“Where do these diamonds come from, and who profits from them?”

These are questions that customers — particularly millennials, who represent a big percentage of diamond buyers — are asking.

Millennials, a generation born in the 1980s and 1990s whose members are now in their twenties and thirties, wield growing power as consumers.  When it comes to buying diamonds, they want stones that have been mined responsibly and that have not funded armed conflict through a sale earlier in the supply chain.

“Millennials are more conscious of ethical and responsible practices than most others,” said David Bouffard, vice president of U.S.-based Signet Jewelers Limited, the world’s largest retailer of diamond jewelry. “It is a general expectation that companies like Signet should be conducting business responsibly and that they source responsibly through their supply chains.”

The Kimberley Process, the international system for the regulation of diamonds, sets minimum standards for diamond trade. Membership is required to import and export rough (unfinished) diamonds. Named for a forum held in Kimberley, South Africa, this certification system is meant to prevent the sale and purchase of diamonds whose proceeds fuel violent conflict.

People standing in water sifting through dirt and rocks (© Moustafa Cheaiteli/USAID)
Some feel the Kimberley Process does not provide enough protection for artisanal miners, like these sifting for diamonds outside of Bobi, Côte d’Ivoire. (© Moustafa Cheaiteli/USAID)

But the international community increasingly thinks the Kimberley Process definitions do not go far enough to protect the most vulnerable parts of the diamond supply chain. For example, the process’s definition of conflict diamonds does not address abuses carried out by state groups and other actors, nor does it extend beyond rough diamonds, allowing those that have been cut or polished to slip past the requirements.

Stricter standards

There is growing support for countries to adhere to the Due Diligence Guidance created by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as a more robust protocol to ensure transparency and ethical sourcing. These guidelines apply to all minerals, including diamonds. They also expand the Kimberley Process definition to include “high risk” regions, such as those with political instability, institutional weakness and widespread violence.

“The World Diamond Council is committed to establishing a sustainable and safe environment for mining communities, and we believe the OECD [Due Diligence Guidance] assurance process is a critical factor for advancing that vision,” the council’s acting president, Stephane Fischler, said in a statement. The World Diamond Council is an international organization established with the aim of preventing conflict diamonds from entering the market.

Although optional, the OECD Due Diligence Guidance is the basis for many responsible sourcing protocols worldwide.

“Signet has a broad and complex global supply chain,” said Bouffard. “We have based our [responsible sourcing protocols] on global guidance and standards, such as the OECD Due Diligence Guidance. These have proven to be best practice not only for the jewelry industry but for all industries and indeed for minerals.”

Chart showing steps of Kimberley Process and OECD Due Diligence Guidance (J.Maruszewski/ State Dept. Source: OECD, Kimberley Process)
(J.Maruszewski/ State Dept.)

Tiffany Stevens, president and chief executive of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, a nonprofit legal trade organization, said companies can be sure that their suppliers are dealing with nonconflict diamonds by refusing to do business with those who won’t meet their standards.

“Large players obviously have a lot of leverage over their suppliers and vendors to get them to agree to responsible practices, but even a small company can take many actions to ensure responsible sourcing,” she said. “Asking lots of questions of those all along your supply chain as well as engaging your end customers in a conversation about what is most important to them helps.”

This story was written by freelance writer Maeve Allsup.