By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
“Talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it!” sang Marilyn Monroe in “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” While newly engaged women flaunt their square and pear-cut rocks as some kind of proof of a man’s love, there’s one thing Harry Winston surely won’t tell them about at all: the process of getting those shiny little diamonds is very likely the cause of a lot of misery and suffering.
Notoriously opaque and sometimes secretive, the diamond industry’s reputation is far from brilliant – and with good reason. From the very birth of the industry, it has been associated with price fixing and anti-trust behaviour and has recently had its reputation further damaged by the procurement of “blood diamonds,” the term used to describe gems that bankrolled regional conflicts in Africa, killing tens of thousands of people in the 1990s.
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established to certify the origin of rough diamonds in order to curb the trade in conflict diamonds, but this has proved to be ineffective. The problem with the Kimberley Process is that its definition of “conflict diamond” does not include some of the practices in diamond mining and sale that consumers find troubling, such as environmental degradation, child labour, worker exploitation and state-sanctioned violence.
As an article in TIME Magazine demonstrates, the majority of diamonds that come from African diggers aren’t registered, making it easy to sell these dirty diamonds to fund conflict by smuggling them into other nations and mixing them with ‘clean’ gems. In short, it’s well near impossible to truly trace a diamond’s origins unless it’s certified Canadian or Australian.
But even then, no matter how ‘clean’ the mining process is or how well re-forested the mine is after it is depleted, the environmental destruction of diamond mining is inevitable and profound. Just one mine in Canada, a country with fairly strict environmental protection laws, has reported:
- loss of fish habitat through draining of lakes, destruction of streams, changes in water quality.
- loss of land-based habitat for wildlife such as caribou, grizzly bears, and wolverine.
- Increased production of greenhouse gases.
- Social and cultural conflicts with indigenous people.
Imagine the environmental consequences of diamond mines in less strictly regulated nations!
Tiffany’s is another brand that claims to follow strict environmental policies, but whose diamonds are still tainted. One of its main diamond suppliers is Beny Steinmetz Group Resources. While this group claims to follow the Kimberley Process, BSGR is far from ethical. Through its Steinmetz Foundation, BSGR has indirectly adopted a unit of the notorious Givati Brigade of the Israel Defence Forces, which was directly responsible for the massacre of the Samouni family in Gaza in January 2009. At least 21 men, women and children were killed, according to the UNHRC report of the war crime. Furthermore The Steinmetz Foundation also funded the Givati Brigade during the 2008-2009 Israeli offensive, which killed at least 1,387 Palestinians. No matter whether you’re pro-Israel or pro-Palestine or supportive of a two-state solution, this massacre has been widely regarded as being a war crime. Ça va sans dire that if you look at Tiffany’s Sustainability Report 2014 none of this information comes up in the list of measures that the company has in place to ensure the ethical integrity of its diamonds.
What about the auction houses that sell diamonds? With their prestigious names, you would expect them to be more responsible in selecting their diamonds, if not for ethics, to maintain their reputations. But Sotheby’s had to run for cover after news was released that the auction house was involved in ventures with unaffiliated third parties that had diamonds coming from Beny Steinmetz Group Resources.
According to Middle East Monitor, Sotheby’s claimed the buyer of what’s known as the Steinmetz Pink, “couldn’t pay and defaulted”. The buyer, a consortium led by Isaac Wolf, has not given any interviews or responded publicly since the news of his default broke. When asked by JCK magazine why the diamond wasn’t sold to one of three under bidders, Sotheby’s “declined to comment”.
It is difficult to believe that the investors would have pursued such a high profile target without having sufficient funds or credit available to complete the deal. The lack of a more detailed explanation from Sotheby’s, Wolf and the other bidders makes it more likely that investors were spooked by information in the public domain linking BSGR with Israeli human rights violations, leading many people to believe BSGR diamonds are de-facto blood diamonds that would be difficult to re-sell.
Given that Sotheby’s was aware that diamonds crafted by the Steinmetz Diamond Group were generating revenue used to fund and support suspected war criminals and that human rights activists in London had staged protests highlighting the issue outside Sotheby’s New Bond Street outlet on two occasion in 2013, they were morally and legally obliged to inform investors and shareholders that the Steinmetz Pink is tarnished by association with gross human rights violation by the Israeli military – and yet they didn’t.
According to an Amnesty International report, “trigger happy” Israeli forces kill Palestinians with impunity in a manner that suggests it is carried out as a matter of policy. The criminal actions of the Israeli military are being funded in part by revenue from BSGR companies, including the Steinmetz Diamond Group.
The Steinmetz Diamond Group is also a major client of De Beers – buying 1-2 billion diamonds every year according to a report in Globes. De Beers’ relationship with Steinmetz has already resulted in some potentially damaging publicity for their Forevermark diamond brand. In 2012 De Beers put on display a Forevermark diamond crafted by Steinmetz in the Tower of London in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Human Rights activists held regular protests outside the Tower exposing Steinmetz’ links to Israeli war crimes until it was removed. A member of the Samouni family issued an appeal to the Queen for the diamond to be removed. Thankfully, a list of Forevermark Diamantaires published months later in 2013 doesn’t include the Steinmetz Diamond Group.
That is progress, but De Beers still uses Steinmetz diamonds in their other lines, and has also been involved in a case of price fixing amounting to $3 billion, through transfer pricing manipulation from 2005 to 2012. They have also been accused of forcing the relocation of the San tribe from their native land, in order to exploit diamond resources – an allegation rejected by De Beers. A campaign is being fought in an attempt to bring an end to what the indigenous rights organisation, Survival International considers to be a genocide of a tribe that has been living in those lands for tens of thousands of years. Several international fashion models, including Iman, Lily Cole and Erin O’Connor, who were previously involved with advertising for the company’s diamonds, have backed down after realising the consequences raised by this scandal.
So the question remains: is it possible to buy a bling ring without being complicit in the shedding of blood? There is a plethora of new, ‘green’ diamond houses that have become especially popular with eco-brides looking for ethical engagement rings. All of these brands are, of course, Kimberley Process supporters and often use Canadian or Australian diamonds. But when I contacted a variety of these brands to see whether they could guarantee that their stones had no links to environmental destruction, the displacement of indigenous people, The Steinmetz Foundation or other Israeli diamond processors and polishers who may be involved in supporting Palestinian genocide, some vanished into silence and others replied they couldn’t make definitive statements one way or the other.
Sorry, but unless they come from your grandma’s old rings, it seems diamonds sure ask heck are NOT a girl’s best friend. Rather than ‘forever’ romance, what they really represent is oppression, destruction, and ostentation. That’s a pretty messed up way to say ‘I love you’, right?
All images: Wikicommons but protester image: www.inminds.com