"Sierra Leone, 1999. Civil war rages for control of the diamond fields. Thousands have died and millions have become refugees. None of whom has ever seen a diamond." -Blood Diamond, Warner Bros Studios, 2006
As these words played across the screen as I watched one of my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio films, I tried to imagine the very real atrocities that occurred- and for all we know- are still occurring- half a world away. The truth of it is, none of us really can. Although it was released several years ago, "Blood Diamond" is still as stirring as it was upon release. The film helped raise awareness to the public about the existence of conflict stones and the global efforts to halt them from entering world markets. The plot of "Blood Diamond" depicts the quest of Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Housou) to recover a rare pink diamond that could change their lives forever. During their trek across Sierra Leone, Archer and Vandy encounter the aftermath of civil war and chaos.
Prior to the release of "Blood Diamond," the entertainment industry was already beginning to alert audiences to the topic of conflict diamonds. Conflict diamonds played a major role in "Die Another Day", a British film in the James Bond movie series. The film debuted in 2002 as the Kimberly Process began to establish a multi-nation effort to inhibit conflict diamonds from reaching global markets. Lion's Gate Films' "Lord of War" was released to audiences several years later and brought additional attention to the issue of war zone diamonds. In the recording industry, rapper Kanye West recorded a single entitled, "Diamonds From Sierra Leone." Several console video game companies also produced games for players involving conflict diamonds, including several games from the "Grand Theft Auto" series. It would be safe to say Hollywood celebrities, world leaders, and savvy consumers took an "all hands on deck" approach to raise awareness of conflict diamonds.
The history of conflict diamonds can be traced throughout several decades, as far back as the nineteenth century in some countries. Conflict diamonds are most prevalent in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Congo, and Angola. However, in the last several years, diamonds have been traded in Israel and the Gaza strip to fund conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. The organization, Global Awareness, reported al Qaeda allegedly had tight links to Liberia's ruler, Charles Taylor, who flooded the markets with blood diamonds. Liberia also traded conflict diamonds with Sierra Leone in exchange for weapons and military training to continue the civil war. Many countries boycotted Liberia, and the United Nations imposed sanctions against Liberia to prevent the sales of the stones. As a result, the Kimberly Process was formed in an effort to exclude blood diamonds from international market sales. Recently, it has been discovered that the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts have been funded by similar diamond sales methods. As a result human rights advocates alerted diamond monitoring agencies and governments participating in the Kimberly Process, and consumers boycotted Israeli diamonds. After further investigation, the Kimberly Process determined that Israeli stones classified as blood diamonds, and banned the export of Israeli crafted diamonds from Kimberly Process certification.
At the same time, the United States adopted the "Clean Diamond Trade Act," to prevent retailers from purchasing diamonds from conflict zones. Canada also followed suit by enacting similar laws throughout the country in regard to the diamond trade. Some people question the effectiveness of the Kimberly Process and the required authentication of a diamond's origins as outlined in the "Clean Diamond Trade Act." Many are concerned that officials in conflicted nations may accept bribes to launder blood diamonds into the clean diamond supply.
In the years since the multi diamond government monitoring system, and the policies of individual countries in regard to conflict diamonds, the situations in these countries have improved. Although the Kimberly Process doesn't altogether prevent direct violence, it has hindered conflict fundraising efforts significantly and allowed nations of the Ivory Coast to begin to trade diamonds and other materials more ethically. However, the most significant process is to understand the role a consumer plays in regard to conflict diamonds. The jewelry industry certainly did not need any explanation as to how purchasing stones from conflict zones or dishonest practices in regard to illicit diamonds could hurt their respective businesses. This in itself pays a large factor in merchandisers choices as to whom they buy from and the guidelines the purchasers follow. As long as consumers remain sensitive to humanitarian efforts and continue to insist on only purchasing diamonds from conflict free zones, fine jewelers will continue to hold themselves to consumer standards. Understanding our responsibilities as consumers helps us to continue to prevent conflict stones from passing through our borders into local jewelry stores.