Diamonds are associated with many joyous and happy occasions: engagements, birthdays, anniversaries and even winning the Superbowl. For many people, diamonds represent wealth and personal milestones. However, for the many people involved in the diamond supply chain, the reality is a much darker picture. “Blood diamonds” have received their graphic name due to the violent, unethical and horrific conditions in African diamond mines.
What Are Blood Diamonds?
The United Nations defines blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, as gems “mined in areas controlled by forces opposed to the legitimate, internationally recognized government of a country and that is sold to fund military action against that government.” These diamonds can come from three regions in Africa: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Sierra Leone.
Blood diamonds are often be mined by slaves, including children, and sales of these diamonds can fund wars and state violence, perpetuating poverty in these resource-rich African countries. Estimates state that 1 in 13 diamonds on the international market are conflict diamonds – a total of 65 million diamonds. Conflict diamonds are identical to other diamonds; once cut and polished, it is impossible to decipher a diamond’s origin.
How Blockchain Can Help Stop Blood Diamonds
Although consumers do not want to purchase these products, they have no way of knowing whether their diamonds were ethically sourced. Thanks to new blockchain technology, a diamond’s history now is easily accessible and impossible to manipulate. This technological breakthrough has the power that many have been searching for to stop blood diamonds.
Blockchain is the technology behind cryptocurrencies. Simply put, blockchain is “decentralized, public ledger technology.” As the name suggests, it consists of a chain of blocks, with the blocks being information and the chain being a public database. The blocks are all unique and are practically impossible to alter or edit. As changes are made or transactions occur, new blocks are added to the chain. Blockchain allows digital information to be recorded and distributed while preventing it from being edited. The information is stored with codes and resides in the virtual “cloud.” Bitcoin was the first non-hypothetical application of this revolutionary technology. Several industries have already taken advantage of blockchain, including securely storing private medical information, storing and verifying property ownership, keeping voting records and now illuminating the diamond supply chain.
A New Demand for Ethical Products
Recent reports show that consumers, especially millennials, would rather spend more money on genuinely ethical goods or find alternatives to purchasing problematic products like blood diamonds. Almost 75 percent of global millennials and 66 percent of all consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable, conflict-free goods.
An early tool in the fight against blood diamonds was the “Kimberley Process,” which the diamond industry adopted in 2003 to create documentation such as passports for the gems. Unfortunately, the process’s definition of “conflict diamond” does not include diamond mines using child labor, worker abuse or even “state-sanctioned violence.” For this reason, diamonds deemed acceptable through the Kimberley Process may still be considered unethical to many consumers. Even diamonds that fit the narrow definition slip into the process through various loopholes in the supply chain.
The Tracr Initiative
Lab-grown diamonds are growing in popularity, but are projected to account for less than 10 percent of market share in the next few years. Real diamonds are still in highest demand, and the De Beers Group has found a way to provide real gems without the blood. In January, De Beers announced the Tracr initiative to stop blood diamonds. Melinda Mutambaie Katende, a blockchain researcher at the University of Johannesburg, explained Tracr: “Unlike other commodities…individual diamond cuts have unique elements, these can be turned into data attributes that reinforce the immutability of every transaction on the blockchain.”
From the moment a diamond is mined until it is placed in a setting, information about the diamond will be added to the digital ledger and can be accessed by anyone. Consumers can look at the blocks to see where their diamond was mined and how it made its way through the supply chain. Tracr will be available to the entire diamond industry by the end of 2018. This initiative marks a major step toward an increase in transparency throughout the diamond industry and will empower consumers to support ethical diamond mining.
The international diamond jewelry market was worth an estimated $80.1 billion in 2016. Diamonds are a considerable business and draw high demand despite their high prices and potentially violent origins. With more consumers choosing diamonds whose origins are known, fewer will choose blood diamonds, which could eventually reduce demand to a point where the blood diamond mines are shut down. With proper implementation, Tracr and blockchain can take away power from violent mining groups while putting an end to blood diamonds and their victims.
– Sarah Stanley