Once Again, 25 Percent of All Diamonds Are Not Blood Diamonds

A while back, some news sources reported that 25 percent of all diamonds are blood diamonds.  That contention was made by Jason Miklian, a researcher from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), following his article on the Kimberley Process and Surat for Foreign Policy.

Shocked at that number, I wrote to him, and we had a long, interesting email dialogue. And while he seemed sincere and a decent person, he never really explained where he got the statistic. 

A few months back, he wrote a piece in Wordswithoutborders.org in which he attempts to explain his statement. In the process, he basically discredited his original contention.

Here is what Miklian told Jezebel in an email: “[A]bout 25 percent of all diamonds now in the stores are blood diamonds, and nobody can tell the difference.”

And here is what he wrote recently:

[A]ll that smugglers need to do is get their stones into India’s massive diamond exchange warehouses, mix them with legitimate stuff, borrow KP certificates from legitimately imported goods, and courier the laundered products out to the West as “conflict-free” merchandise.… 

From interviews with Indian experts and my own calculations based upon Indian import/export discrepancies with the domestic market, cross-referenced with figures provided by the global diamond industry, I concluded, and stated in interviews with Gawker and other news organizations, that up to 25 percent of the $50 billion in diamonds sold across the world today might be laundered in this way—and nobody can tell which are clean or dirty. [Emphasis added.] 

Notice the changes. Before he said about 25 percent. Now he says up to 25 percent, which could mean anywhere from zero to 25 percent. To the media—and in his emails to me—he was talking about blood diamonds, which are diamonds that are associated with violence, whoever the actor. In his new article, he’s talking about illicit diamonds, which unquestionably represent a substantial part of industry production but are not blood diamonds. While smuggling remains a serious problem, it is hardly a crime of the same magnitude as killing or raping.  

He further writes:

The diamond industry howled at my findings. Many disputed the 25 percent figure, arguing that it was too high (as if a lower figure was somehow acceptable)…

The blog he links to is one I wrote in response, which can be read here. It includes this sentence:

I hope everyone agrees that whatever the number is—whether it’s 25 percent or 2.5 percent—we as an industry need to make sure no diamonds are tarnished by violence. 

I don’t think my comment could be any clearer, or more diametrically opposed to what he said.

Last night, I wrote to Miklian about this, and he was as gentlemanly and thoughtful as ever, which made me feel bad that I was about to write a negative article about him. Still, he gave yet another rationale for the number—not referenced at all in the piece above—saying his calculation includes “diamonds whose proceeds are used to support governments that commit human rights abuses against their own populations.” 

That is quite a broad definition, of the type that NGOs involved in the issue have deliberately avoided, because of the political morass it would raise. For instance, if you consider all diamond transactions are taxed, it could mean Russian diamonds, depending on how one feels about the situation there. It could apply to a wide variety of African countries. Some people don’t like the United States’ human-rights record, and we polish diamonds here. Miklian admits his definition “requires making case-by-case judgments on the actions of governments in messy political situations…. Pinning down a precise figure then becomes an extraordinarily difficult task.” Agreed, but then why give a number at all? And why keep defending the one you gave? 

While writing this article, I thought: Miklian seems like a decent guy. The problems he is talking about, at least in his FP piece, are real. We both agree that one diamond tainted by violence is too many (even though he doesn’t think we agree on that). We are probably on the same side on most of these issues. Is it worth it making a big deal out of this 25 percent number? 

I went back and forth, but for now I think there is. There is a reason Jezebel headlined its article, “25 Percent of All Diamonds in Stores Are Blood Diamonds.” If the number was six percent, it wouldn’t have made such a good story. And his stat has been picked up numerous times—by Salon, in an infographic making the rounds, and by The Week, in an article that discourages people from buying any African diamond (which is a terrible thing to recommend).

This industry has a lot of problems, mostly of its own making. (This article, about the aftereffects of one Marange mine, is really pretty sickening.) And it needs to get serious about them, or it risks losing the next generation of consumers. But exaggerating those problems doesn’t help, and hurts the 10 million people who depend on the diamond trade for their livelihood. 

So if any media outlet uses the 25 percent figure, I hope it does a little research on how it was derived, and that it’s now been changed to “up to 25 percent of diamonds are smuggled.” That isn’t as headline-making as his original contention. But it happens to be a lot more valid.

JCK News Director