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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Blood Diamonds: Going Behind the Gem Industry


Diamonds: The billion dollar industry has worked hard to eliminate the trade in 'conflict diamonds' which have financed wars

Daily Mail -- When Lindsay Lohan flashed a $1 million diamond on her engagement finger last week at the Venice Film festival, she knew it would make headlines around the world.

After all, there is nothing quite like a huge sparkler to get tongues wagging as any celebrity worth their salt knows well.

"Call me old fashioned but nothing says ‘I love you’ more than a big rock," Catherine Zeta Jones openly declared after her engagement to Michael Douglas which resulted in a 2 million pound dazzler.

And, Jennifer Lopez – the undisputed queen of ‘bling’ has received a dazzling diamond ring from each of her three husbands, and currently sports a £3 million pink diamond from her latest one.

Controversy

But diamonds are no longer every girl’s best friends. In recent years have seen their image tarnished after they were linked to a range of controversial issues from arms funding in Africa, to slave child labour in India and significant environmental damage.

A new film – 'The Blood Diamond', set around the violent civil war in Sierra Leone and the role played by illicit diamond trading, is about to be released.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio it shows how diamonds mined in Africa by outlaws were sold onto the Western market to finance the purchase of arms by machete wielding rebel groups who slaughtered innocent people including children.

Like the anti-fur, movement that sprung up in the eighties and was endorsed by celebrities from Naomi Campbell to Christy Turlington who publically shunned its use and triggered a drop in sales, an anti-diamond movement is in full swing.

Lily Cole, previously the face of the most famous diamond producer – DeBeers, openly refused to model their jewellery after discovering that the manufacturer had evicted indigenous Bushmen in Botswana in order to mine diamonds from their land.

David Bowie’s wife Iman, also previously the face of the company, followed suit while celebrities from Erin O' Connor to Julie Christie spoke out against buying ‘conflict diamonds’ – those sold onto Western countries by African warlords to fund civil wars in their own countries.

Charm offensive

Just this week saw the worldwide £50 billion diamond industry kick back with a huge charm offensive taking out full page advertisements in newspapers from London to New York to advertise the launch of a new website www.diamondfacts.org dedicated to countering bad publicity.

In the last five years the diamond industry has made a desperate bid to clean up its act. Campaigns against ‘conflict diamonds’ or ‘blood diamonds’ have put significant pressure on the leading diamond producers to make sure their diamonds come from ethical sources.

An industry backed UN embargo on diamonds from rebel-held areas in Angola and Sierra Leone has, according to DeBeers which controls 40 per cent of the worlds diamond market, halted the trade eliminating conflict diamonds from the market.

This certainly applies to respectable traders who have signed up to a government run diamond certification scheme – the Kimberly Process.

The Kimberley Process

A ring from such a supplier who complies will come with a sticker to certify that it meets the requirements.

But with no country of origin labelling system, consumers who buy diamonds from non-reputable sources on the internet or abroad cannot be 100 per cent sure if the diamond they have bought comes from a responsible source or if it was traded by corrupt government or rebel military forces to fund conflict.

But while the big producers have fought against being tarnished by their association with civil wars, recent investigations have uncovered a variety of environmental factors that are leading more and more women to question how ethical it is to have a diamond ring at all.

Recent reports have focused on the human rights abuses and environmental costs involved in diamond and gold mining.

This may all seem a long way off from the sparklers in the window of your local jeweller but with such high profile celebrities raising awareness of the issues, it has taken a little of the shine out off the diamond and gold market.

Child labour

More than half of the world’s diamonds are processed in India where many of the cutters and polishers are bonded child labourers. Bonded children work to pay off the debts of their relatives, often unsuccessfully. When they reach adulthood their debt is passed onto younger siblings or their own children. And it doesn’t stop there.

"To date, there are a million diamond diggers working for less than a dollar a day in dirty, dangerous conditions around the globe," says Corinna Gilfillan of Global Witness - an NGO that works to expose the links between natural resources, conflict and corruption.

"In many diamond-rich countries, people are extremely poor and are not benefiting from the wealth in their soil."

Diamond mines in Australia, Canada, India and Africa are situated on lands traditionally associated with indigenous people.

Many of these communities have been displaced, while others remain at great cost to their traditional cultures, livelihoods and health.

After all, diamond mines are open pits where salts, minerals, oil and chemicals from mining leak into ground water endangering people, food supplies, local vegetation and wildlife.

Gold mining

And it isn’t just the diamond that is causing environmental damage. Recent reports have revealed that the average gold engagement band, even without a diamond, generates approximately 20 tons of cyanide-infused waste as sodium cyanide solution is used to separate the gold ore from the rock.

This seeps into the ground water of the land where it is mined wrecking havoc on the eco culture of continuous streams and rivers.

With 2500 tonnes of gold mined every year, this is a huge cost to the environment. Environmental campaigners argue that we already have enough gold mined (and simply sitting in vaults) to satisfy the industry for another 50 years, yet extensive mining continues.

Mines leave enormous scars on the earth’s surface so devastating that they can be seen from outer space, while toxic by-products of gold mining are often dumped into nearby lakes polluting the wildlife.

Dirty gold

In Peru, the federal ministry of Health recently identified smelting facilities used in gold production as the cause of high incidences of lead poisoning in children.

Waste chemicals from gold mining have often been overlooked in the past, but following on from the huge campaign to stamp out unethical mining in the diamond industry the past year has seen 8 of the worlds top gold retailers including Tiffany pledge their support for the 'No Dirty Gold' campaign.

This promotes environmental and social justice reforms throughout the gold mining industry. But since most gold, unlike diamonds can be melted and remoulded it is more difficult to trace the origins.

But while trends come and go, the diamond’s unique qualities make it a symbol of purity, strength and passion; it will never go out of fashion. The challenge for now, is keeping fair trade fashionable too.

How to make sure your jewellery is ethical

So how can you make sure that the ring you are buying is not stained with unethical production? Femail reveals what you should look out for and the best ‘ethical’ and ‘eco friendly’ jewellery on the market.

Diamonds are certified by four Cs - carat, colour, clarity and cut - to give an overall measure of quality. But an ethical jeweller must also comply with the fifth C - conflict-free sourced.

But a recent survey by Amnesty International and Global Witness which visited over 330 high-street shops and questioned staff about their policy on conflict diamonds revealed nearly half of UK diamond retailers are failing to provide consumers with assurances that the diamonds they sell are not 'conflict diamonds'.

According to Hatton Garden specialist Peter Sherwood, of Sherwood Diamonds and Gems, when buying a diamond, you should make sure that the jeweller who supplies you is a member of the London Bourse, which is affiliated to the World Federation of Diamond Bourses – the trading exchange for diamonds.

This will ensure that he complies with the ‘The Kimberly Process’. This monitoring system is tightly regulated and prevents diamonds from areas of conflict or exploitation entering the legitimate diamond supply chain. A reputable jeweller will have a certificate in his shop.

Several jewellery companies including Bulgari, Cartier and Tiffany have also signed up to the Council for Responsible Jewellery practices, which is pushing for a strict ethical code for the production of gold.

Buying your gold from them will ensure that every part of the gold chain from the miners and refiners through to the retailers have followed tight ethical an environmental guidelines.

However, GreenKarat.com – an online American company is currently leading the way in fair trade ethical gold.

With aims to end destructive diamond and gold mining permanently, it specialises in exquisite recycled gold wedding rings increasingly popular among ecologically aware New Yorkers.

Meanwhile, in London, fellow eco-warriors are following in the steps of celebrities including, Liz Hurley, Madonna and Julia Roberts shunning diamonds altogether in favour of semi precious stones such as sodalite and Tanzanite.

"Demand for semi-precious stones has soared,"says a spokesperson for Asprey. "We’ve recently been designing with agate, jasper, coral, carnelian, rose. Customers really are looking for a unique style."

2 comments:

Nolawi said...

Interesting article... very good... I kinda mentioned a bit about the the subject in this article

Friendship quote said...

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