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The One Percent Myth: Debunking a Diamond Industry Statistic

With the holiday shopping season now underway, many jewelry consumers are learning about conflict diamonds for the first time.  We encourage our customers to read the Conflict Diamond Issues section on our web site and to seek out information from other sources as well.  But we offer a word of advice: not all the information that’s publicly available is reliable.

 

In particular, we’d like to call attention to one highly inaccurate statistic:  a statistic that has long been promoted by the World Diamond Council (WDC), an organization representing the global diamond industry. According to www.diamondfacts.org, a site maintained by the group, the percentage of conflict diamonds in the world diamond supply is “considerably less than 1%.” The WDC attributes this low percentage to the success of the Kimberley Process, the international diamond certification scheme it helped to found. “Today 74 governments have enshrined into their national law the Kimberley Process Certification System, and now more than 99% of the world’s diamonds are from conflict free sources,” states the web site.

 

Based only on this statistic, it sounds as if conflict diamonds are a very small problem indeed – as if the flow of conflict diamonds has been reduced to a trickle. Is this true? Regrettably, it isn’t. The notion that conflict diamonds make up considerably less than 1% of the diamond supply is really quite misleading – so misleading, that we’ll call it the 1% myth.

 

To explain the 1% myth, we’ll need to address this issue in a series of blogs. Today, let’s first take a look at how the diamond industry arrives at its own statistic.

 

The diamond industry defines “conflict diamond” as the Kimberley Process does – in the narrowest of terms. Under the Kimberley Process, the only diamonds that count as conflict diamonds are those used by a rebel group to finance a civil war against a legitimate government. Based on this definition, the Kimberley Process has determined that just one country produces conflict diamonds: Côte d’Ivoire, a small country in West Africa with an ongoing civil conflict.

 

If you take at face value that the only conflict diamonds that exist are diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire, then the calculation would go something like this. Every year, rebels in Côte d’Ivoire smuggle about $20 million in diamonds into neighboring countries. In 2010, the global diamond industry produced about $11.4 billion in diamonds. Divide $20 million by $11.4 billion and you get a very small percentage – about 0.2%. This is what the diamond industry means when it states that “considerably less than 1%” of diamonds are conflict diamonds. (Indeed, the WDC cites a statistic finding that 99.8% of diamonds are conflict free.)

 

But is it truly the case that only 0.2% of diamonds are conflict diamonds? It can’t be. That’s because excluded from this calculation are billions of dollars worth of diamonds tied to extreme violence – including torture, rape, and killings. In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at what the diamond industry leaves out, and how bad the problem of conflict diamonds really is.

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