How the African Diamond Trade Works

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Candace Gibson: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Editor Candace Gibson joined by staff writer, Jane McGrath.

Jane McGrath: Hey there, Candace.

Candace Gibson: Jane, how many girls do you think are hoping to get a diamond ring for Christmas?

Jane McGrath: Oh, I know a few. They're expecting it.

Candace Gibson: Do you?

Jane McGrath: Yeah.

Candace Gibson: I think it's kind of sad to propose at Christmas time because then it's not really its own occasion and if anything should go wrong, God forbid, you would always associate that with Christmas.

Jane McGrath: Um-hum. The guys will always remember that way. It makes it easier for them.

Candace Gibson: Well, you know what's worse is when people propose with puppies and they put the diamond on the puppy's collar -

Jane McGrath: Oh, yeah, you don't like that?

Candace Gibson: Yeah.

Jane McGrath: Kind of tacky I guess.

Candace Gibson: I'm really sorry if any of you were planning on doing it that way. I would recommend a horse-drawn carriage sort of proposal. I think that's be sweet. A little winter sleigh ride but all that aside, when you get past the glitz and glamour and the excitement of diamonds, it's actually a pretty sorted business, or at least it has a pretty sorted history. And not just the diamond but gold mines and platinum mines and you think about the destruction of the environment and then the manual labor that goes into it. It's sort of a sad story so we are here today to burst everyone's bubble about diamonds.

Jane McGrath: And I'm sorry we have to do this because they are beautiful but it's interesting to go back about the history of diamonds, especially in Africa. If you look at like a map of our diamond mines are, they're mostly centered in Africa and that's where the bulk of these mines are. And they first found these diamonds in Africa in about the 1860s and it's really been causing problems for Africa ever since. Like, all of a sudden, the British Empire was pretty interested in them and really wanted control and it caused a lot of strife. This thing called the Burrow Wars, were partly fueled by diamond control.

Candace Gibson: But as far flung as diamonds may be across Africa and other parts of the world, too, there's one company in particular that holds a monopoly on them.

Jane McGrath: That's right and that's DeBeers, which you've probably heard about because they have launched this massive advertising campaign.

Candace Gibson: A diamond is forever.

Jane McGrath: That's right and it's really done wonders for diamonds in general. It's made them seem so precious and so desirable and DeBeers is actually started by one guy really involved in the British Empire named Cecil Rhodes if you've ever heard of him in history. And, since then, DeBeers has had sort of a monopoly on the industry.

Candace Gibson: And DeBeers actually controls about 60 percent of the diamonds today and, like we were saying, they have this really strong marketing campaign about diamonds being forever and the idea that diamonds are precious and rare. And, while it's certainly true that they may be precious gems, they're not the only precious gems out there. It's just that they've crafted this idea that diamonds are the gem that can note eternity and true love and lasting love. So, it's a ppropriate for someone to give someone else a diamond as a token of a promise. And that's why diamonds can be so expensive and so valuable because we're under the impression that they're very hard to get, you know, you have to sacrifice cut or color or clarity or carat and that much at least is true. You know, it's very hard to find a perfect diamond but the idea that there is so few in the market is completely untrue. It's just that DeBeers releases a certain amount per year and then, you know, they'll circulate and those get bought out again so it's sort of the cycle of diamonds being constantly traded and bought and repurposed and reset.

Jane McGrath: That's right and their value and this desirability that created this value has actually fueled some kind of nasty things have gone on in Africa ever since that they were found there. And mostly throughout the 20th Century there were violent uprisings that came about in certain African areas and countries where rebels, very violent - considering - well, the U.N. at least considers them challenging governments that were very legitimate and should not be violently overthrown and so these revolutionaries, particularly in Sierra Leone in the early 90s actually - these revolutionaries started terrorizing villagers and they took control of the diamond mines during this time so that they could fuel their uprisings.

Candace Gibson: And they did this very systematically, moving from diamond village to diamond village and they would force everyone to work for them and to relinquish control of the mines to their rebel groups and they did this at the expense of killing people or cutting off their limbs and some people were so frightened that they simply abandoned their towns. So, by the time this was all over, we had about 20,000 bodily mutilations that took place, about 75,000 murders and nearly 2 million people who'd fled and were displaced. And we should mention that in 2002 that the violence in Sierra Leone came to an end.

Jane McGrath: That's right. And not all places have been completely eradicated of this so called blood diamond stuff going on and we should also note that, overall, they think this blood diamond controversy caused the death of about 4 million people in all.

Candace Gibson: It's unbelievable.

Jane McGrath: Yeah.

Candace Gibson: And, again, it's not just Sierra Leone but nations like Angola and Liberia, the Ivory Coast and the democratic Republic of Congo.

Jane McGrath: Right. And that last one you mentioned is still having problems even to this day.

Candace Gibson: It certainly is. It certainly is. And essentially when these rebel groups have the money to fund their wars and their uprisings, almost anything is possible and that's the scary thing about blood diamonds or conflict diamonds is that the end result is so [inaudible] and so precious a gift that a lot of people don't think about the origins of the stone and it's really, really important that if you're giving or receiving a diamond, you question its origins and the United Nations is making this a little bit easier on us today because they developed the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme. And this is a way of regulating diamonds to make sure that they're not conflict diamonds.

Jane McGrath: That's right. And this was a really good solution because maybe after hearing this, oh, well, I don't want to buy diamonds anymore. I'm going to tell my fiancé or I'm not going to buy my fiancé a diamond because this might have been the origin of it and that actually causes problems in itself. If we just boycotted diamonds and cut them off cold turkey, this would actually cripple a lot of African economies that really rely on it and it would cause the loss of jobs and everything like that. And some countries, like, Botswana for instance, in the past 25 years or so actually has been able to flip its economy around and prosper from one of the poorest to one of the more rich countries.

