Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kay Jewelers Audacious Evil Pitch

Now that the buying holidays approach, Kay Jewelers is making its move, sowing the airwaves with pretty seeds that depict fairytale couples spicing up their romance with a diamond. The fantasy concludes with an audacious well-worn pitch, “Every kiss begins with Kay.”

This facile claim could be dismissed as wishful and silly, if only the diamond trade weren’t such a blood-bloated pustule on the face of humanity. I’m talking the 1990’s, not the British Empire in the Age of Imperialism.

The movie “Blood Diamonds” (2006) starring Leonardo DiCaprio was a stunning exposé of this modern monstrosity, which hasn’t magically gone away since then.

“Every kiss begins with Kay.”

It is hard to begin to address the evils of this snake oil. But I’ll try. Number One: the juxtaposition of a beautiful, free and natural thing--love--with something corrupt ugly violent and perverted--the exploitation, massacre, enslavement and torture of the African people in the name of profit.

It is hubris and horror enough, on the part of Kay Jewelers, to suggest that love requires a diamond. But they don’t stop there. Even a kiss requires a diamond, Kay cajoles us. This brazen bauble of exaggeration deserves some kind of award for marketing hyperbole. It’s crazy in an infernal way, admen getting around your defenses by cloaking the dagger in a jingle.

Love is beautiful, yes. But the diamond industry is the opposite. Thoroughly tarnished with a layer of duplicitous shit. Kay’s jingle itself is a mean lie of omission. It hides a corporate karma that has implications for your conscience as a purchaser of hypnotic stones.

Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” has nothing on the De Beers corporation, which monopolized the diamond industry through the 1990’s:

“De Beers is well known for its monopolistic practices throughout the 20th century, whereby it used its dominant position to manipulate the international diamond market. The company used several methods to exercise this control over the market: Firstly, it convinced independent producers to join its single channel monopoly, it flooded the market with diamonds similar to those of producers who refused to join the cartel, and lastly, it purchased and stockpiled diamonds produced by other manufacturers in order to control prices through supply.”

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Beers )

At the same time De Beers was in charge, the following occurred:

“Blood diamonds captured the world's attention during the extremely brutal conflict in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s, where rebels carried out systematic amputations of limbs during an eight-year brutal campaign. During this time, it is estimated that up to 14% of the world diamond production was being used to fund bloody civil wars. Illicit rough diamonds have also been used by rebels to fund conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo Brazzaville). During this time, Unita, a rebel militia group in Angola, generated close to $1.5 billion from sales of diamonds mined in areas it controlled, using the proceeds to wage a brutal civil war that killed 500,000 people before ending in 2002.”

( http://www.diamondsforafricafund.org/realdiamondfacts/conflict.htm )

Have things miraculously changed to an angelic state since 2002?

Not unless those angels are cardboard masks over the faces of sneaky devils.

A collective of nations has a monitoring system in place now called the Kimberley Process, but it is rife with flaws. First of all, it is based on trust and fulfilled through a certificate issued by the producing nation member. Containers of rough diamonds are put in “tamper-resistant” containers with a certificate that promises them to be oh so good.

If anyone messes with the certificate or rough diamonds, the system fails. And of course, if the government in question is corrupt, the certificate could just be bunk.

With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, I seriously doubt that tamper-resistance containers and notices of trust are going to override a fierce history of rampant greed.

Let's face it, African governments and corruption go hand in hand.

To make things worse, a Catch-22 is built into the system. The following is truly mindboggling. I couldn’t believe what I was reading:

“The biggest weakness of the Kimberley Process is how it is monitored. Any country can become a member of the Kimberley Process by sending a letter to the organization's president, currently, the European Commission. Whether or not the country meets the standards of the Kimberley Process, it can still become a member. This means that many conflict diamonds are still getting past the Kimberly Certification Scheme because some countries don't meet the requirements of the Kimberley Process.”

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_diamonds )

Am I reading this right? A country can become a member of the Kimberely Process (KP) even though it doesn’t abide by the Kimberely Certification Scheme? What the F*$% ????

In other words, membership doesn’t imply ethical behavior.

