Sarah Graham Metalsmithing

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Mining The Issue

A jewelry designer blogging about conflict diamonds? Should this blog instead be titled Conflict of Interest? One thing is for sure, I am suffering from conflicted emotions.

I am not a big fan in violence in movies, and I generally don’t go for the big action flick. So it was with reluctance that I forced myself to finally go see the movie Blood Diamond this weekend – almost a full month after it hit the theaters. And if we are going to be honest, I should admit there is another reason I wasn’t eager to see this movie – I was worried about how it would make me feel about my profession, my passion, my art.

The movie follows its main character - a rough pink diamond – through a war torn region of Sierra Leone. In the late 1990s the world became aware that rebel armies in parts of Central and Western Africa were illegally using the diamond trade to fund conflict against governments. The rebels used inhumane practices, including torture and slavery, to extract diamonds from the region. These diamonds became known as conflict diamonds, sometimes referred to as blood diamonds.

So, where does that leave us? ‘Us’ being the jewelers and customers who love, use, buy and wear diamonds everyday – are we complicit in the atrocities that occur when some diamonds are mined? What can we do to stop the suffering? Do we boycott diamonds all together, or perhaps just those from Africa?

I have mined my conscience sincerely on this issue, and have struggled to come up with a personal stance as well as a way to express those feelings to my customers. After exhaustively researching the matter, I found myself faced with enough disheartening facts that I seriously considered boycotting African diamonds – I even contacted a Canadian mine to source new stones. A solemn discussion with my husband on the issue culminated with him posing a final suggestion: “If you truly care about Africa, do what you think, in your heart, is best for their situation.”

To say their working conditions are sub par is an understatement, but to take away the job altogether is not a way to improve those conditions. They live on less than most of us can imagine, but to take away what little they have is not a humane solution. Diamonds are essential to the economies of Africa, and to boycott their diamonds we would be taking away their ability to prosper off their one natural resource. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend a boycott of African diamonds. I do, however, support an embargo on conflict diamonds.

Efforts have been made and are proving to be successful at stemming the flow of diamonds involved in these conflicts, and everyone of us who buys diamonds should support this cause. For starters, insist that the diamonds you are buying comply with The Kimberly Process. Adopted as law by 69 countries and backed by the UN, it is a process through which all diamond traders must comply to ensure that the stones were not used to fund these conflicts. Is this process perfect? Probably not, but it may just offer the best chance Africans in diamond rich regions have for a healthier, safer and more prosperous life.

The movie Blood Diamond focused on the conflict in Sierra Leone, which is now at peace, although the issue is still present in other African countries. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the movie - it was action packed, entertaining, and well acted. It was also terribly violent, disturbing, and gut wrenching, as the subject matter dictates. The jewelry industry has been on high alert for months, dreading the release of Blood Diamond and the effect it may have on diamond sales, spending millions of dollars preparing for the fall out.

The movie has served as a wake up call for designers, retailers and customers, and in my opinion is serving as a positive motivating force for the industry. Since it’s inception, The Kimberly Process and other self imposed actions have reportedly reduced the number of conflict diamonds from 4 percent of the global trade to less than one percent.

The diamonds in our jewelry are certified conflict free in accordance with the Kimberly Process. I encourage you to educate yourself on the issue and be a proponent of conflict free diamonds. If you have an opinion or question you would like to pose, I hope you will do so.


zdena said...

Very well written, Sarah. As a jewelry retailer, since the day we opened the gallery, we have been making clear to our customers that the diamonds we sell are certified conflict free. And by the way... what about conflict oil, which actually causes conflict in Africa (and pretty much everywhere else)?

gallerybird said...

Your designs are equally as beautiful without the diamonds, however. This allows for a conscientious choice on how and who to sell your work to . You are a woman with great integrity, Sarah. Keep up the good work!

thefirecat said...

Thank you. Now I'm doubly in love with your work.

Ben said...

Hi Sarah,
Conflict Free in Canada?

"Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said De Beers Canada in particular is causing environmental devastation and disrupting his community of 45,000 Cree and Ojibwa in northern Ontario.

"They're not clean diamonds; they're not conflict-free diamonds," Fiddler told CBC News. "People are paying a price for these diamonds and it's our people in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Our people, our children, are languishing in poverty while these resources are being extracted from their territory."

I am a jewellery designer/maker myself and once you start to think ethically about our disastrous industry working within it becomes increasingly difficult.

Where does your gold, and energy come from?

What wastes do you produce from your studio and where do they go?

Unfortunately not much care is taken in the jewellery industry and once someone has a badge like 'conflict free' to put on their work it eases their mind to continue with their harmful ways.

Don't be this person. Your work is beautiful, jewellery should be a gift of good not evil.

If you are interested in caring for people and our planet there are sustainable ways to make jewellery. Have a look at my website for more info. (the jewellery featured is but a small collection of the work I sell).

Kind Regards

Ben Manning