By Molly Tilton
Leather and fur go in and out of style. Diamonds are one of the few luxury fashion statements that are never viewed as last season. One of the finest gems, diamonds will always be seen as a woman’s best friend and the key to any girl’s heart.
Diamonds also represent one of the world’s most controversial commodities, since their procurement violates many human rights and detracts from the earth’s natural resources. How can an item that is so divisive be so desirable?
Global Witness is an organization that campaigns to prevent corruption and conflict over natural resources. The group educates communities about the human-rights issue of so-called “blood diamonds” – gems mined by children or political prisoners under duress and used to finance bloody civil wars, primarily in Africa.
According to Amnesty Intentional, profits from the trade in conflict diamonds, worth billions of dollars, were used by warlords and rebels to buy arms during wars in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone — wars that have cost an estimated 3.7 million lives.
The director of Global Watch Charmian Gooch says that so far attempts to stem the trade in conflict diamonds have failed. “The fact is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, or whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes,” Gooch says.
Global Watch encourages “environmental governance” at the international level to promote accountability for conflict diamonds within governments and corporations. The organization urges governments to show leadership by holding the diamond sellers who market these gems responsible. Along with the governments, corporations must act with accountability when selling and purchasing diamonds.
Tiffany & Co. has been a leader in the high-end jewelry industry since 1837. The company prides itself on high-quality gems, unique designs and, of course, the Tiffany signature little blue box.
However, Tiffany’s has also earned a reputation for developing a “sustainability and corporate responsibility” division, dedicated to maintaining corporate standards that all Tiffany gems will be conflict-free.
Tiffany’s sustainability commitment goals include both protecting the environment and ensuring human rights. This commitment covers all aspects of consumers’ purchases, rom responsible sourcing of diamonds and precious metals to collaborating with other industry leaders to positively influence the entire jewelry supply chain.
And Tiffany’s appears to be walking the walk. A 2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers report was able to trace 100 percent of Tiffany’s rough diamonds directly to a known mine or to a supplier that sources from multiple known mines.
Catherine Tiltona former Tiffany’s employee, says that in the past, “only investors cared about the company’s commitment to the environment and [accountability in the] jewelry industry.” More recently, however, customers have begun directly asking about Tiffany’s sustainability commitment before making purchases, and employees report being trained to respond to customer concerns about sourcing.
Blood diamonds are still prevalent in 2013. But Tiffany & Co. has set a standard for corporate accountability and leadership within the jewelry industry. If the issue of blood diamonds is to ever disappear, more First World governments and corporations must become involved in what many perceive as a Third World problem.
After all, a diamond doesn’t shine so brightly when you know human blood was spilled to bring it to Western markets.
“Look, the right stone can buy anything – safety, information even freedom – but a big stone does not stay secret for very long. The moment you tell anyone about it, your life is absolutely worthless!” ~Danny Archer, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Blood Diamond.