Tips On Buying Ethical Diamonds
November 28, 2012

Ethical Diamond Claims Should Go Beyond The Kimberley Process

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

You have found the perfect girl, and you are ready to pop the big question. You've made the decisions between emerald cut and princess cut, platinum or gold, yellow or white. Just one decision remains; socially responsible or not?

Trina Hamilton, a University of Buffalo (UB) expert in corporate responsibility, says that socially minded consumers have a lot to consider before purchasing a diamond.

Most recently, in the wake of news reports and movies that have revealed the diamond trade's role in fueling armed conflicts in developing countries — think "Blood Diamond" with Leonardo DiCaprio — many consumers have turned to Canadian diamonds as conflict free purchases. Hamilton says truly choosing an ethical diamond is more complicated that simply avoiding stones from combat zones.

"Many people who are planning proposals choose Canadian diamonds because they don't want anything tarnishing the story of their engagement, but doing the least harm doesn't mean you're doing the most good," says Hamilton, an assistant professor of geography.

Hamilton notes that ethical diamond options extend beyond Canadian diamonds for today's consumer.

Hamilton and her students conducted a survey of 94 diamond retailers claiming to be ethical sellers, finding that 13 were marketing ethical stones from other countries than Canada, including Namibia and Botswana. Both of these African nations have been recognized for using the revenues of the diamond trade to create jobs and fight poverty.

Even in Sierra Leone, who's conflict diamonds were made famous by the DiCaprio movie, there are efforts underway to develop "fair trade" diamonds. Some analysts suggest that diamond exports in this country have helped to fund reconstruction since the nation's civil war ended in 2002, according to Hamilton.

"Consumers need to decide what they want their money to do," Hamilton says. "Starting in the late 1990s, Canada quickly cornered the ethical market. But now there's a bit of a backlash: People have concluded that it's not addressing the issue of development of these African countries that suffered during the conflicts, and they're also starting to question whether Canadian diamonds are as conflict-free as is often claimed."

Hamilton has developed some buying tips for consumers wanting to be socially responsible as well as romantic this holiday season:

Look for more information than simply "Conflict-Free"

Hamilton says that many retailers boast they comply with the Kimberley Process, but that this is the bare minimum a socially conscious consumer should be willing to accept. The Kimberley Process certifies that the diamond has come from a conflict free zone, but defines conflict very narrowly, ignoring human rights abuses; labor standards; and environmental impacts. Just because a country does not have a Kimberly designated conflict, it is not a guarantee that they are free of other ethical concerns.

Beware of the Gift to Charity ploy

Out of the 94 retailers that Hamilton surveyed, twenty-one of them donate a percentage of their diamond profits to charity. While Hamilton calls this a commendable add-on, she says in and of itself, "it's not addressing industry practices within the diamond trade." A more effective means of promoting social change, Hamilton claims, would be to find a retailer who participates in initiatives to improve social and environmental standards within the industry.

Activism Matters

Consumers vote with their dollars, influencing business decisions. Hamilton says that people who are passionate about a cause should not stop there, however. Direct activism, including protests, are a critical part of changing the industry and addressing broader issues of social and environmental justice.

According to Hamilton, there is no single answer when trying to decide what constitutes an ethical diamond. Consumers will make different decisions based on their specific social and environmental concerns. Hamilton notes that even in Canada mining of the stones has cause strife between diamond companies and the indigenous populations.

Hamilton's survey found nine retailers who offered recycled diamonds, such as antiques. Another six sold laboratory-created diamonds. Hamilton and her team conducted their research using retailer websites, doing in-depth analysis to identify product offerings, marketing strategies and discussion of ethical issues.