Embarrassment of Riches: Conflict Diamond Regulation Breaks Down

6:52 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Men mine for diamonds in Sierra Leone. (Photo by L. Lartigue via USAID)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

The holiday season is a time of material pleasures, but it’s also a time to take stock of how our social values tend to be at odds with the objects we most prize.

While countless American shoppers splurge this month–probably to delude ourselves momentarily that we can still afford to indulge—the social cost of one luxury item has exposed a global crisis. The human rights group Global Witness has abandoned the Kimberly Process, the international regulatory framework aimed at restricting trafficking in “conflict diamonds.” The group argues that the process, which it helped create, is broken and ridden with loopholes.

Global Witness’ withdrawal points to a problem that can’t be regulated away by corporate pledges. It’s not the diamonds, but the global economic role of the mining industries, enslaving poor nations to mineral monoculture. Aside from funneling money into conflicts in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, diamonds reflect an economic tragedy that puts Global South communities at the mercy of both local despots and a global lust for beauty.

The catch phrase “blood diamond” doesn’t tell the whole story of injustices embedded in the world’s mines, which systematically devalue the lives of the the men, women and children in the pursuit of the earth’s riches.

Children have historically made up a large portion of the conflict diamond workforce, under a system that makes full use of their small bodies. In Sierra Leone, according to a report by Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic, “Beginning as early as ten years of age, child miners perform backbreaking labour under poor conditions where they receive little compensation for their efforts.” In addition to lost access to education and poverty, children interviewed for the study:

complained of body and headaches, worms, malaria and other disease; adult diggers described the dangers posed to child miners from collapsing mining pits. These conditions constitute hazardous work and violate prohibitions on child labour.

Since the industry also employs many traumatized young survivors of the civil war, labor abuses hinder Sierra Leone’s ongoing struggle for “the rehabilitation and social reintegration of children affected by armed conflict.” Read the rest of this entry →