How The Diamond Trade Is Enslaving Millions Of Africans


Workers pan for diamonds in a government-controlled diamond mine near Kenema, Sierra Leone, on June 15, 2001. Image:

Forced slavework in the diamond mining industry has existed for the past 130 years in Africa’s Sierra Leone.

Many of those exploited are children, as they are favoured for their smaller hands.  Many of these kids are kidnapped by bogus African cartels or abused by the government of the Revolutionary United ront (RUF).

Diamond mining is the top industry most likely to abuse children with forced labor in Africa. The United Nations reports that For less than $2 a day, children as young as five spend 12-15 hours a day in mining gold in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo and are also exploited as forced labor in the diamond mines of Angola, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.

Children are often forced to mine for what is commonly known as “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds,” where the military or rebel group still controls the diamond mines with machine guns, beatings and death.

The Hearts Foundation lists some vital facts about forced mining of ‘blood diamonds’ and actions we can take to be sure that our next jewelery purchase is conflict-free and ethical:

Quick Facts: Deadly Impacts of Conflict Diamonds

  • 6-7 day work weeks for diamond mining child laborers: Thousands of children work in conflict diamond mines. They do not attend school, and they work long days, six or seven days a week.[i] They must perform difficult physical tasks that involve hazards like crawling through narrow mineshafts and or frequent landslides.[ii]
  • 100,000+ child soldiers in Africa: Because conflict diamonds fuel wars, child soldiers are forced to fight as adults in adult wars. As of 2004, as many as 100,000 child soldiers as young as nine were fighting in armed wars in Africa.[iii]
  • 1 million diamond diggers: A million diamond diggers in Africa earn less than $1 a day.[iv]
  • 50,000 dead in Sierra Leone war fueled by blood diamonds: Profits from the diamond mines- supported by child soldiers, child laborers, and adult slaves – finance armed wars and conflicts. These wars involve inhumane practices such as rape, torture, and slavery involving children.[v] Diamonds fueled a ten-year long conflict in Sierra Leone that claimed the lives of 50,000 people.[vi]

Take Action! Upcycled and Conflict-Free Diamonds

  1. Upcycle family’s heirlooms for a conflict-free engagement ring: Instead of buying new diamond jewelry, you can upcycle your family’s heirloom pieces. Be sure to bring up the subject lightly with your family members, and assure them that upcycling it is a great way to ensure a conflict-free engagement. Sensitively negotiating changes to the ring is also important.  You can also upcycle gems and recycle and reuse gold from old rings of any kind to make a one-of-a-kind wedding ring.
  2. Shop for refashioned or recycled diamond jewelry: If you don’t have heirloom pieces of your own, why not shop for refashioned pieces – those that are redesigned using other jewelry and accessories. You can refashion diamonds or any kind of jewelry into a brand new piece. Search online for jewelry refashioners in your local community or search online for refashioned jewelry from sustainable sources such as greenKarat, a Green America approved business that specializes in creating eco jewelry from recycled precious metals and gems.
  3. Choose conflict-free diamonds: If you want something brand new, then choose conflict-free diamonds from reliable sources. One of the most trusted sources of conflict-free diamond engagement or wedding rings is Brilliant Earth.
  4. Buyer beware: Problems with certified conflict-free diamonds: The Kimberley Process is a diamond certification program that focuses on preventing the trade of conflict diamonds, but unfortunately the members of the Kimberley Process have not dealt with problem cases as they should. First, it doesn’t require diamonds to be traced to their origins, which means banned diamonds are often smuggled out of conflict countries and traded as conflict-free in other regions. Additionally, though certified diamonds are only required to not fund the rebel side of a war, they do not have to be free of slavery, child labor, rape, beating, or torture. Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process is the only method of certification for conflict-free diamonds at this time, so buyer beware.
  5. Go diamond-free: A less expensive option is to go diamond-free when creating or picking out a wedding or engagement ring. Choose an upcycled pearl, sapphire, or go gem-free altogether. Or think outside the box with a wooden ring such as some of those offered by Hearts!

Extra Resources:

Brilliant Earth

World Vision – Conflict Diamonds and the Congo

Amnesty International: Conflict Diamonds



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