What Are Conflict-Free Diamonds?

You would feel uneasy at best knowing someone paid you with money they acquired through inhumane practices. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know where money has been before it reaches your hands. Through degrees of separation, you could never guarantee your money was 100% free of unethical practices unless you were aware of every transaction from the time it was printed until it arrived in your possession. If you could somehow ensure that, you could have a clean conscience knowing your money was conflict-free. As it pertains to diamonds, the concept of being conflict-free has become the moral standard in fine jewelry. 

There are a few things to consider when thinking about what it means to be conflict-free. Similar to money, diamonds are used in some countries as a form of currency. What that currency funds is sometimes unsavory if not completely wrong. In worst-case-scenarios, diamonds are exploited in the messy affairs of war, causing unnecessary harm to civilians. Because of these ugly occurrences, almost 20 years ago, a majority of the diamond mining industry began to change some of their standards for the better of everyone involved.

The Kimberley Process

To try to regulate some of the practices of the mining industry so that human beings are kept safe from harm, a process was implemented in 2003. This process, called the Kimberly Process, sought to ensure that the diamonds entering the global diamond trade were free of conflict, and that conflict diamonds would not pollute the global diamond trade. If everyone were truthful, then at every point from extraction to the supplier and retailer, those handling the diamond would have to ensure that they followed the Kimberly Process. At best, this process serves to reduce the number of conflict diamonds entering the global market. 

Having high standards for this industry means being extremely careful, and considering people’s lives first and foremost. Ensuring quality while being thoughtful about the production process is possible with a little intentionality. To be clear, there are a few categories where those involved in the diamond industry can focus on producing conflict-free diamonds. 

The high standard of being conflict-free means that the labor exerted in diamond mining is ethical, that diamonds are grown responsibly, and that they’re able to be traced to a clean origin, if not recycled.

Ethical Labor

A conflict-free diamond should be sourced using ethical labor. That means working conditions uphold reasonable hours, adult labor, and fair benefits. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many countries where there are no protective guidelines set in place to keep people safe over the production of resources. 

In some smaller-scale diamond mining pits, underaged workers have been injured or have lost their lives in the process of mining. Some communities rightfully located near natural diamond-rich mines have been forcibly moved from their homes. As mentioned, some civilians have even suffered bloodshed at the hands of war fueled by these precious stones.

How can this be helped? A diamond can be sourced through ethical labor in a few different ways. First, if a retailer is aware of their direct supply chain, they can ensure that from lab or mine to retailer, the diamonds are conflict-free and were mined through humane labor. However, it is not enough for retailers to rely on the word of their suppliers to ensure these conditions. An ethical retailer would educate themselves on the supply chain and make sure for themselves that their diamonds are being mined under satisfactory working conditions. 

Second, organizations such as the Diamond Development Initiative seek to innovate the mining practices that, unfortunately, can be linked with inhumane work conditions. Around 20% of the world’s diamond trade can be sourced back to artisanal miners working under extreme physical pressure to provide for their families. This organization seeks to better the working conditions, environmental impact, and education in artisanal mining communities.

Impact On The Environment 

Another factor directly affecting the well-being of people is the way diamonds are mined in relation to the environment. Though impact varies based on geography, social factors, and ecology surrounding a diamond mine, mineral extraction influences the environment by the very nature of the extraction process. Common disruptors to the ecosystem are the removal of too much soil, the energy use and emissions from extraction processes, and the use of water. Protective measures known as the ISO 14001 standards have been put into place to regulate this disruption. 

On the mining level, responsible extraction keeps the surrounding communities in mind. Open communication with local governments and civilians leads to compassionate, human-centered processes. When governments partner in influencing mineral extraction practices for the better, communities benefit, and the diamonds extracted are one step closer to being completely conflict-free. 

Grown Responsibly

You may have heard the terms “lab-grown” or “naturally-mined” mentioned in the description of diamonds. Perhaps you wondered if one was more authentic than the other. What you probably did not know is that both of these qualifiers can represent a vast difference in whether a diamond was ethically-sourced. Let’s explore the practices used around the world in diamond mining to understand their global impacts. 

Ground Mined

Within naturally-mined diamonds, there are still several possible sources of extraction. Among these are open pit and underground mining, coastal and inland alluvial mining, marine mining, and informal diamond digging. Within both exploration and mining, environmental impact can be large if not managed since electricity and hydrocarbons are the primary energy source used in mining operations. A diamond mine seeking to produce truly conflict-free diamonds should hold a high standard for themselves in maintaining the integrity of the land. Such standards include monitoring their carbon and energy emissions, as well as overseeing energy used.

Lab Mined

A common misconception is that diamonds grown in a lab are not quite as authentic as those naturally occurring in the earth. One comparison that has been made to illustrate the authenticity of lab-grown diamonds is ice. You would not hold a cube of ice from your freezer and claim it was inauthentic because it did not come from a glacier. Similarly, whether diamonds are grown in a lab or mined from the earth, diamonds are all made of carbon. You can trust that a lab-mined diamond is as real as one from the earth under your feet. 

Heirloom Diamonds

Buying clothes second-hand from vintage shops can reduce the impact of fast fashion on the environment and avoids supporting unfair working conditions for those laborers. In the same way, buying a recycled diamond or inheriting one from a loved one is equally kind to laborers and the environment. While you can’t ensure that your recycled diamond was ethically sourced to begin with, you can take comfort knowing you’re doing your best to contribute to a conflict-free process. It’s kind to the earth and comes with its own built-in history. 

The Most Conflict-Free Diamonds

As discussed, it’s extremely hard at times to know whether the diamonds we encounter are 100% conflict-free. Though one supplier may say that’s the case, it is all a matter of trust. The best way to have a clear conscience around purchasing diamonds is to choose diamonds with the clearest origins, transparent mining practices, and cleanest tracking from one point to the next. This ensures you’re doing your part to end unfair working conditions, conflict diamond trading, and negative environmental impact. 

Another way to ensure conflict-free diamonds is to choose the lab-grown option. Noémie gives consumers the option to order certified conflict free diamonds or 100% lab-grown diamonds. 

In Summary

Doing better starts with all of us. Through education and a little intentionality, we can all work to ensure that the diamonds we enjoy gifting to the ones we love have ethical origins and a pure history. At Noémie, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to have a clean conscience when choosing your diamonds. After all, your experience with diamonds should be as pure and lovely as can be. That’s why Noémie is taking it as close as possible in today's world to 100% conflict-free. 

Sources:

https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/02/08/hidden-cost-jewelry/human-rights-supply-chains-and-responsibility-jewelry#

http://www.diamondfacts.org/pdfs/media/media_resources/fact_sheets/Diamond_Mining_Environment_Fact_Sheet.pdf

https://www.gemsociety.org/article/conflict-free-diamonds/

https://ddiglobal.org/what-we-do-overview/