What are “blood” diamonds? How often are diamonds linked to violence or exploitation? The answers to these questions aren’t as straightforward as you might think. Everything depends on the definition. In fact, when it comes to blood diamonds, there are four definitions that frequently get used. Some of these meanings overlap and intersect—which is why it’s helpful to take a look each definition, one-by-one, on a Venn diagram.
Let’s start with the narrowest definition of all—the official definition of “conflict diamonds” used by the Kimberley Process (KP), the international diamond certification scheme. Under the KP, conflict diamonds are “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” Basically, these are rough (i.e. uncut) diamonds that fund rebel groups in civil wars.
Diamonds falling into this category probably make up less than one percent of the global diamond supply, by value. The KP’s “conflict diamond” definition would generate a picture of the rough diamond universe something like this (not strictly to scale):
Based on the above diagram, your chances of accidentally buying a conflict diamond look very small indeed. The above is also very convenient for the diamond industry. It’s the picture the World Diamond Council (WDC), the diamond industry trade group, wants consumers to see and promotes through its web site, www.diamondfacts.org. But that’s not the whole story.
What the WDC and the KP don’t fully explain is that a “conflict free” diamond is not necessarily violence-free. Many diamonds are “conflict free” under the KP’s definition and yet still tainted by violence. For instance, if government soldiers or security guards kill or torture diamond miners to keep them off valuable diamond territory, the diamonds don’t get counted as “conflict diamonds.” Some countries, such as the United States, want the KP to expand its conflict diamond definition to something that would encompass this broader category of violence, but that doesn’t look likely to happen soon.
It’s hard to put a number on all the diamonds tainted by violence, whether in the context of a civil war or not. (It changes all the time and there’s no consensus on how many diamonds should be considered affected when an act of violence occurs.) But a fair estimate might be 5 or 10 percent of all diamonds, by value. Here’s how that changes our Venn diagram.
There are also many diamonds linked to other serious abuses and forms of exploitation: diamonds dug from muddy pits that collapsed on miners and killed them; diamonds mined by children; diamonds dug by people earning only a dollar a day; diamonds linked to environmental devastation; and so on.
This broader pool of diamonds tainted by some form of serious abuse, including violence, makes up a much bigger portion of the diamond supply—maybe 20 percent or more. As you can see, suddenly the number of affected diamonds looks much bigger.
There’s one more piece to the puzzle. Almost every country that buys or sells rough diamonds also belongs to the KP. Under the KP, rough diamonds must be sold through legal channels; that is, they’re supposed to be declared when imported or exported. When some people talk about “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds” what they really are referring to sometimes is this pool of illicit, smuggled, diamonds traded outside the auspices of the KP.
How big is this pool of smuggled diamonds? The diamond industry claims that the KP has reduced diamond smuggling to less than one percent of rough diamonds—in other words, the claim is that the only smuggled diamonds are the conflict ones. But that’s clearly not true. One independent investigator thinks that the figure is actually closer to 25 percent. Assuming it’s something in between, here’s a guess at what the whole picture really looks like:
Looking at these four overlapping circles, it’s now possible to see how these different kinds of diamonds relate with one another. A few small observations:
* Notice that most conflict diamonds are also smuggled. In other words, although the main purpose of the KP is to stop conflict diamonds at the border, it doesn’t do a very good job of that. Most conflict diamonds get exported illegally anyway and filter their way into the general supply.
* Notice that the vast majority of diamonds tainted by violence or abuse aren’t smuggled. They’re completely legal. Essentially, that’s because there’s no international system in place to stop the sale of these diamonds, identify them, or address the conditions in which they are mined. The KP only bans, or tries to ban, conflict diamonds.
But these points are less important than one main takeaway: people use the terms “blood diamonds” and “conflict diamonds” in all kinds of ways and to refer to different areas, or combinations of areas, in this diagram. It’s important for the diamond industry to be precise with the terms it uses, and to be straight with consumers. Unfortunately, far too often consumers are told only about the first little red circle and not the big picture.
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