A marriage proposal: a scene that we have all seen before. A man gets down on his knees in front of a woman and pulls out a small box from his pocket. He opens the box to reveal a shiny, sparkling ring, asking the woman to marry him. The woman squeals in joy and excitedly agrees, putting on the shiny ring for the world to see.
Tv commercials, magazines, posters and many other forms of media have conveyed to us multiple times that ‘a diamond is forever’. It has become the subconscious standard in society that a proposal and wedding include a diamond on a ring to signify a proper marriage. The craze for diamonds erupted from a successful marketing gimmick, but what does the diamond industry conceal under the allure of its sparkly gem?
Diamonds are nothing but products of carbon. Yes, the gemstone which dictates whether a marriage will be happy or not is simply made of carbon. They are formed deep in the Earth, under extreme heat and pressure, and are violently ejected towards Earth’s surface. The earliest discovery of diamonds can be traced back to India where diamonds were collected from rivers and streams and traded in the 4th century. The diamonds were traded along until they arrived in Western Europe in the 1400s, becoming rare accessories for the elite of Europe. As diamond sources depleted in India, other countries soon took over as the top suppliers. By the late 1700s there was a decline in the demand for diamonds, bringing us to the modern-day diamond industry. In 1866, the discovery of diamonds in Kimberly, South Africa, resurfaced a demand for the gem. Big companies soon emerged, controlling the flow of diamonds from the mines into the customers’ fingers. Russia, Botswana, Congo, Australia and Canada have become the biggest exporters of diamonds.
In 1947, a company called De Beers commissioned a marketing agency to advertise their diamond rings and thus, the slogan, ‘a diamond is forever’, was created. Witty slogans and ads telling young couples that the only thing that can make their marriage last forever is an unbreakable gem were plastered everywhere. Not only were the flashy images of the rings aimed towards young women, but sayings such as, “and you suddenly became the only mad in the room” were targeted towards young men. Such advertising has led young women to create standards of a diamond ring to be the bare minimum and young men into thinking that a diamond ring can win a girl’s heart. The marketing for diamond rings was so successful that marriage soon became surrounded by materialistic expectations for a gem. However, under all the paraphernalia of a shiny ring, the process of extracting diamonds is overlooked.
The lack of human rights for diamond miners is an issue that has long been ignored. According to an article by Brilliants Earth, approximately 1 million African diamond miners earn less than a dollar a day – which is 10% of the world’s diamond miners. In certain African countries where poverty is rampant, people are desperate to find work. Thus, they work in mines, risking their lives in hopes of finding a diamond. Lack of human rights enforcement has allowed private companies to exploit workers. Instead of being paid for their time and work, like a minimum wage, miners are paid based on the number of diamonds they find. However, finding a diamond in the world’s depleting deposits is a difficult task. A miner might get paid 25$ for one diamond, but it’s most likely the first one that they have found in weeks or even months. Furthermore, diamonds can typically be traded between 8-10 people before getting out of the country. Thus, the middlemen pay the miners less, keeping most of the sales for themselves.
Health and safety precautions are also ignored in some mines. Mines are prone to landslides and mine collapses; thus workers need the necessary equipment to work in such conditions. Instead of providing the needed tools to workers, many mines bypass this by getting children to work for them. A survey in Angola revealed that 46% of miners working at a diamond mine were between the ages of 5 and 16. Since children are smaller in size and more flexible than adults, they are sent into the small shafts to search for diamonds. They are paid close to nothing, are given no education, and are subjected to long hours of lifting heavy weights/equipment.
The term ‘blood diamonds’ is another example of the ethical conflicts that have risen from the diamond industry. The UN had defined this term in the 1990s when there was massive unrest and civil wars in central Africa. Diamonds that were mined from rebel-controlled regions would be smuggled and merged with legitimate stocks in other countries. The sales from those diamonds would then go into buying weapons for rebel groups which brought suffering to civilians.
So, what can we, the consumers, do to promote peace and human rights? If you are ever buying diamonds, ensure that the supplier is someone who treats their miners fairly. Investigating the source of the diamond may be difficult, but knowing which countries mine for them safely can influence your final decision. You can also investigate buying man-made diamonds. These gems are created in a lab and provide an alternative to buying a diamond that may have exploited multiple people. A good place to look for a ring is Brilliant Earth, as they sell jewellery that has ethically sourced diamonds. Finally, it is important to remember that a diamond is not needed to have a happy relationship, so let’s not make an object the basis of a lifelong commitment.