Synthetic Diamonds – Are they really “Ethical”?

Reports from various sources indicate that significant advances are being made in the production of synthetic diamonds. As more companies enter the business and begin to market their products, some disturbing trends are starting to emerge with respect to their marketing message. Some high profile outfits are making a strong push to position their synthetic product as an “ethical alternative’ to natural diamonds. Unfortunately, this claim is largely untrue, it is misleading to consumers, and it is tragically unfair to millions of innocent people.

Leonardo DiCaprio – On the Wrong Side of the Issue

Most recently, Leonardo DiCaprio has lent his name to the marketing efforts of a corporation called Diamond Foundry, a company in which he has a significant financial stake. Mr. DiCaprio was prominent in popularizing the issue of conflict diamonds as the star in the movie Blood Diamonds and as such, his advocacy for synthetic diamonds as an “ethical alternative” to natural diamonds carries enormous weight with the buying public.
But let us take a look at the facts. According to Martin Rapaport, one and a half million artisanal diamond diggers and some seven million people they support rely on the sale of natural diamonds to sustain their lives. In 2002 (four years before the movie came out) the Kimberley Process (KP) had already been established through the United Nations to address the problem of conflict diamonds. According to the KP website, “the only current case of rebel forces controlling diamond-producing areas is in Côte d'Ivoire. These conflict diamonds constitute less than 0.1% of the world's production, according to estimates from the Kimberley Process (KP) and the United Nations.”

Open Letters to Leonardo DiCaprio

In response to Mr. DiCaprio’s statements about synthetic diamonds, Martin Rapaport who is one of the most prominent figures in the diamond world, wrote an open letter to Mr. DiCaprio imploring him to redirect his efforts to help the millions of people who benefit from natural diamond industries, many of whom are the very people whose plight he highlighted in his film. Indeed, to the extent that his influence unfairly depicts the natural diamond industry as essentially “unethical”, those very people who depend on natural diamonds for their livelihood, their education, and their access to health care, will be damaged by his representations. And that would be the most unethical of all outcomes to bring about. It should be noted that Mr. Rapaport has been a very vocal proponent of ethically sourced diamonds and has taken very strong action to expose illicit trading in conflict diamonds. So it is clear that both Mr. Rapaport and Mr. DiCaprio share the same humanitarian goals.
In a separate letter to Mr. DiCaprio, Mr. Ian Smillie of the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) which works with governments, industry, and NGO’s to promote and enhance beneficiation efforts in diamond mining communities, made a similar direct plea for responsible messaging. His letter explained how positioning the synthetic product as “ethical” and thereby implying natural diamonds to be “unethical”, would be extremely damaging to the social cause that Mr. DiCaprio is advocating. The letter suggests that he could make a true contribution by using his influence to work with DDI and other organizations to improve the conditions and opportunities for those working in the natural diamond industries.

Whiteflash Supports Rapaport and DDI

Whiteflash fully supports the efforts of Martin Rapaport, DDI, and many other knowledgeable and well intentioned members of civil society in calling for the synthetic diamond industry to market their product accurately and fairly. If they are truly interested in “ethics” they will not demonize an entire population of workers and their families who are engaged in the legitimate and peaceful pursuit of an honorable and often tenuous livelihood.
We recognize that synthetic diamonds have a place in the jewelry industry and fully support the idea that new and innovative companies should be welcomed to the market for the benefit of the consumer. But all products must be marketed with integrity. Messaging the value proposition of the synthetic product should not involve disparaging all those involved in and around the natural diamond industry. And it should not mislead the public into thinking they are helping anyone other than the corporations who are manufacturing and selling synthetics grown in a laboratory.

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