It’s been 15 years since the global effort to ban conflict diamonds began. But the industry is still tainted by conflict and misery
ax Rodriguez knows exactly how he is going to propose marriage to his long-term boyfriend, Michael Loper. He has booked a romantic bed-and-breakfast. He has found, using Google Earth, a secluded garden where he plans to take Loper for a sunset walk. The only thing that troubles him is the issue of the ring. Rodriguez has heard about how diamonds fuel distant conflicts, about the miserable conditions of the miners who wrest the stones from the earth, and he worries. The 34-year-old slips on a gold signet-style ring in the 12th-floor showroom of Vale Jewelry in New York City’s diamond district. “I don’t want a symbol of our union to also be associated with chaos and controversy and pain,” says Rodriguez.
To Mbuyi Mwanza, a 15-year-old who spends his days shoveling and sifting gravel in small artisanal mines in southwest Democratic Republic of Congo, diamonds symbolize something much more immediate: the opportunity to eat. Mining work is grueling, and he is plagued by backaches, but that is nothing compared with the pain of seeing his family go hungry. His father is blind; his mother abandoned them several years ago. It’s been three months since Mwanza last found a diamond, and his debts—for food, for medicine for his father—are piling up. A large stone, maybe a carat, could earn him $100, he says, enough to let him dream about going back to school, after dropping out at 12 to go to the mines—the only work available in