So, if you want to be socially responsible, what are the options?
(1) Do nothing. The Kimberly Process, which entered into force in 2003, is a voluntary process that is supposed to ensure that conflict diamonds are not traded in participating countries (including the US).
(2) Ask for documentation of the seller’s policy on conflict diamonds, and find out how they verify their suppliers.
(3) Get a certified conflict-free diamond (probably a diamond from Canada – yes, they have diamond mines there, they are really from Canada not just via Canada).
(4) Re-use an old diamond.
(5) Since it’s difficult to actually verify where diamonds come from and the major buyers (companies) may mix them together, offset part of the cost by donating to some NGO working to combat the trade in conflict diamonds.
(6) Get something else.
The last option merits further exploration. First of all, if you are going that route – do some research on whatever it is you are planning to buy. That said, it occurs to me that perhaps, for those who are concerned about this issue, buying a diamond, even one that is conflict-neutral or conflict-free, might present a situation of marat ayin. In other words, do I want to give other people the impression that I, a politically aware, socially conscious consumer am okay with buying a diamond that might not be clean? If not, the safest answer is not to have one. I actually overheard some girls at school discussing this idea (albeit with different vocabulary!) last year when one of them was explaining why she didn’t have a diamond engagement right because while she would’ve gotten a certified one, she didn’t want others to think it was simply acceptable as-is.
However, there is not a simple right-and-wrong sort of answer. Yes, the diamond trade tends to be exploitative of poor and conflict-prone countries. However, many developing countries also rely on those exports, and boycotting diamonds could be seen as unfairly damaging their economic prospects even when the particular country of origin is not the source of the problem. As with all my favorite topics, this one defies easy answers.
I am not intending to judge people’s decisions by posting this. Rather, if I have made you think and fomented discussion, I have succeeded. I know good people who have chosen each of the above routes (or a combination thereof). The secondary motive is that people have actually asked me for advice on this subject before, as their resident international relations expert. So having it thought-through and written down is a useful exercise. Along the way, I've included a lot of links with helpful information.