04 February 2006

No blood for bling

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and many of you will be shopping for diamond jewelry to give to that special someone on this romantic holiday.

But did you know that the cost of that diamond might be far greater than what you see on the price tag? Did you know that someone may have died for your diamond? I'm talking about "conflict diamonds", also known as "blood diamonds".

First of all, don't be alarmed, and don't think that your Valentine's Day (and possibly your marriage) might be ruined if you can't feel good about giving your beloved that sparkling stone. These days, most of the diamonds that find their way into our retail stores are clean, thanks to the Clean Diamond Trade Act of 2003. However, some conflict diamonds still slip through the cracks, due to poor government oversight and unscrupulous jewelers. Concerned shoppers should demand the truth about the diamonds that any jeweler tries to sell you.

Some background: In some African countries, the diamond-rich regions are controlled by armed groups of insurgents. Profits from the diamonds are used to fund these groups' terror tactics and gross human rights abuses against the local population.

In addition, concerns have mounted over possible links between conflict diamonds and al-Qaeda. That alone should make you want to be careful about the diamonds you buy.

The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, introduced in 2003 in a joint government-industry initiative, is a voluntary system through which shipments of diamonds can be certified as conflict free. In the United States, the Clean Diamond Trade Act provides for enforcement of the Kimberly Process. But there are loopholes, so there is still cause for concern.

Americans consume 65% of the world's diamonds. But Americans also pride themselves on being smart shoppers. By just taking the time to do some research and ask some questions, you can have your diamonds and a clean conscience too.

Some tips:

1. Ask your jeweler about his conflict diamond policy. If he gives you a blank look, or won't assure you that the shop has a policy on conflict diamonds, go elsewhere.

2. If you are told that the shop has a conflict diamond policy, ask to see a hard copy, or at least ensure that the jeweler can explain the policy to your satisfaction. If he can't, go elsewhere.

3. Ensure that the shop's policy includes a provision requiring that its suppliers provide written warranties showing that all diamonds are conflict free.

4. Ensure that the shop is keeping records of the warranties and having those records verified as part of its financial auditing process.

Jewelers need to take this issue seriously. And shoppers of conscience have the power to force them to take it seriously.

Most diamond shoppers very carefully consider the "4 c's" of diamond shopping - clarity, color, cut, and carat. It's time to add another "c" to the list - conflict.

This Valentine's Day and every day, we must stand up for a policy of "no blood for bling."

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