Diamonds have penetrated our society in so many and such deep levels, it is nearly impossible to reverse that course. They are a symbol of love, prosperity and have become so important to young men and women that they can be a reason to postpone an important decision such as marriage for lack of resources of getting one. Around all the major holidays we see adds on TV that remind us of how to express our emotions with a diamond and blatantly say that they are the way to a women’s heart. Have we grown that consumerist because of their bling or has this been happening all along through the coordinated effort of the Diamond Industry Council, or has it grown into peer pressure at this point? Whatever the reason behind it, one thing is certain - adding the political charge of the diamonds coming from a conflict zone, like the lands of Sierra Leone, did not help the diamond industry. In 2006 the movie Blood Diamond premiered in theaters and opened up a discussion about why our society needs diamonds so much, where we get them from and what the consequences are.
As a person who was born and raised outside the United States, I was very surprised to find the charge that this precious stone has here. I have always thought of it as a beautiful thing that is very rare and precious. Then I found out that it is a symbol of love and one cannot propose marriage without it in America, and some other modern countries as a resulted influence. Billions of dollars have probably been invested in commercials and other marketing instruments to convince us of that.
In 2006 the movie Blood Diamond depicted the ugly side of the diamond industry, one that hasn’t been spoken about, but that cost the death of nearly 200,000 people, employed about 23,000 child soldiers who were manipulated in such horrible ways that they were often times forced to kill their own parents, cut peoples’ hands and other unspeakable acts. The movie depicts the civil war in Sierra Leone that ended a few years ago. The Diamond Industry Council would have you believe that the issue of Blood Diamonds is over just like the war, but there are proofs to the contrary, including the fact that most jewelers cannot account for 10% of their diamonds’ origins.
This is a multi-faceted moral dilemma that can be seen very differently depending on the point of view and interests of the person looking at it. You may decide not to ever buy a diamond again, after finding out the truth about conflict diamonds and the fact that you will always have a 10% chance of getting one, however much you try to prevent that. On the other hand, the Diamond Industry Council, together with most jewelers I’ve personally asked when I was on the market for one, will promise you that they can account for all of their diamonds and speak with a tone in their voice that implies that Blood Diamonds are a myth, an Urban Legend. They direct you to their web site where you can read their fine-print disclaimer, if you have the time to do that. From an even other stand point, Sierra Leoneans are very concerned with the impact of newly found consciousness of the modern world and the decline in demand of their diamonds as the country’s prosperity and fragile new economy heavily depends on that demand.
From a consumer stand point; do we have the moral standards to decrease our constant need for materialistic expressions of our emotions? Can we see through the marketing campaigns of the diamond sellers who are trying so hard and are spending billions of dollars to convince us that every time we have a special occasion we must have a diamond to celebrate it – engagements, weddings, anniversaries, even religious holidays like Christmas, have become one more marketing campaign where people have to be reminded of their need to buy a diamond for their loved one. It is a beautiful gift, and could be a very special one, but when did it become the standard for love to a degree where I have heard from many bright intelligent women, that they will postpone marriage until their partner has the ability to buy them a diamond. Has this gone beyond symbolism? You have to wonder how this effect was achieved. I haven’t been in this country long enough to know for a fact, but from the past several years, and as a marketing professional, I have observed the marketing campaigns of some of these big jewelry retailers and must admit they are quite effective. But are they ethical? Do they “create” a need, or simply address one? Are the consumers to blame or is it the diamond industry? And is it really so bad to want to have a diamond when everybody around you expects you to have one?
First thing’s first, the Diamond Industry launched an expansive campaign, prior to the release of the movie, because they expected it would greatly diminish their Holiday sales. From a PR perspective, they tried to lobby their way into the movie and asked the director to include a disclaimer that the war is long over and everything is great right now, and they are following the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, that was enacted in 2003, to monitor the origins of diamonds. When the director refused to do that (he spoke about it in an interview), because he doesn’t believe the problem has been fully resolved, they bought full-page ads in the major publications for months trying to attack the issue before it has even occurred. This was a very successful PR tactic and some may say it has succeeded. My question to the Diamond Industry Council is, aside from the 10% of diamond sales that are still untraceable (this can’t be found in their ads), what was the industry doing in the 90s, when activists claim many retailers stocked up on blood diamonds exactly in anticipation that they won’t be so cheap and illegal for too long. Those diamonds were not sold immediately, because that would have driven the demand down and with that - the price of diamonds. And since diamonds are not perishable goods, they can be stocked to wait for better days like right now. There are two problems that arise from that, provided the activists are correct. One is, the industry participated in trade from these regions and thus supported and invested into a war that killed hundreds of thousands, made warriors out of little children and performed unspeakable atrocities. Two, stocking up diamonds from 1999 means that even if they don’t necessarily trade with those same illegal suppliers, retailers still have blood diamonds in their inventory that they sell now. It is interesting to note, that in September of 06 a Government Accountability Office Report found that the US government is not doing enough in enacting the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme.
From a consumer stand point, if you are like me, you might be so disgusted with this whole business of selling diamonds that despite the “bling bling” effect, the engraved idea from when you were a child that this is the symbol of love, and the pressure from your peers of having to have a diamond on your finger - you might give up on diamonds all together and become a responsible consumer.
From the business stand point, it is tricky at best, in terms of finding a balance between what is best for your multi-million dollar business, and what is ethical. It is obviously not in their best interest for the demand of diamonds to decrease. So from a business perspective, what they did in response to this movie was brilliant. They tackled the problem before it even appeared and thus were prepared when it happened and had control over it. This is straight out of the Public Relations books on how to react to a crisis. The industry took the issue seriously and faced it openly by talking to their customers through the various marketing channels and in person when approached by them at the point of sale. The diamond retailers did everything they could and with time the issue is becoming less and less apparent – fewer customers are asking the retailers about the policy on conflict zone suppliers. This is where the business aspect succeeds but the ethical issue remains unresolved.
I read somewhere in my research about this issue, that a small retailer took the issue to heart and implemented a policy to import all of its diamonds from Canada only. A small retailer can probably be more flexible with changing their suppliers, though still that must have caused the business some extra effort. If used wisely by their marketing efforts, this can turn into a very profitable undertaking; not only addressing the issue but also offering a solution and thus leaving customers feel good and guilt-free about their indulgent purchase.
How confident are you in the origin of your diamond, or the diamond you will eventually own one day?