

The worst labor and environmental conditions in diamond mining tend to take place in artisanal diamond mining – the type of informal, loosely regulated diamond mining in which individuals, rather than large mining companies, pan or dig for diamonds. About 10% to 15% of the world’s diamonds are produced by artisanal diamond miners. We don’t necessarily support boycotting or banning these diamonds, since miners depend on them. We favor structural reforms, such as the establishment of a fair trade diamond certification system that would identify fairly-mined diamonds and encourage the adoption of stronger labor and environmental safeguards.

 

But we do think that in any general statistic on ethical conditions in diamond mining, the diamond industry can’t ignore the plight of the world’s diamond diggers. Some portion of the diamonds they produce needs to be included in that statistic, as does a portion of the diamonds mined in more formal, corporate settings – which are by no means free from serious labor and environmental abuses either.

 

Ultimately, however, we think that completely different kinds of statistical approaches could be more accurate and representative of ethical conditions in the diamond industry. In our next blog, we’ll discuss some alternative possibilities for measuring ethical abuses in the diamond industry. We’ll also take a closer look at why the diamond industry uses the 1% statistic – and why it is unlikely to give it up.

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Comments:

Ann Bocchi Says:
December 5th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I love jewelry, I have all my life and it is really unfortunate that the statistics on conflict diamonds are so skewed. The truth should be told to the public.


Amanda Says:
January 4th, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I love this post.

I’ve been shopping around, looking at diamonds, for a couple of months now. Although I’ve been fairly set at my decision to shop at Brilliant Earth for quite some time, I have been tempted to choose from a few other websites due to the fact that they also provide “conflict free” diamonds. I felt that there was something amiss with the term, but it makes me feel a lot better to know what that is.

Thanks!!


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