By Sarah Phelan
Diamonds, so the saying goes, are a girl’s best friend, especially during the holiday season, which is when 25 percent of the sales of these gems reportedly take place.
But does it make sense to give your sweetie a diamond as a symbol of your love, when so many of these brilliant sparklers have caused death and destruction for so many African souls?
“Conflict diamonds” are sparklers that are mined in war zones and sold to finance African paramilitary groups. But while that practice is said to be lessening, unethical child labor practices and unacceptable environmental degradation continues unabated in Africa, which is where 49 percent of the world’s diamonds originate. These harsh realities became clear to San Francisco resident Beth Gerstein when she was shopping for an engagement ring. This discovery led her to found Brilliant Earth, which specializes in independently mined diamonds of what she calls “ethical origin,” most of them from Canada, which has some of the toughest labor standards in the world.
“Diamonds are supposed to be a symbol of love and commitment, but the industry has fueled a lot of civil wars, and many workers continue to live in abject poverty and work in dangerous and environmentally degrading conditions,” says Gerstein, noting that the movie Blood Diamond, which premiers Dec. 8, “has created a lot of defensive reaction within the diamond industry.”
"People should be proud to wear diamonds. An ethically-mined, conflict-free diamond will carry a slight premium, but it’s still competitively priced,” says Gerstein, who notes that if the whole notion of wearing diamonds turns you off, you can also donate your previously worn diamonds or family heirlooms to the Diamonds for Africa Fund, which Brilliant Earth cofounded with the Indigenous Land Rights Fund. Proceeds benefit the San Bushmen in Botswana, improve health conditions and education in villages in the Congo, and help children in Sierra Leone, who’ve been affected by conflict diamonds.