Making Diamonds Ethical

N O R T H W E S T   T E R R I T O R I E S, Canada, Dec. 21, 2000 -- In the Arctic, a place where a weakened sun makes the snow crystalline and the air crisp, there is an idea to restore luster to the diamond trade.

Companies are blasting $1 million worth of diamonds a day from this new frontier. And these diamonds are guaranteed to be as ethically pure as the quality of the stone.

“It [the diamond] doesn’t come from some war-torn country or some country that has poor labor practices,” says Northwest Territories Premier Stephen Kakfwi.

The Proposed Solution

For years, civil wars in African countries like Sierra Leone and Angola have been funded in part by the diamond trade. The United Nations has been struggling to find a way to inhibit the sale of what have come to be known as “blood diamonds,” “conflict diamonds,” or “dirty diamonds.” This week, a U.N. panel recommended that the diamond industry implement a certification system which would distinguish the diamonds mined by legitimate producers from the rest. Their hope is that the system will encourage a boycott of the blood diamonds. The model for the system exists in only one place: the Canadian Arctic, the fastest-growing diamond-producing region in the world.

“They have established a system — a technological system and a paper-based system — that can actually mark the diamonds and follow through every single rough diamond all the way through,” says Alex Yearsley of Global Witness, an organization that has done extensive research on conflict diamonds.

Here’s how it works: a laser etches a tiny registration number into the diamond that identifies when and where it was mined. And then, just to make sure, a polar bear is carved that is so small it can only be seen with a magnifying glass.

But it helps retailers such as Peter Germano certify to his customers in New York City that these diamonds are clear of conflict.

“I thought there might be a market for it. And so far, there’s a small one,” Germano says.

Demand for Arctic Diamonds Will Increase

The demand is expected to expand rapidly; within a decade, 10 percent of the world’s diamonds may come from under the Arctic ice.Already some of the world’s top specialists are relocating there from the heat of Africa, where most of the diamond expertise has been.

South African Peter Finnemore recently moved to the Arctic to help train new diamond cutters. He works for Sirius Diamonds, a Canadian diamond manufacturer, and so far, he’s happy with his decision.

“I’m enjoying the fishing and snow-mobiling in the North,” Finnemore says. “The conditions the diamond cutters are working in here in Yellowknife are some of the best in the world.”

All of this has the potential to transform the last frontier on the continent, and the fortunes of the aboriginal people here, who as recently as 25 years ago still survived on the fur trade and hunting.

Today, they are the example to the world of a people whose lives are being changed by diamonds for the better.

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