Wednesday, April 24, 2019

How modern tech is helping the fight against conflict diamonds

With many of these technologies becoming common within the industry, we might soon live in a world without conflict diamonds, which should contribute to peace and stability in war-torn areas of the world – at least in the long run.   

It’s been close to two decades since the global effort to rid the world of conflict diamonds began.

At the turn of the century, diamonds had come to mean different things to different people. For many in the developed world, diamonds meant joyful, teary-eyed proposals and lifelong commitments. For brokers and high-end jewelry retailers around the world, they meant thriving businesses and handsome profits.

But for the huge labor force that toiled day and night in mines under precarious working conditions, diamonds meant a chance for a meal and, for many in African war zones, a chance to live.

Conflict or blood diamonds became the name for diamonds mined in war-ravaged areas, chiefly in Africa, the source of 65% of the world’s diamonds. Armed rebels had turned most of the continent’s diamond mines into their cash cows, fanning a relentless reign of terror that gripped the continent for years.

Over a decade later and after relentless efforts to rid the world of blood diamonds, a significant number of conflict diamonds still find their way into the multibillion-dollar international market, thanks to loopholes within established systems meant to keep them out. In the Central African Republic, for instance, a country plagued by conflict since a 2013 coup, you can get blood diamonds by simply searching through Facebook and WhatsApp for your stone of choice.

But with advances in technology, we might finally have a world that is free from conflict diamonds. The past few years have seen industry players using tech to keep blood diamonds out of circulation.

Here are some of the ways technology is lending a helping hand in the fight against conflict diamonds.

  1. Drones

Back in 2015, the USAID and the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) deployed an advanced scanning drone, the Phantom 1 UAV, in Western Guinea to help map and monitor diamond mining operations within the expansive diamond mining regions of the country.

The scanning drone, fully equipped with several hi-res cameras, was used to create elevation models and maps of the seven major mining sites in the country in efforts to keep tabs on mining locations, the intensity of activities and production, and to track the long-term trajectory of the industry.

Maintaining aerial surveillance with drones is among the best uses of modern technology to help keep track of diamonds from the mining fields to eventual jewelry shops. It’s also an important element of the Kimberley Process, the global initiative to stop the flow of blood diamonds.

After initial success in Western Guinea, drones have successfully been used to flush out illegal mining camps in many African countries, helping slow down the proliferation of conflict diamonds.  

  1. Blockchain

Blockchain technology is among the most exciting technologies we’ve seen over the past decade. The blockchain, a decentralized ledger that holds a permanent record of all transactions on its platform, first became popular as the basis for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

In recent years, it’s become a game-changing addition to many industries, including the jewelry industry. The Kimberley Process, a major movement against blood diamonds, largely depends on documentation and many human-dependent processes that can be easily tampered with, making it impossible to ascertain with 100 percent certainty the legitimacy of the diamonds.

This is where the blockchain comes in. Because the records on the blockchain cannot be tampered with and remain visible across the network, many in the diamond industry are embracing blockchain technology to store details about individual stones, including its color, clarity, and carat.

This way, distributors and buyers can establish the true source of the diamonds, thanks to the tamper-proof audit trail left by each diamond as it passes through the blockchain network.

  1. RFID and NFC

For many of us who live in a tech-centric world, RFID and NFC should be familiar terms, even though we might not fully grasp their technical aspects.  

RFID, short for Radio-frequency identification, uses electromagnetic technology to keep track of objects via an RFID tag attached, for instance, to your luggage bag at the airport or manage stock at your local retailer.

NFC, which is short for Near Field Communication, allows two devices to communicate wirelessly as long as they are within 4 cm of each other. It’s usually common with payment systems, for instance with credit cars and smartcards.

For the past few years, these technologies have been increasingly used to keep track of diamonds. NFC and RFID-based technologies are being used to tag diamonds from their point of origin, making it difficult to tamper with the precious stones along the supply chain. They are used to track movements, identify deficiencies, and monitor production, often from the second the ore is loaded onto a transport vehicle at the mine.

With many of these technologies becoming common within the industry, we might soon live in a world without conflict diamonds, which should contribute to peace and stability in war-torn areas of the world – at least in the long run.   

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