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

We’re back with our discussion of the one percent myth – the misleading notion, promoted by the diamond industry, that conflict diamonds make up considerably less than one percent of the diamond supply.

 

In prior blogs, we’ve shown how the only diamonds that the diamond industry counts as conflict diamonds are those from Cote d’Ivoire, a small country in West Africa that produces 0.2% of the world’s diamonds. Missing from this count are diamonds from Angola and Zimbabwe – diamonds which are tainted by killings, torture, and rape. Together, these two countries could soon produce 20% of the diamond supply. We’ve also highlighted how the diamond industry doesn’t count diamonds tied to other serious human rights abuses – such as child labor and the mass impoverishment of a million diamond diggers.

 

Unfortunately, when jewelry consumers go shopping, they are frequently told that the diamond supply, thanks to the Kimberley Process, is now more than 99% conflict free. Little extra explanation is provided, leaving consumers to assume that serious human rights violations have been rooted out of the diamond supply. This practice can’t go on. We believe that if the diamond industry is going to use any statistic purporting to describe ethical conditions in diamond mining, it has a responsibility to include the concerns we’ve just highlighted.

 

How might it do this? One approach would be to raise the percentage of conflict diamonds it publicizes to a more realistic level – at minimum, including diamonds from Angola and Zimbabwe. Or, it might be more helpful and accurate to try entirely different statistical approaches as a proxy for ethical conditions in diamond mining.

So far we’ve been calculating the percentage of conflict diamonds by value. That is, we’ve been taking the value of certain rough diamonds and comparing it to the value of all the rough diamonds being produced every year, according to Kimberley Process statistics. But since every diamond is different in terms of size and value, we’d get different results if we calculated our percentages by carat weight, rather than value. Zimbabwe, for instance, last year officially exported 3.0% of the world’s diamonds by value, but 6.6% by carat weight.

 

Furthermore, all our percentages thus far have focused on diamonds. But instead of calculating the percentage of diamonds tied to violence and exploitation, why not calculate the percentage of people working in diamond mining who are exploited? We don’t have accurate statistics on hand, but we’re willing to estimate that the one million diamond diggers in Africa earning less than $1 a day make up more than 50% of Africa’s diamond miners.

 

Another helpful type of statistic for consumers might focus less on diamonds, and more on diamond jewelry items as a whole. For instance, to what extent are diamond rings being responsibly produced? Any such statistic would need to evaluate all stages of the jewelry production process, as well as the source of the precious metals in the jewelry item. We haven’t done such a survey ourselves, but our experience suggests that most jewelry manufacturers today aren’t creating products free from worker and environmental exploitation. Indeed, any jewelry item made from newly-mined gold, rather than recycled gold or fair trade gold, is likely causing unnecessary environmental harm.

 

Surely, any of these statistical approaches would be preferable to telling consumers that the diamond supply is 99.8% conflict free – when, in fact, large portions of the diamond supply have histories linked to killings, torture, and rape. We believe that the diamond industry’s statistic is arbitrary, misleading, and entirely unhelpful to consumers trying to make an ethical diamond purchase. But short of revising the statistic, there is an easier step that the World Diamond Council (WDC), the group representing the global diamond industry, can take immediately: simply, stop promoting the statistic altogether.

 

We’re doubtful that the WDC will do this, however. For years the diamond industry has used the 1% myth to reassure consumers that the diamond supply is basically ethical. The 1% myth, we suspect, has taken on such a life of its own that the diamond industry is now afraid to abandon it. How do we know?

 

For one, the diamond industry has stuck by the 1% myth even in the wake of grave human rights violations – including torture, rape, killings, and the forced labor of adults and children – in Zimbabwe’s diamond fields. (Zimbabwe is so rich in diamonds that it could easily produce 10% to 15% of the world diamond supply.) If the diamond industry had any intention of letting go of the 1% myth based on Zimbabwean diamonds alone, it could have done so several years ago, when Zimbabwean diamonds first became embroiled in controversy.

 

Instead, the diamond industry has never retreated from the 1% myth – even in 2009, when the Kimberley Process, the international diamond certification scheme, itself refused to grant “conflict free” certification to Zimbabwean diamonds. Furthermore, when the Kimberley Process recently decided to restore that certification, the diamond industry threw its support behind the decision. Why? Partly, we suspect, because continuing to withhold conflict free certification from Zimbabwean diamonds would have destroyed the viability of the 1% myth.

 

But we don’t really have to guess how the diamond industry will respond to our calls for it to abandon the 1% myth. Already, the WDC has responded. Last week, the WDC sent us a formal response to our blog series – even before we’d finished. The diamond industry insists that the 1% myth is true. It also criticizes Brilliant Earth on various grounds.

 

We seem to have struck a deep nerve.  Even we may not have appreciated the extent to which  the diamond industry depends on the 1% myth. In our next blog, we’ll share with you what the WDC has to say, and we’ll issue our response.

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