BUFFALO, N.Y. -- You've already decided that you're going to pop
the question. Now comes another quandary: Where to get the ring, if
you're buying one?
The holidays are a busy time for engagements, and Trina
Hamilton, a University at Buffalo expert in corporate
responsibility, says socially minded consumers have a lot to think
about when it comes to finding the right rock.
In recent years, shoppers have turned to Canadian diamonds as
news reports and movies exposed the diamond trade's role in fueling
armed conflicts in developing countries. (Think "Blood Diamond,"
the 2006 thriller featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as a diamond smuggler
in 1990s Sierra Leone.)
But Hamilton says choosing an ethical diamond is more
complicated than avoiding war zone stones.
"Many people who are planning proposals choose Canadian diamonds
because they don't want anything tarnishing the story of their
engagement, but doing the least harm doesn't mean you're doing the
most good," says Hamilton, an assistant professor of geography.
Ethical options for today's consumers extend beyond Canadian
In a survey of 94 diamond retailers who promote themselves as
ethical sellers, Hamilton and her students found that 13 were
marketing ethical stones from countries other than Canada,
including Botswana and Namibia. These two African nations have been
recognized for using the diamond trade and associated revenues to
create jobs and fight poverty.
Even in Sierra Leone, there are efforts to develop "fair trade"
diamonds, and some analysts suggest that diamond exports have
helped to fund reconstruction since the country's civil war ended
in 2002, Hamilton says.
"Consumers need to decide what they want their money to do,"
Hamilton says. "Starting in the late 1990s, Canada quickly cornered
the ethical market. But now there's a bit of a backlash: People
have concluded that it's not addressing the issue of development of
these African countries that suffered during the conflicts, and
they're also starting to question whether Canadian diamonds are as
conflict-free as is often claimed."
If you're shopping for a diamond this holiday season, here are
some tips from Hamilton:
Look Beyond 'Conflict-Free': Many retailers
boast that they comply with the Kimberley Process, a certification
scheme designed to prevent the trade of "conflict diamonds." But
Hamilton says this is the bare minimum. Because the Kimberley
Process defines "conflict" very narrowly, it doesn't address
concerns like government-fueled human rights abuses; labor
standards; or environmental impacts, she says. Shoppers should be
aware that countries without Kimberly-designated conflicts are not
necessarily free of other problems.
Don't Settle For a Gift to Charity: Twenty-one
of the retailers Hamilton surveyed donate a percentage of profits
to charity. This may be a commendable add-on, but in and of itself,
"it's not addressing industry practices within the diamond trade,"
Hamilton says. Finding retailers who are also engaged in
initiatives to improve social and environmental standards within
the industry may be a more effective way to produce social change,
Remember That Activism Matters: Consumer
spending is an important way to influence business decisions, but
people who are passionate about a cause shouldn't stop there,
Hamilton says. Protests, and other forms of direct activism, are
also a critical part of changing the industry and addressing
broader issues of social and environmental justice, she says.
Hamilton emphasizes that there's no single answer as to what
constitutes an ethical diamond. Consumers will arrive at different
decisions about what to buy based on their specific social and
environmental concerns, she says. She notes that even in Canada --
where the diamond in Hamilton's engagement ring was sourced --
mining of the stones has caused some strife between companies and
Besides diamonds sourced from countries of interest, Hamilton's
survey of 94 sellers found that nine offered recycled diamonds,
such as antiques, while six sold lab-created diamonds. The survey
-- part of an ongoing study -- was based on retailer websites, with
the researchers doing an in-depth analysis to identify product
offerings, marketing strategies and discussion of ethical
Hamilton's partners on the project include UB PhD candidate Seth
Cavello and UB undergraduate student Christine Tjahjadi-Lopez. The
work was supported by the UB Humanities Institute, Baldy Center for
Law and Social Policy, and Canadian-American Studies Committee.