The recent cover of Time Magazine.

How hard is it to find conflict free diamonds? According to a TIME Magazine, still pretty hard.

It’s been 15 years since the global effort to ban conflict diamonds first began with a meeting in Kimberley, South Africa. It’s been 12 years since the diamond industry established the much-celebrated Kimberley Process, an international diamond certification system. With a legalized code and increased awareness surrounding the horrors of “blood diamonds,” one might assume that the days of poorly regulated diamond mines and irresponsible trade were over.

To be to be clear, the diamond industry doesn’t suffer from a lack of empathy on the part of consumers. Most Westerners have at least a passing knowledge of (and a streak of sympathy for) those who suffer at the hands of the diamond industry and its often-brutal practices. 34-year-old Max Rodriguez tells TIME that he doesn’t want his partner’s diamond engagement ring to “be a associated with chaos and controversy and pain.”

However, if he wants a mined diamond, as opposed to a lab diamond, he might not have a choice. While the Kimberley Process does reduce the number of conflict diamonds sold, it “remains riddled with loopholes, unable to stop many diamonds mined in war zones or other egregious circumstances from being sold in international markets.”

Congolese miners working in one of thousands of mines.

The Problem

The Kimberley Process doesn’t guarantee an “ethical diamond.” It doesn’t guard against labor practices, human rights violations or diamonds mined in times of war. It only seeks to stem the flow of diamonds sold to fund rebel insurgencies, which cause regional instability. So even when mining practices are horrific, as they are in many African mines, or when a legitimate, government-funded army slaughters 200 miners to overtake a major deposit, as it did in 2008, the Kimberley Process still considers the diamonds that arise out of these circumstances to be “certified.”

In some cases, the Process may not even accomplish its own limited objective. For example, diamonds mined in the Central African Republic, the sale of which have funded a genocidal war since 2013, are smuggled across the border to Congo, where they are certified as Congolese diamonds.

The Potential Solution

To be frank, there really isn’t one – for now. Some companies that sell diamonds to the public are taking it upon themselves to authenticate the source of their gems. Some of this is ethical, but a lot of it is business. According to Ava Bai of New York’s Vale Jewelry, “the desire of millennials to shop according to their ethics has also helped push the industry to embrace sustainability.” Millennials want responsible sourcing over other brand benefits, and they’re willing to pay for it.

Congolese school-age children are often forced into mining to pay for their families.

Yet even with these new self-imposed guidelines, the chain of supply is delicate. A gemologist can’t tell the difference between diamonds mined in strife from those mined in ideal working conditions. After diamonds leave the mine, they will change hands between 8 to 10 times before they can be certified for export. Funji Kindamba, who owns a storefront that buys diamonds from nearby mines outside Tshikapa, Congo, doesn’t even record their origin. “There are thousands of mines,” he says. “It’s impossible to keep track.” When the diamonds are prepared for export, their paperwork only links them to Tshikapa.

The Final Verdict

Ultimately, the traceability of diamonds and their ethical sourcing remains an ineffable idealism. There are too few guarantees to ensure truly conflict free diamonds. TIME concludes that, “the only way that the blood will finally be washed away from conflict diamonds is if there is a true fair-trade-certification process that allows conscientious consumers to buy […] artisanal diamonds with peace of mind—just as they might a cup of coffee.” Without this system, consumers unwillingly participate in the unethical practices that sustain the industry. 

For more information, follow the link to the article “Blood Diamonds” by Aryn Baker.