PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland businesswoman is trying to save lives by putting a new twist on what she says is an antiquated industry.

Anna-Mieke Anderson is the founder and CEO of MiaDonna — one of the first companies to offer lab-grown diamonds. She started the company after learning her own engagement ring was a conflict diamond.

Anna-Mieke Anderson, founder and CEO of MiaDonna, Dec. 10, 2019. (KOIN)

In many countries, such gemstones are mined under horrific conditions.

“Consumers need to know that conflict diamonds still exist even in 2019,” she said.

Today, just one in nine diamonds can be traced back to where it came from, despite the Clean Diamond Trade Act of 2003 which prohibits “rough” (conflict) diamonds that haven’t been certified through something called the “Kimberley Process” from entering or leaving the United States.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) is an internationally-recognized certification system that imposes extensive requirements on participating nations to allow them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as “conflict-free.” It also works to prevent conflict diamonds from entering legitimate trade.

But Anderson said there are many loopholes in the system because the KPCS defines a conflict diamond as a “rough diamond mined in an area controlled by insurgent forces and used to fund war.”

MiaDonna sells jewelry with lab-grown diamonds, Dec. 10, 2019. (KOIN)

“A child could have mined that diamond, somebody could have been brutally enslaved and raped and murdered to mine that diamond but then it’s marketed to the consumer as a ‘conflict-free diamond’ which is very unfortunate,” she said.

Consumers can easily avoid the issue altogether by purchasing diamonds created in labs. Anderson said lab-grown stones are better quality than those forged by nature, can be 40% cheaper and have seven times less of an impact on the environment.

In the lab, a chemical reaction causes a piece of carbon to grow into a sizable diamond in about six to 12 weeks.

“They are both chemically, physically and optically identical — there is no difference,” Anderson explained. “It’s like making ice in your freezer versus ice on a glacier; no matter the origin, they are still the same chemical compound.”

A sign at MiaDonna in Portland, Dec. 10, 2019. (KOIN)

Bright idea

Fifteen years ago when Anderson first learned she had bought a conflict-mined diamond, she started sponsoring a young boy in an African mining community and even formed a friendship with him.

MiaDonna sells jewelry with lab-grown diamonds, Dec. 10, 2019. (KOIN)

“We started corresponding and sending letters and really developed a relationship with his family and my family,” she said. “I will never forget the day I was reading a letter and he said to me, ‘I had a great summer because only one of my classmates was killed.'”

That was when Anderson decided to do more.

“I don’t want any mother of a child to suffer for our love affair of diamonds,” she said. “So that’s when I decided I need to sell conflict-free jewelry to be the fundraiser for my foundation just so I can go in and sponsor more children.”

A picture of the young boy Anna-Mieke Anderson sponsored in Africa (left) grown up (right). (Courtesy of Anna-Mieke Anderson)

Ten percent of MiaDonna’s net profit is donated to Anderson’s foundation, The Greener Diamond. She started the foundation when she founded the company to sponsor children and their mothers who live in diamond-mining communities like those in the African country of Liberia. The Greener Diamond secures mining land and makes it available to locals for farming instead of mining.

And that boy Anderson sponsored all those years ago? He’s now studying at a university and running projects for The Greener Diamond in Liberia.

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