Diamonds have a rarefied cultural image: the flawless symbol of love and devotion, the go-to stone for an engagement and wedding ring, the gift that always goes over well. But a new movie is bringing an ugly facet of the diamond industry to light. In Blood Diamond, the connections between the illegal diamond trade and deadly conflicts in several African countries are front and center in an otherwise typical adventure story.

Referred to as "blood diamonds" or "conflict diamonds," the profits from these gems are used to fund conflict and civil war by, among other things, enabling warlords and rebels to buy arms. These wars have resulted in the death and displacement of millions of people. According to some estimates, 3.7 million people died during wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Though the wars in Sierra Leone and Angola are over and fighting in the DRC has decreased, blood diamonds are still entering the legal diamond trade.

In an effort to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, a joint-government, international diamond industry, and civil society initiative called the Kimberly Process was introduced several years ago. The Process' certification scheme is a voluntary system that imposes requirements on participants to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free. The diamond industry also implemented a self-regulation system to support the Process and provide consumers with additional assurance. (Very few experts suggest boycotting the African diamond trade altogether, pointing to the large number of jobs that the legal diamond industry provides.)

If you're considering buying diamond jewelry and want to make sure you're not inadvertently supporting the conflict diamond trade, there are several steps that consumers can take. According to a recent press release from Amnesty International, there are four questions you should ask your retailer:

  • Do you know where your diamonds come from?
  • May I see a copy of your company's policy on conflict diamonds?
  • Can you show me a written guarantee from your diamond suppliers stating that your diamonds are conflict-free?
  • How can I be sure that none of your jewelry contains conflict diamonds?

If you aren't satisfied with the answers but still want to buy a diamond, consider looking into North American diamonds, either from Canada or the U.S. (a few gems are discovered in Arkansas each year), or perhaps purchasing a synthetic stone.

At the Fool, we believe not only in educating, amusing, and enriching our readers, but we also believe in supporting charities that, like our stock picks, have long-term, sustainable goals and sound, transparent finances. While none of this year's Foolanthropy nominees is directly involved with the diamond industry, two organizations -- Rare Conservation and Room to Read -- currently have programs operating on the African continent, to help preserve the environment and educate children, respectively. If you'd like to learn more, click here.

Online editor Sarah Erdreich is a member of the 2006 Foolanthropy Committee.