From ethical nightmares to moral clarity

Sergei Goryainov

What is the chance for an American consumer to buy these days a piece of diamond jewelry made of a rough diamond found, for instance, in the Soviet Union in 1974? Or in Angola in 1993? Or in Côte d’Ivoire in 1995? According to Chaim Even-Zohar, the “home mine” owned by the U.S. population has a stock of diamonds worth about $ 0.5 trillion.

Every year, part of this huge stock finds diverse ways to the secondary market. It is hard to say exactly how large that part is – merchants are reluctant to trumpet the fact that their goods contain diamonds which have been in use. But according to various estimates, diamonds put back to circulation account for 5% to 20% of annual sales, and in any case the likelihood to buy a product “past sell-by date” appears to be well above zero.

Thus, a U.S. citizen, for whom of course human rights are a top priority, may get a polished diamond cut from a rough diamond recovered, say, from the Udachny Mine in 1974. What a bad luck… It was exactly the year when the U.S. Congress passed the Jackson-Vanik amendment imposing restrictions on trade with countries violating human rights. Yes, it was indeed a bad situation with human rights in the Soviet Union, and the above diamond crystal, so to speak, was washed in bitter tears of a Jew deprived of any possibility to emigrate to Israel by the KGB. Needless to say about diamonds coming at that time from Angola and Côte d’Ivoire – they were just bathed in the blood of people in those countries. So, what will you do being aware there are too much blood and tears on your finger (ears or whatever it is)?

Oh yes, these diamonds cannot be considered “conflict,” “dirty,” “blood,” etc., from the legal point of view, because in those years there was no Kimberley Process and such terms did not exist. And the law, as we know, is not retroactive. The law is not. But morality? Is there any difference from the standpoint of morality in what year, be it 1993 or 2003, people were killed for this diamond?

Well, let’s talk about morality, something so passionately urged to be discussed by Martin Rapaport in his article, Moral Clarity and the Diamond Industry. The main idea of this somewhat eccentric essay is quite clear – the concept of “conflict diamonds” should be significantly expanded in “moral” or, if you like, in “ethical” terms, obviously to the limits specified by the Conflict Minerals Law, as well as by the recommendations of Jewelers of America and Responsible Jewelry Council. Although the article deals with diamonds from Marange, the author is unambiguous in articulating the general principle: “U.S. purchases or sales of Marange and/or other diamonds involved in human rights abuses present a grave and immediate danger to the U.S. diamond market as well as the companies and brands selling diamonds.

A perfect principle. Especially when you consider that the greater part of the diamond stock, which is owned by the U.S. population, was accumulated in the 20th century due to diamond mining in South Africa, dominated, as you know, by the apartheid regime, and also in the Soviet Union, the “evil empire,” and in African countries immersed into civil wars for decades. It is just amazing how the owners of such a nightmare can peacefully sleep, having read “Moral Clarity and the Diamond Industry.”

But it seems that in the view of Martin Rapaport morality is something that has clear time limits. Polished diamonds made of rough diamonds supplied to the market by Angolan rebels in the mid-1990s are free to circulate, whereas polished diamonds made of rough diamonds mined in Marange in 2013 are not. This “moral statute of limitations” looks like the most significant discovery in ethics since Spinoza and Kant. And we should pay tribute to Martin Rapaport, for he is successfully applying it in practice.

As recently as six years ago, in an article entitled Ethical Nightmares: Global Witness Leads NGOs on Campaign Against Artisanal Diggers Rapaport criticized Global Witness just for its attempt to broaden the interpretation of the “conflict diamonds concept linking it to violation of human rights and in particular to the use of child labor. Moreover, Rapaport rightly pointed to the futility of applying Western ethical standards in Africa: “But what is “good” and “bad” in the context of West Africa? Can we apply Western standards to Africa? Consider something simple like child labor. If the life expectancy of a Sierra Leone male is 38, how old is a 15-year-old in Sierra Leone years? If there is no school and no food, what is a 15-year-old to do? Starve and let his family starve or work?

What’s the truth, pal? When Martin Rapaport was closer to it – six years ago or today? When he wrote “Ethical Nightmares…” or when he published “Moral Clarity…“? In our opinion, he was right on both counts. Sadly, but it is quite possible that this statement can permanently damage the reasoning power of some connoisseur of the Aristotelian logic, and yet we have to insist on it. In Russia, people of Martin Rapaport’s generation are well familiar with the euphemism “to oscillate together with the Party Line,” i.e. be alert to toe the trends set by a political moderator. Such an ethical credo was to guarantee career success, and in this sense its adherent was inevitably right changing his or hers views to the opposite from time to time.

Rapaport was absolutely right six years ago, pointing to the futility of Western standards of human rights applied to Africa – it is impossible to implement them in any African country and this is the reality. And Rapaport is once again absolutely right that it is time to put forward such demands. Africa is quickly immersing in political turbulence. We predicted this process a few years ago and now it is sufficient to see any news release to be convinced that the forecast had been correct. It is a planned and controlled process, which is part of the mechanism of recovery from the global economic crisis. A necessary condition for such a mechanism to function is to block (and/or threaten to block) the supply of primary commodities from conflict-ridden African countries, the preliminary list of which is contained in the Conflict Minerals Law and is most likely to be expanded. The threat of reduced supplies is an indispensable driver of commodity prices, the growth of which, in turn, is necessary to sterilize the liquidity injected into the economy by the FRS and ECB under the “quantitative easing” programs.


That is why the key result of Martin Rapaport’s insights into ethical issues is the question of price: “The obvious need for separating good and bad diamonds is also an opportunity to create a differentiated diamond product category with a unique selling proposition. We can add value to legitimate generic diamonds through ethical source certification that emphasizes and markets their goodness. A diamond with a documented legitimate supply chain is worth more than a diamond from an unknown source. We need to market this.”

A brilliant thesis. As it turns out, morality has not only the temporal boundaries, but also the price. However, this is no news. As we know, the sale of indulgences was once a major source of income for the Catholic Church. And the desire to convert “human rights” into quite tangible profits is simply resulting from a correct understanding of the current political trend by Martin Rapaport. His lively way of thinking and his pioneering innovations within the diamond business are known to all industry players and he often demonstrates the ability to be ahead of time. Unlike “Izhakoff and his WDC gang.” But there is nothing to worry about, the confidence that the WDC will share the view of Martin Rapaport is growing every day as more and more African countries are drawn into conflicts in West and Central Africa.



“That is why the key result of Martin Rapaport’s insights into ethical issues is the question of price: The obvious need for separating good and bad diamonds is also an opportunity to create a differentiated diamond product category with a unique selling proposition.


In terms of logic and from an ethical perspective, the idea of binding human rights in Africa to “conflict minerals” in general and to diamonds in particular may be disputed ad infinitum. But what’s the point? The issue seems to be resolved, and the US AFRICOM was by no means established to take part in such discussions. After all, “human rights” is a relatively recent invention, but there are time-tested moral constants formulated by well known humanists at the dawn of the diamond market:

Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim Gun, and they have not

Hilaire Belloc. The Modern Traveller (1898).

Source Rough&Polished