History of Blood Diamonds and the Kimberley Process
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History of Blood Diamonds and the Kimberley Process

Blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds, are defined as diamonds mined in war zones sold to finance armed conflicts against legitimate governments. These diamonds are often mined using forced labor and are traded illegally to fund violent conflicts and human rights abuses.  

The international outcry over blood diamonds, which brought attention to the corrupt and unsupervised diamond trade, originated in Sierra Leone. In the early nineties, the country’s lack of leadership and a lucrative yet unsupervised diamond trade prompted rebels to initiate a civil war. This invasion, and the bloody aftermath which ensued, gave rise to an investigation into the diamond trade and sparked a fervent demand for international regulation. 

As the demand for regulation grew, then president of the United States, Bill Clinton, issued Executive Order 13194, which outlawed the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone from 2001 onwards. Then in 2003, the United States implemented the Clean Diamond Trade Act, banning the import and export of any rough diamond that had not been certified by the Kimberley Process (KP).  

The Kimberley Process is a multilateral trade regime established in 2003 with the goal of preventing the flow of conflict (blood) diamonds. However, its effectiveness is limited: the certification is based on the last country of export, which means that a diamond can be certified as ethical even if it was first smuggled from another country.  

The limitations of the Kimberley Process play an important role in our Mission here at Brilliant Earth: through Beyond Conflict Free™ Diamonds and rigorous standards at each point of our business model, we require transparency beyond the KP to ensure that the diamonds we source are not just responsibly sourced, but also sustainably sourced at the mine of origin. To learn more on how we surpass industry-wide standards, explore our 2022 Mission Report. 

History of War and Violence by Governments

Over the past few decades,  several African nations, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have endured violent conflicts fueled by diamonds. Although many of these conflicts have now ended, the issue of conflict diamonds remains prevalent: the diamond industry is still often marked by appalling violence. 

Some governments and mining companies also have and continue to contribute to these atrocities (even in countries that are not at war). Despite earning significant revenues from the diamond industry through taxation and profit-sharing arrangements, governments can fail to invest funds back into local communities: corruption, incompetence, and weak political systems contribute to the failure to invest diamond revenues productively and ethically.  

At Brilliant Earth, we advocate for an end to all forms of violence associated with diamond mining: a different path is possible, and we’re paving it. 

Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, a devastating civil war fueled by diamonds, poverty, and religious tensions erupted in 2013. A coalition of rebel groups, the Séléka, attacked the capital, Bangui, overthrowing the country’s dictator and taking control of valuable diamond fields. This then sparked a counterattack by Christian militias, adding a religious element to violence that had previously been absent. As a result, the country continues to be embroiled in a violent conflict as opposing militias fight for control of the country’s resources, especially diamonds. Despite the KP banning diamond exports from the Central African Republic, smugglers continue to move diamonds across borders, falsely claiming they are from legitimate sources, and selling them to international consumers as conflict-free.  

Zimbabwe

In 2008, the Zimbabwean army seized control of the Marage diamond deposit, killing over 200 miners local people. The army leaders and allies of the country’s then dictator, Robert Mugabe, profited greatly. In the surrounding areas of the Marage fields, these abuses continue. Though Zimbabwe’s diamond industry has continuously been plagued by human rights abuses, the country has been welcomed into the community of diamond-producing nations. This is because diamonds mined in Zimbabwe are considered conflict-free according to precise definition  (diamonds used by fractions and forces who opposite legitimate or internationally recognized governments). In this case, in the name of diamond wealth, it was the army and government who were abusive and violent. Shockingly, the KP, which seeks to prevent the trade of conflict diamonds, lifted its ban on Zimbabwean diamonds in 2011. 

Angola

Angola is now one of the world’s leading diamond exporters. Though the brutal, diamond-fueled civil war ended over a decade ago, Angola has not become a more responsible diamond producer and serious violence continues throughout the country. 

In recent years, migrant miners from the Democratic Republic of Congo have been entering Angola, where they have been met with brutal crackdowns by Angolan soldiers and mining company security guards. These migrants, along with local miners, are routinely beaten and killed if they do not comply with the soldiers’ demand for bribes. Furthermore, tens of thousands of migrants are rounded up each year, leading to torture, rape, and the ultimate expulsion back across the border. Angola’s dictatorship has refused to acknowledge these problems and has filed criminal defamation charges against a journalist who documented the atrocities.  

