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August 19, 2009

Diamonds are no one’s friend

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

Dr. Mohamed ElmasryOn August 6, 43 pieces of jewelry worth £40 million (US$65 million) were stolen from Graff Diamonds in London.

The drama behind Great Britain’s biggest jewel heist is still unfolding, but more important than the theft is the moral crime behind the diamonds themselves.

Most diamonds are mined in Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and South Africa, where black African miners work like slaves so that diamond companies can make huge profits.

To get an idea of this disparity, the average market value of the stolen pieces, according to the owner, exceeds US$1.5 million.

How could the difference between raw material and any finished product be as obscene as one to a million?

The short answer is advertising, which fuels demand by brainwashing us into thinking that the intrinsic value of diamonds make women more beautiful. They say, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

Gemstone diamonds are sold on exchanges where wholesalers buy relatively small lots. According to a 2002 industry report, rough diamonds produced and released to the market were valued at US$9 billion; as cut-and-polished diamonds, US$14 billion; as wholesale jewelry, US$28 billion; and as retail gems, US$57 billion. The report did not mention the production value at the source.

Since a handful of companies—mainly in Tel Aviv, London, Amsterdam and New York— maintain tight control over the supply, and limit diamond cutting and trading to very few locations, the price of diamonds is kept artificially high.

When you consider that these diamonds are made off the backs of poorly paid black Africans, companies laugh all the way to the bank, day after day, year after year, forever; giving new meaning to the expression “diamonds are forever,” doesn’t it?

Because of the suffering they cause, all diamonds today should be called “blood diamonds,” but the term is only used for those that fuel civil wars where Africans kill Africans.

An Amnesty International staffer in a CNN report on diamond mining in Sierra Leone said: “It is the poorest country in the world and it is conceivable that the diamond ring being enjoyed by a young woman in the richest part of the world could have resulted in the dismemberment of a young woman in Sierra Leone.”

Blood diamonds became an international issue in the 1990s and Western diamonds companies were shamed. They reacted by giving their customers a “guarantee” that their diamonds were not blood diamonds. How they could know for sure is anyone’s guess.

Blood diamonds were also the subject of a movie (Blood Diamond) and a History Channel documentary (Blood Diamonds), both of which ran in 2006.

In late 2000, the United Nations came out with the Kimberly Process, a set of standards that would set “legitimate diamonds” apart from “conflict diamonds,” which fuel wars. According to Amnesty International, even with its limited scope the Kimberly Process is ineffective.

Last week’s robbery was one in a series. In 2007, British police reported that two men got away with over US$16 million worth of diamonds from Graff’s Sloane Street branch. The store put up a reward of a £500,000 for information leading to a conviction but there have been no arrests. This time, police have announced a £1 million reward.

The public will most likely follow police efforts to learn more facts about the recent robbery, but the truth would be better served if the whole immoral diamond industry were exposed.

An international movement is urgently needed, not only against blood diamonds, but against the mining, cutting, selling and advertising of diamonds.

We must educate young women that giving in charity to help African children is a beautiful act worth more than the most expensive diamond.

We must change “diamonds are forever” to “charity is forever,” and “diamonds are girl’s best friend” to “diamonds are no one’s friend.”

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry can be reached at

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