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Thanks to swift actions by the diamond industry, governments, and non-government organizations across the globe, chances are you'll be choosing conflict-free diamonds by default. It does, however, help to be aware that conflict diamonds do still exist and to understand the methods you can take to avoid these dirty and dangerous gems.

How to choose conflict-free diamonds

  • Educate yourself. The conflict diamond dilemma is a complex, saddening one that went relatively unnoticed by many when at its height in the 1990s. Some of the diamond-buying public simply turned a blind eye since these diamond-funded civil wars were taking place in turmoil-prone regions of Africa and not in their own backyards. Thankfully there is now heightened awareness over this ethical—and also environmental—issue. Blood Diamonds by Greg Campbell and The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner are excellent print resources. Also check out The United Nations' Conflict Diamonds page or go the Hollywood route and view the Oscar-nominated 2006 film, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou.
  • It's much easier than in the past to go the conflict-free route while perusing the diamond case at your local jeweler thanks to the Kimberly Process Certification System. However, the results of a 2006 survey on conflict diamond policies among US jewelry retailers, conducted by Amnesty International and Global Witness, showed that 19 out of 37 jewelry retailers that were asked to participate failed to respond, raising questions about how serious retailers are about keeping conflict diamonds out of their supply chains. These retailers include Costco, the Home Shopping Network, and K-mart. Retailers that responded and have effective policies include Tiffany & Co., Zales, Fred Meyer Jewelers, and Sterling (Signet). Read more and see a complete list of retailers here.
  • So what's next? Whether you're shopping around for a certain "engagement" or simply indulging yourself, remember that diamonds are forever so take steps to ensure that your bling was ethically sourced. After all, there's more to consider than the "four C's"—cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Ask jewelers about their involvement with the Kimberly Process and if they can provide warranties to prove that their diamonds are conflict-free. If they can't or seem apathetic to the cause, move on. If do you encounter a retailer that refuses to prove that their diamonds are conflict-free and you take your business elsewhere, it sends a resolute message.

Find it! Conflict-free diamond retailers

Choosing conflict-free diamonds helps you go green because...

  • Although the conflict diamond issue is first and foremost one of social change in war-torn countries, it's also an environmental one—conflict-free diamonds are mined with environmental regulations in mind.
  • Many jewelers who support the movement to banish the conflict diamond trade also support various environmental causes and incorporate sustainable business practices into their operations.

Even though you may have purchased that rock on a recent trip to Antwerp or at your local shopping mall in Ann Arbor, chances are that it originated in Africa, where an estimated 65 percent of diamonds are mined.[1] Australia and Russia are also active producers. Although the diamond trade has proven beneficial in many aspects—revenue has helped combat HIV/AIDS, provide steady employment and health care, and guarantee education in impoverished areas—there are also serious consequences affecting both humans and the environment.

Environmental impacts

The environmental consequences from diamond mining are significant. To access the diamonds, large amounts of rock and other matter—called overburden—is removed from the earth, disturbing surrounding ecosystems. Acid mine drainage is also a threat. In areas where there are few or nonexistent environmental standards—such as filling in empty pits and redepositing topsoil on reclaimed land—threats to surrounding ecosystems are heightened. In areas of Africa where mining regulations are lax or nonexistent, the after-effects of the diamond trade are particularly devastating. In Angola, large plots of land have been ruined and water supplies have been poisoned, displacing local populations. In Sierra Leone, areas with once-rich agricultural soil are now filled with thousands of mosquito-infested, derelict pits. Read more about the direct environmental impact of the conflict diamond trade in the article Sparkling Clean?.

Social impacts

Perhaps even more notable are terrorism and human rights violations in diamond-mining Central and West African countries. Some diamonds that come from this region are referred to as conflict diamonds—or blood diamonds—and they continue to be an issue although the Kimberly Process Certification System—a United Nations-backed coalition of governments, non-government groups, and diamond companies initiated in 2002—has been extremely successful in nearly dissolving the conflict diamond trade. Representing 4 percent of the global diamond market in the 1990s, conflict diamonds now account for less than 1 percent. These illicit diamonds were used to fund brutal armed rebel uprisings against legitimate governments in countries like Liberia, Angola, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone. The small amount of conflict diamonds still being traded most likely originated in the Republic of Congo or Liberia.

Millions of people have either died, suffered injuries, or been displaced as a result of the conflict diamond trade.

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