Candace Gibson: All from legitimate diamond trade and you should know, too, that there are about 10 million people worldwide who subsist off revenue created by diamonds, legal diamonds. And also a lot of the money that comes from legitimate diamond trade goes to combat HIV and AIDS. So, again, like Jane was saying, that's a really important point. We don't want to stop cold turkey supporting the diamond industry and there are people out there who are working really hard to make sure that they are legitimate and there's a couple things that you can do too even if you're not assured by that person [inaudible] 99.8, which is the magic number of diamonds that are now conflict free in the market, what you should do when you're buying one is ask the purveyor, what's your policy on blood diamonds or where did yours get imported from and you can even ask for a certificate from a diamond supplier. And if that still has you a little bit nervous, consider buying a diamond from Australia and Canada.

Jane McGrath: That's true. That would be pretty sure fire that it's not a blood diamond. There are loopholes in the Kimberly process, as you mentioned earlier, the process that helps secure that you're not buying a blood diamond. Sometimes, critics at least say that smugglers can launder the diamonds through legitimate Kimberly process abiding countries and pass them off as legitimate from then on and so that does cause some problems, but overall, at least the diamond industry wants you to believe that mostly the problem has been solved.

Candace Gibson: So, despite the bloody history of diamonds and despite United Nations and DeBeers coming out and saying that diamonds are safe now, there's still plenty of stuff in the media that you may have seen lately or not so long ago about blood diamonds and I think one of the most famous pieces of cinema relating to the problem was Blood Diamond.

Jane McGrath: That's right, and that's a Leonardo DiCaprio movie if you remember that coming out a few years ago.

Candace Gibson: So, pretty much if you're a humanitarian, environmentalist or a 14-year-old girl, you probably saw this and it portrays the fighting and the conflicting in Sierra Leone and the revolutionary united front that was responsible for so many deaths and it's following the path of this one incredibly priceless diamond as it goes through certain channels, and I actually didn't see the movie [inaudible] so I'm basing this on what I've read about it, but when it came out, obviously it was sort of a historical film because we know that the fighting in Sierra Leone has subsided but I think people saw it as a really present and contemporary concern.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, they were seeing it for the first time so they thought it was still a problem.

Candace Gibson: Right, and the jewelry industry got very upset, or the diamond industry I should say, and they were trying to, you know, market to death the idea that 99.8 percent of the diamonds today are conflict free and whether or not you choose to believe that or whether or not it's actually true, we do know that, as recently as 2006, about 23 million worth of diamonds were smuggled into the legitimate diamond trade. So -

Jane McGrath: Yeah, that stat actually staggered me a little bit. It's a little scary right there.

Candace Gibson: Yeah, I'm still on edge because I think that they can do all the right things but until they implement new parts to the Kimberly process, it's not ever going to be safe. And they're talking about having laser engravings and laser signatures on the stones so that you know it's been certified and then also having all the diamonds produced, from start to finish, within the same country. And that's something else that we should mention, too, is, you know, you can find a rough diamond in Africa, you can have it certified, all can be well and good, you know, it gets its Kimberly certificate, etcetera, etcetera, but then when it's time to, you know, shape it and put the facets in it, a lot of these companies are sending it off to India, 92 percent of the worlds diamonds go to India and that's where small children have to carve the facets because they have the most nimble fingers and the clearest eye sight.

Jane McGrath: Oh, so, it's like a sweatshop sort of situation?

Candace Gibson: It is because their carving these tiny facets all day long, they get repetitive motion injuries, they strain their eyes, and worse, they inhale diamond dust so it's just sort of a mess.

Jane McGrath: Oh, wow, that is terrifying. Yeah, and also another alternative that they've been kind of tweaking with or trying to perfect is the idea of manufactured diamonds, like, the idea of making a diamond in a laboratory basically and they haven't - I mean, they've been able to create diamonds but they're not really up to par with the - if you've ever heard of the four C's of diamond which happen to be clarity, color, cut, and carat, they're not quite jewel standard, the ones that they make in the lab so maybe, we'll see, if they ever perfect that and if that ever helps the industry maybe eradicate the process of blood diamonds.

Candace Gibson: Yeah, and they're getting closer. I think that now it's really hard for a jeweler to tell the different between a lab manufactured diamond and a natural one. I know that lab manufactured ones typically don't come in sizes over one carat. But it's so funny because now, since there's such difficulty in telling the difference between natural and manufactured ones, there are machines that jewelers can buy that help them identify which are natural, which are fake and guess who created the machines?

Jane McGrath: Who? DeBeers maybe?

Candace Gibson: Exactly. DeBeers created that machine. So, again, a lot of these are going to be used in industries that need really hard-tipped cutting tools or even for the military or army or whoever needs, you know, -

Jane McGrath: Yeah, because obviously diamonds are one of the hardest material on earth.

Candace Gibson: Known to man and if that's not going to work for you, you can always go with cubic zirconium or one of my favorite things, the life gem. I think this is so wild. You can take carbon from someone's cremated remains or hair and they can make a diamond out of your loved one or even your deceased beloved pet.

Jane McGrath: You would want to do that?

Candace Gibson: I'm not saying I would love to do it. I think it's a really cool idea.

Jane McGrath: I don't know. Okay.

Candace Gibson: I think it's a pretty cool idea. So, I think in the neighborhood of, like, $3,000 to $25,000, they can make a diamond for you.

Jane McGrath: Okay.

Candace Gibson: But it has no history so if you're a person who loves history and loves knowing that your ring started as a mineral somewhere in the earth and it was dug up and polished and spun and created, then there you go.

Jane McGrath: Yep.

Candace Gibson: So, if you want to learn more about diamonds and the African diamond trade, be sure to check out the articles on

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