However, Kay Jewelers makes a big deal of the protections provided by the KP on their website:


[All future references to Kay’s site are the above url]

“Our Source of Diamonds

We comply with the Kimberley Process and require all our trade suppliers of diamonds and diamond jewelry to provide us with a warranty that they do not supply us with conflict diamonds.”

Kay Jewelers seems all too aware that the Kimberley Process is heavily flawed. They point out that the diamond industry has established its own set of warranties, independent of the KP:

“To supplement the government program, the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) - representing virtually all significant processors and traders - have established a regimen of self-regulation. Its principal element is a system of warranties that will accompany invoices covering the sale of rough diamonds, polished diamonds and diamond jewelry. The requirement applies to rough diamonds mined after December 31, 2002 and products fabricated from them.”

Note that, like the KP, this protection scheme is built on a system of self-regulation, a chain of promises extending through many money-happy hands. If anyone in the chain decides to cheat, the oversight fails.

Moreover, it is unclear at what stage in the production process this corporate chain of promises starts.

Worst of all, a promise doesn’t mean oversight or supervision. It simply states that, to the best of some employee’s knowledge, everything is going fine. Anyone can promise that diamonds are being ethically mined, cut and sold. But if the promisors aren’t doing an inspection themselves, that promise doesn’t mean much, because there’s a knowledge gap.

Who is really watching what’s going on, and who is just saying that they think it’s all fine from afar?

Do Kay staff go into the mines, monitor the treatment of the workers, and watch the rough stones get put in the initial tamper proof containers? Do they guarantee that the tamper proof containers aren’t tampered with? That blood diamonds aren’t snuck into the system?

Kay doesn’t say on their website, which surely means no. Otherwise they’d brag about it.

To make things worse, right after Kay Jewelers reassures us that they are trying hard--but not certain--that their products don’t contain conflict diamonds (ahem, aren’t they more honestly called blood diamonds?), they report that the Kimberley process and other protections have broken down in Zimbabwe. So much for the chain of trust:

“On November 5, 2009 Members decided, amongst great debate against suspension of Zimbabwe, and has instead implemented a 12-month Work Plan, that specifically targets exports of rough diamonds from the country’s Marange diamond fields, the site of reported human rights violations.”

In other words, human rights violations won’t make you lose your Kimberley membership card.

Does Kay buy diamonds from Zimbabwe? They don’t say. All we get is:

“The U.S. State Department ... has called for the full and expeditious implementation of stringent controls for rough diamond shipments from Zimbabwe, and in particular, the Marange diamond fields.”

We are left to imagine the effectiveness of these “stringent controls.”

Maybe the best jingle for Kay Jewelers is, “Kay Don’t Say.”

If Kay cares so much, why don’t they mention the ethical issues in their advertisements on TV? Nah, they hope that people just won’t know or won’t ask. Better profits.

Here is the name of a diamond jeweler who focuses on the ethical issues instead of trying to hide them. Judging by their website, you have a much clearer trail of accountability and ethical oversight if you work with them:


To be comprehensive, here is a fact sheet provided by the diamond industry, followed by analysis from external critics:

Corporate Fact Sheet

Critical Documents

NGO Opinions

The corporate fact sheet points out the wonderful things the diamond industry is doing for Africans. The NGO analysis puts this glamorization in perspective.

Finally, note that factory-made diamonds are available. They are pure carbon just like diamonds from mines, and have the same octagonal molecular structure. In other words, they’re every bit as scintillating and fascinating. They only way to distinguish between the two is advanced spectroscopic tests, which the diamond industry developed to save themselves from being wiped out:



  1. Wow! Great information...I wonder if buying factory produced diamonds helps resolve the bigger problem of stopping the profitability of the larger military economy in general?

  2. This is such a great question. I wish everyone were asking this kind of question when they shopped. Wouldn't that be great for the world?

    How do we unlock the mind manacles of militarism and extract them from our economy? I think you know how to answer this better than me--I think your drawings are a great way to begin to loosen those manacles.

  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_diamonds


  4. i like that article so much. thanks

  5. I enjoyed reading this as well! Disapprove corporate jewelers, support Native American made jewelry (esp.Zuni and Navajo)! I want a turquoise wedding ring someday down the road, screw diamonds.