"Conflict-free" is the new marketing slogan of the diamond industry and perhaps the single greatest set back to the sustainable fine jewelry movement.
Conflict-free refers to rough (uncut and unpolished) diamonds that have not been used by rebel movements or their allies to finance armed conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments. [definition from the Kimberley Process website]
While consumers can feel good knowing that their conflict-free diamond is not one of the illicit gems that has fueled decades of devastating conflicts throughout Africa, the promotion of conflict-free diamonds has led to consumer complacency. The diamond industry, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually in marketing, has conveniently distracted consumers from considering the myriad of other social and environmental issues most likely associated with their diamond. Even conflict-free diamonds are typically marked by water pollution, unsafe labor practices, displacement of communities, destruction of habitats, poor wages and oppression.
While conflict-free is a step down the road of sustainability, it is but a small one. Conscious consumers seeking to align their values with their purchasing decions should look beyond just conflict-free to gems that have been extracted under progressive environmental practices where workers receive fair wages and the surrounding communities benefit from the industry. Without demand from consumers, ethically sourced diamonds will remain exclusively available through a handful of jewelry companies demonstrating that sustainability is more than a marketing tool.