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s military presence on the African continent has increased, with the most notorious provider of these services being the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group described as a private military company. Wagner Group preys on fragile governments with political instabilities to create dependencies in countries such as Angola and in return the Wagner Group, and by association Russia, receive mining and mineral concessions (oil, diamonds, and gold). Russia has supplied arms to more than 18 different African countries, with Angola being one of the biggest buyers.  

Despite these ongoing abuses, KP continues to recognize Angola as a participant. 

Russia

Alrosa, Russia’s state-owned diamond mining company, Alrosa,  has been sanctioned by the U.S. government as a source of funding to support the Russian military in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.  

Despite U.S. sanctions on Russian origin diamonds, which help fund the conflict in Ukraine, Russian origin diamonds do not meet the precise definition of conflict diamonds. This is because Russian origin diamonds are not being mined in active war zones and are not being used to fund rebel groups. Despite these concerns, Russia remains a participant in the KP.  

As Russian-origin diamonds have been linked to the funding of the invasion of Ukraine, in February of 2022, we made an early decision to remove all certified Russian-origin diamonds from our website. 

Côte D’Ivoire

Côte D’Ivoire, a nation once divided by a violent civil war, relied heavily on diamonds to fund the conflict. When the conflict reached a stalemate in 2004, the north was controlled by rebels who used diamond resources to fund their cause. In response, the KP and United Nations imposed an export ban on the country’s diamonds in 2005.  

Despite the ban, rebels continued to smuggle diamonds out of the country, amassing millions annually to acquire weapons and strengthen their grip on the north. The disputed 2010 presidential election led to a constitutional crisis and rebel soldiers moved south in support of their preferred candidate, Alassane Ouattara, leading to the death of thousands of people and numerous atrocities. After taking office in 2012, Ouattara brought an end to violence and the United Nations lifted the ban on Côte D’Ivoire’s diamonds in 2014. The country now uses its diamond resources for peaceful economic development and serves as rightful participant in the KP. 

Botswana

Botswana exemplifies effective natural resource management, bolstered by its diamond revenues. It has established universal primary education (where children seek to learn both Setswana and English) and developed essential infrastructure such as health facilities and road networks. After gaining independence in 1966, Botswana’s GDP has surged by 7% annually, propelling it from one of Africa’s most impoverished nations to a country with a standard of living that’s on par with middle-income countries 

Botswana origin diamonds are Beyond Conflict Free™ for their environmental and social standards and, Brilliant Earth is proud to partner with mines located in Botswana and offer Botswana origin diamonds to our customers. 

How Brilliant Earth is Driving Industry Change with Beyond Conflict Free™ Diamonds

Our Beyond Conflict Free™ natural diamonds continue to exceed current industry standards: less than 1% of natural diamond suppliers worldwide meet our standards in responsibility and sustainability. Through select diamond sourcing, revolutionary blockchain technology, and Truly Brilliant™ diamonds, we are creating create a more ethical, transparent, and compassionate industry.  

Select Diamond Sources

To ensure that our natural diamonds meet high social and environmental standards, we selectively source them from approved mines in Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, and Canada. These countries are socially and economically stable and rated as low or moderate risk.  

Revolutionary Blockchain Technology

We believe that blockchain technology is the future of supply chain traceability. By utilizing this cutting-edge technology, we can provide our customers with a digital asset that contains detailed information about the origin and journey of each diamond. From the mining operator to the ultimate end consumer, our blockchain-enabled diamonds offer complete transparency and peace of mind.  

Truly Brilliant™ Diamonds

We take pride in the sustainable production practices used by our Truly Brilliant™ natural and lab diamond suppliers. These practices include the use of renewable energy and green building construction, which not only reduce our environmental impact but also promote responsible sourcing of diamonds.  

In Conclusion

Blood diamonds have been a dark reality in the jewelry industry: they have been responsible for and helped to finance extreme violence and human rights violations. The Kimberley Process aims to prevent this, but it has limitations – human rights abuses, conflict, and environmental degradation relating to the diamond trade continue to this day. At Brilliant Earth, we aim to, and are, changing that: our rigorous standards in ethics and sustainability work to set a new standard for the industry. 

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