How bloody are the world’s diamonds?

A certain bling and its culture of exploitation is the subject of the Oscar-nominated film Blood Diamond. The film has put the media spotlight on these gems of war: plundered diamonds which have funded some of the recent conflicts and civil wars in Africa, resulting in the death and displacement of millions of people.

Activists have asked consumers to research aggressively the source of their stones before making a purchase.

A recent study in the US conducted by GfK, an independent research agency, said that 88 per cent of the jewelers had asked for or received guarantees from suppliers that all their diamonds are conflict free.

The study also found that two-thirds of the jewelers surveyed said some customers had asked them about conflict diamonds.

But how many diamonds on the market are in fact conflict diamonds? According to the World Diamond Council (WDC), less than you might think considering the latest movie-generated buzz: less than one per cent. This compares with 4 per cent in the late 1990s.

The reduction of blood diamonds on the market follows the introduction in 2003 of a diamond certification system for rough diamonds called the Kimberley Process. As a result of this measure, the industry says 99.8 per cent of new diamonds are now from conflict-free sources.

At the film’s Hollywood premiere, Blood Diamond director Edward Zwick reportedly said the numbers given by WDC is “a funky number” that doesn’t capture the breadth or complexity of the problem.

And according to Amnesty International, blood diamonds are still very much a reality, even though the wars in Angola and Sierra Leone are now over and fighting in the DRC has decreased.

Despite the Kimberley Process, conflict diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire are finding their way through Ghana into the legitimate diamond market, Amnesty International says on its website. The human rights organization argues that even a small amount of conflict diamonds can cause enormous loss of life in a country: between 1991 and 2002 over 50,000 people were killed, over 2 million displaced within the country or made refugees, and thousands mutilated, raped and tortured.

“The launch of the film Blood Diamond is a timely reminder that governments and the diamond industry must ensure that no conflict diamonds find their way into the consumer market,” the website states.

Global Witness, the British advocacy group that first launched public awareness of conflict diamonds back in 1998, says the Kimberley Process needs to be strengthened to remove existing loopholes that allow conflict diamonds to be smuggled into the world market. The organization alleges that about 20 per cent of stones on the market are still conflict diamonds.

But other advocates such as celebrity entrepreneur Russell Simmons have been highlighting the benefit of diamonds for African economies. This position was also taken by former South African President Nelson Mandela, who wrote to Zwick about how the movie might hurt diamond sales and destabilize diamond-producing countries, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Campaign to persuade stars to display gems at awards events
The US diamond industry is reportedly donating $10,000 US to African charities for every star who agrees to wear a diamond ring at events including the Oscars.

Director Edward Zwick called the move a “charitable bribe” and “distasteful”.

The Diamond Information Center (DIC) marketing organization and diamond retailers are hoping to raise $100,000 US with the Raise Your Right Hand Ring for Africa campaign.

Stars who agree to sport diamonds at this year’s Golden Globes, Emmys or Academy Awards will be able to name an African charity to receive a donation.

About the film Blood Diamond, by Warner Brothers:
Set against the chaos and civil war in Sierra Leone during the 1990s, Blood Diamond stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly and is directed by Edward Zwick. The screenplay was written by Charles Leavitt (The Mighty), from a story by Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell.