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The persistent nature of Blood Diamonds: Permitting slavery in the Modern Diamond Pipeline

As the old saying goes, some would claim that Diamonds are forever. Yet, does that include the accompanying exploitative characteristics of their trade?

Diamonds come in all shapes, sizes, colours and specialties. So do the diggers that are forced to mine and sieve rivers, known as alluvial deposits, in order to discover these rocks. This reality is not a sequence of circumstances stuck in the past, rather, painful experiences that plague our collective society strongly into the 21th century. Numerous central and west-African states fell victim to this phenomenon as consequences of war, poverty and greed. These diggers are not members of the large industrialized mines. Rather, they are often exploited workers, akin to slaves, that are forced to dig by local militias. The militias’ discovered rocks are often sold and distributed in diamond hubs such as New York, Mumbai and Antwerp. Once the diamonds are cut and sold, there is no way of tracing the diamonds back to the origin. From Sierra Leone, to Angola and Zimbabwe, Blood Diamonds ruin the lives of many and our culture of blind consumerism for diamonds is pushing this practice forward whilst sponsoring slavery. There are current rumours and fragments of evidence which indicate that the Blood Diamond industry is gradually expanding in lawless Zimbabwe.

Our obsession with diamonds is expressed in most facets of society. From simple decorations and garments, to industrial tool usage and wedding ceremonies, our thirst for bling is demonstrated everywhere and desires for it remain prevalent. So how is the international community responding to the threat of Blood Diamonds? How is security guaranteed?

The Exploit of Bling, Reforms and Modernity

To comprehend the current diamond industry, from the earth’s surface to your ring, it is crucial to address the exploits and tactics of the company that has held a monopoly over diamonds’ demand and supply for one hundred years. Namely, the De Beers Group. Since its inception, it has worked on the creation of two illusions. First, diamonds are a necessity to express love. Second, that the gems are rare and limited. A lie which has forced the company to install mines at most of the world’s abundant diamond deposits to keep others from discovering the deposits and flooding the market.

What has happened since? International attention was brought to the De Beers Group due to UN’ investigations into the role of diamonds in the financing, and enduring of, conflicts in diamond-rich African states. It was also discovered that De Beers Group had been buying uncut diamonds from corrupt states and groups. In the 90’s, about 20% of earth’s diamonds were linked to conflicts whilst it has apparently drastically decreased since then due to the strong positions companies claim to take revolving blood diamonds.

The movie titled Blood Diamond, is for many the extent of exposure to the lucrative conflict-related scandal at the turn of the century. However, the film’s conclusion implies that the world will not repeat the same continued endorsement of slavery, making many believe that this signified the end of the diamond quagmire. Therefore, it is time to analyse the situation once again in 2021 and illustrate the success of De Beers Group’s framework whilst investigating if international traders are implicit in human right abuses.

In 2000, UN investigations which exposed the extent of the diamond-conflict relation led to a meeting of African diamond-producing states in Kimberly, South Africa. There, an international certification scheme for rough diamonds was established. Namely, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2003 (KPCS). The KPCS relies on its 54 participant states, which are all rough diamond producing states or importing states, to prevent the rough diamond market from being involved with conflict diamonds and the financing of rebels.

The Shield of the Kimberley Process

While it is considered a ‘noble’ decision to participate in this process, the reality is that the proactive measures undertaken by its members are disappointing, making it appear that being a KPCS participant implies adhering to an empty promise. Its revisions and results are so underwhelming that certain observers, such as Global Witness and IMPACT, have questioned the overall effectiveness of the process and abandoned the scheme. But other representatives have resigned as well due to the pointlessness of its current existence. So, what is the issue? And, can we still beat slavery-involved sales of blood diamonds?

For starters, the KPCS employs a system of guarantees that are audited and reconciled on an annual basis. These are documents, that need to be signed by both buyers and sellers on each level, which include the statement:

‘The seller hereby guarantees that these diamonds are conflict free, based on personal knowledge and/or written guarantee provided by the supplier of these diamonds’.

Obviously, this vague statement leaves room for violations and frauds. A recent discovery erupted during the pandemic which consists of forged guarantees originating from various Central African states, including Southern Zimbabwe. The number of fraudulent guarantees is unknown, but dozens have been discovered from different states. With corruption rampant in certain African governments, one can not be certain at what societal levels these fraudulent guarantees were made, seeing that the KPCS’s participating governments are themselves responsible for the production of such guarantees. The guarantee system can therefore never be transparent as every seller’s guarantee, and signed promise, can rarely be confirmed by an authentic source. Surprisingly, the guarantee is also not allowed to be reviewed by third parties. Moreover, the sellers in boutiques can never trace the entire Diamond’s origin as only certain information is provided on the customer-destined guarantee such as the country and supposed mine of origin.

Second, the narrow definition of the KPCS is an advantage for corrupt politicians and rebels as it makes the entire Scheme circumventable. For instance, ‘Conflict Diamonds’ are defined as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements against legitimate governments”. If a government fails to identify a group as rebels, or if the diamond connection with that group can be covered up, there is a severe risk posed to human rights. This is the case in Zimbabwe.

Third, the KPCS only applies to rough diamonds. As a result, the gems can no longer be tracked and covered by the scheme following their cut and polishment. Exploiters in African States often smuggle blood diamonds to neighbouring states, where they are cut and no longer need to be treated under the guarantee system nor KPCS. Therefore, an expansion of the scheme’s mandate to covering all diamonds from certain regions is advised for a significantly more effective process in removing slavery from supply chaines.

As States and the diamond industry can not tackle the issue of discussing the termination of blood diamonds, perhaps it is time to revise the security and certificate system. In case of upcoming conflicts, or the discovery of new diamond fields in corrupt states, the potential for further enslavement becomes immeasurable as the scheme is not solid enough and rather acts as a nobel symbol signifying intolerance towards slavery.

Perhaps, further investigations by 3rd parties into government operations and schemes could improve the system. Or, a scheme revision into a solidified electronic system provides more protection. Yet, one thing is certain. The scheme has dozens of issues and loopholes permitting further enslavement and the diamond industry needs to act collectively out of compassion and intolerance rather than focusing on its nobility since human right abuses still occur and diamond traders in cities like Antwerp are clueless regarding the role of slavery in their gems. These traders prefer not to discuss the origin due to cluenessless and would rather oversimplify and lie to complement the diamonds’ mysteriousness, ensuring their fortune in exchange for turning a blind eye to misfortune.

This article was written for the MD x EuroMUN Printed Edition.


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