Friday, January 11, 2013

Conflicting Choices

Recently, while browsing in a jewelry store I began making small talk with a diamond salesperson. It turns out she is one of the few people who has ever been allowed to visit the Canadian diamond mines in the northern most part of the country. As you can imagine, they don't want just anyone wandering around there! These diamonds are very successful in the Canadian market, to some extent because consumers want to buy nationally produced products. But there is a darker force influencing diamond shoppers today.

It’s become well-known among consumers that many diamonds have histories tied to violence and human suffering. But most people looking for a diamond never receive any more information than these basic words of advice: avoid buying a “blood” or “conflict” diamond. That advice is surely well-intentioned, but it’s hardly enough information to make an educated and ethical choice. The truth is, many so-called “conflict free” diamonds are not actually free from bloodshed and other serious injustices including child labor, worker exploitation, and sexual violence. How is it that reputable jewelers could be misleading customers about such serious issues? Why isn’t the diamond industry being held accountable to a higher standard? The simple answer is that the industry has done a masterful job of setting the terms of the debate – and of encouraging any discussion about blood diamonds to end before it even starts. But if you want a more complete answer, it’s helpful to take a deeper look at what happens in jewelry stores, at the history of the blood diamond issue, and at how the diamond industry developed a marketing strategy that misleads consumers and makes real change a serious challenge. The following information is an excerpt from the Brilliant Earth Consumer Education page.

Ethical Origins

Where do ethically-sourced diamonds come from?

Look for diamonds originating from Canada.
Canadian diamonds are among the most ethically-mined diamonds in the world. In Canada, diamonds are mined in the Northwest Territories in accordance with Canada's strict labor and environmental laws. Canadian diamond mines work cooperatively with local indigenous communities and take great care to protect the Arctic environment. 

Look for diamonds originating from Namibia or Botswana.
Of the countries in Africa that produce diamonds, Botswana and Namibia have done an especially good job of managing their diamond resources. In both these countries, diamonds are helping to pay for investments in education and infrastructure and raise standards of living for all citizens. Mining operations in Namibia and Botswana are violence-free and meet strict labor and environmental standards.

Potential Pitfall: Avoid diamonds from countries including Zimbabwe, Angola, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Diamonds from Zimbabwe and Angola are tainted by killings, torture, beatings, sexual violence, corruption, and the use of forced labor. In Côte d’Ivoire, diamonds are also fueling a lengthy civil conflict. Any retailer who admits to providing diamonds from these countries should be strictly avoided.

Potential Pitfall: Avoid retailers who cannot identify a mine or country of origin.
Retailers should know exactly where each of their diamonds was mined. They should also have detailed information about the labor and environmental conditions in place at those mines. Retailers with incomplete information on the source of their diamonds are not providing a reliably ethical product.

Defining "Beyond Conflict Free"

What does it mean for a diamond to be ethical or go "beyond conflict free"?
Look for diamonds free from all violence, not just civil wars. For a diamond to be ethically sourced, at the very least, it should not have financed a civil war. But diamond-fueled violence often happens in countries that are not officially at war. An ethically-sourced diamond should be mined in conditions wholly free from bloodshed, genocide, and any human rights conflicts, regardless of the cause.

Look for diamonds mined in accordance with strict labor and environmental standards.
To be ethically sourced, a diamond must be mined in keeping with strict labor regulations and environmental standards. Child labor should not be used. Workers should earn fair wages and enjoy safe, decent working conditions. Miners or mining companies must take care to avoid serious environmental harm and treat local ecosystems with respect.

Quality & Affordability

Are ethical diamonds the same quality?

Buying an ethically-sourced diamond does not mean compromising on quality.
Diamonds from Canada, Namibia, and Botswana meet the highest labor and environmental standards. They are also known for their exceptional quality. But it should be emphasized that the quality of an individual diamond depends on objective characteristics such as cutclaritycolor, and carat weight. When considering diamonds greater than 0.30 carats, make sure the diamond has an independent lab grading report from a leading gem lab. 
Are ethically-sourced diamonds easy to find?

YES! Ethical choices are available from select retailers.
A broad selection of ethically-sourced diamonds are available today through verified suppliers, such as Brilliant Earth. Canadian diamonds remained undiscovered well into the last century. When they were eventually discovered, special priority was placed on negotiating mutually beneficial agreements with local indigenous populations and respecting the Arctic environment. A broad inventory of high quality Canadian diamonds is currently available in popular shapes and sizes. Additional sources of ethically-sourced diamonds are available from Namibia and Botswana, where diamonds are fully verified to be mined, cut, and polished using responsible and labor and environmental practices.

You don't have to compromise on price.
Choosing an ethically-sourced diamond does not mean higher prices. Many companies offer excellent value by providing socially conscious jewelry at the lowest possible price, generally lower than many traditional jewelry retailers offer for standard jewelry.

Retailer checklist

Use this handy checklist when checking out diamond jewelry retailers.
right Look forcross Avoid
Do you acknowledge that there are serious ethical problems in the diamond industry?
Retailers acknowledges ethical problems.
Retailer says not to worry about ethical issues.
Where can I find your diamond sourcing policies?
Available on website
or in printed form.
No official statement in written form.
Do you incorporate ethical considerations when deciding on diamond suppliers?
Retailer selects suppliers based on ethical considerations.
Buys whatever diamonds are available, without regard to ethical origin.
What are your standards for ethical sourcing?
Retailer avoids all diamonds tied to violence, child labor, and environmental harm.
Retailer avoids only conflict diamonds. Relies solely on compliance with Kimberley Process.
Where are your diamonds mined?
Mines or countries of origin are directly named. Diamonds come from Canada, Namibia, and/or Botswana.
No information available on mines of origin. Diamonds come from countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola, or Côte d’Ivoire.
Can you provide specific information on the labor and environmental standards in place at the mines you source from? 
Information is aviailable on labor and environmental conditions at mines.
No information available on labor and enviornmental standards.
Are your diamonds tracked from the mine, to cutting and polishing, to your store? 
Retailer has investigated supply chain and knows exact path diamonds take from mine to market.No knowledge of supply chain and no tracking ability.
Do you stand by your diamonds by providing a written guarantee of their ethical status?
Yes.No guarantee or just an oral "take our word."
Want to learn more about this important ethical issue?
Check out this months Foreign Policy article: Rough Cut

This post was originally written as a guest post for Farrah Furtado Couture

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