We’ve all heard Marilyn Monroe breathily sing that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Some girls may prefer dogs, books, or those miniature pigs that people keep as pets, but regardless, diamonds have been given as a conventional symbol of love for many years. Anyone watching an NFL game in the last dozen years has noticed that about 50% of the commercials shown are advertising jewelry stores, often featuring a cleancut blond women squealing with glee after being presented with a sparkly object. (The other 50% of commercials show these same women squealing with glee upon being presented with a luxury vehicle with a bow on it).
The exchange of rings to signify a relationship or bond dates back to the caveman days, when our hairier ancestors tied braided cords of grass around the wrists of their chosen women to denote ownership of their spirits. The first diamond engagement ring given on record was from Archduke Maximilian to his wife Mary of Burgundy in 1477. And while gold rings were used and exchanged in a variety of cultures and civilizations after this (such as in Egypt and in Europe), the use of diamonds proliferated after the discovery of a large supply of the gems in 1867 in South Africa, which cut down on prices and made diamonds more accessible to the average Joe. In 1873, Cecil Rhodes helped establish the DeBeers Mining Company, and shortly after in 1886, Tiffany and Company created the “Tiffany setting”, an elevated setting whose purpose was to illuminate the gem’s beauty. By the 1890’s, more inexpensive engagement rings were mass marketed in catalogs like Sears and Roebuck. And from there, the trend was established in the west. Today, over 80% of married American women are given diamond engagement rings.
While diamond adorned fingers (and ears, throats, sometimes belly buttons) are now a common sight, there are aspects of the diamond industry about which many of us remain largely unaware. We may have seen Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, or heard of Amnesty International’s appeals to put a stop to conflict diamonds, but how many of us really have a grasp on the rocky history behind that gleaming rock?
A conflict diamond is a diamond that has been mined in an area of war, wherein the lucrative industry is often controlled by warlords. These diamonds are sold on, and their profits further fund often brutal wars. It’s an image that contrasts starkly with the beauty and glamour of the diamond ring. Read on while we take you on a troubling journey through the conflict diamond industry in five facts…
5. These Countries Produce the Most Diamonds…
The countries that produce the most diamonds are some of the poorest in the world; Angola, DR Congo, South Africa, Russia, and Botswana. Diamonds from Angola are the most expensive, coming in at $150 per carat, while diamonds mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo are the least expensive at $33 per carat. Botswana is responsible for producing approximately 21,000,000 carats.
4. … While These Countries Produce the Most Conflict Diamonds
The Democratic Republic of Congo produces .5% of the world’s supply of conflict diamonds. Sierra Leone produces 1%, and Angola produces the most at 2.1%. In the case of Sierra Leone, this 1% share represents 15% of the country’s entire diamond production. The 2006 film Blood Diamond delved into the role of conflict diamonds during the Sierra Leone Civil War, which lasted from 1996-2001.
3. Diamond Stores Might Not Tell You it’s a Blood Diamond
In 2004, Amnesty International attempted a survey of 246 diamond selling establishments. 110 stores refused to participate in the survey. Among those who did participate, Amnesty International discovered that 28% of the stores were unaware of the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process is a joint initiative where governments, social organizations and industry members have come together in order to stop the production and sale of conflict diamonds. The Kimberley Process began in 2000 and requires participating countries and institutions to have strict procedures in place regarding trade, production, and transparency.
The Amnesty International survey also found that 27% of stores did not have a specific policy regarding conflict diamonds, and 31% of stores did not have a paper copy of their specific diamond policy. 83% of retailers surveyed said that their customers rarely if ever asked about conflict diamonds or the origins behind the gems they sold.
2. This is What Conflict Diamond Miners Really Earn
The average daily wage of a worker who mines for conflict diamonds is $0.07 cents a day. In some cases, such as the northern Kono area of Sierra Leone, diamond miners are only given a bowl of rice each day for sustenance and don’t receive payment for their work until the conclusion of each season. Approximately 70% of the profits earned from the diamonds is paid to the project’s financier, while the local chief is given the rest of the earnings to divide amongst the workers.
1. Deadly Working Conditions
Approximately 3 million deaths worldwide are said to have been caused by the mining of conflict diamonds. People who live and work in diamond mining communities in the developing world also struggle with illiteracy, high rates of HIV and AIDS, hunger, lack of a clean water supply, and high infant mortality rates.
Child labor is also a huge problem in many of these developing nations. In the Lunda Norte region of Angola, a study found that 46% of those working in diamond mines were between 5 and 16 years old. A number of instances of child (and adult) labor in diamond mines is the result of modern day slavery or indentured servitude, also called “debt bondage”. Some are trafficked or kidnapped and forced to work in the mines, while in other cases military regimes force people to mine for diamonds. A well-known example of the latter occurred in 2008 when the army in Zimbabwe claimed ownership of several diamond mines and forced local people to work. Those who dissented were raped, killed, or tortured.
Thankfully as a result of the Kimberley Process and other international outreach methods, the rate of these senseless deaths and abuses are falling.
For those who would choose to boycott diamonds altogether knowing this tumultuous history, there are other options available. Cubic Zirconia are synthetic gems that closely resemble diamonds; they are heavier, more sparkly, and less expensive than the real McCoy. Synthetic diamonds (more accurately known as laboratory made diamonds) are actual diamonds that have been produced in labs. Since diamonds are made of carbon, it is possible to create these gems using extremely high temperatures and massive amounts of pressure. Due to the time and cost involved in creating these diamonds, they are often very expensive – but it’s a price many will pay to be safe in the knowledge that their diamond ring hasn’t financed war and servitude.