Can Mined Diamonds Ever Be 100% Ethical?
The reality of diamond mining has always been an open secret. Historically it was responsible for fueling civil wars and today, despite several strict measures and accreditations, the illegal diamond trade remains. But sadly, illegal trade is not the only issue.
Diamond mining causes serious environmental issues, destroys wildlife habitats and leads to human rights abuses.
Despite the current mechanisms and certification schemes, it is impossible to know the origin of a mined diamond.
Let’s take a deeper look at each issue…
Diamond mining and illegal trade
Unfortunately the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, designed to reduce the flow of conflict diamonds, is increasingly considered ineffective.
When diamonds reach the market under the scheme it becomes impossible to trace the country of origin or the individual mine.
The primary reason is that the KPCS is applicable to a collection of stones grouped together, and not to the individual diamond.
Africa accounts for 65% of mined diamond production, with a number of diamond mines in the region either unregulated or semi-regulated. The diamonds from these mines enter the market and the illegal trade continue to thrive.
The environmental impact of mining diamonds
Mining is destructive to the environment, however, the impact of diamond mining has wider consequences.
To extract 1 carat of diamond, 126 gallons of water is used, 1750 tonnes of soil is dug out, and 5797 tonnes of harmful mineral waste is produced.
The minded land is effectively ‘dead’ for over 150 years – a barren landscape where little grows.
The chemicals used seep into the ground and pollute underground water reserves. Water pollution endangers both human communities and the local ecosystem.
As several mines operate with partial regulations, the mineral waste produced after extraction is often not disposed of correctly, which may cause disease.
Diamond mining and exploitation
Many diamond mines, for example the Marange Mines in Zimbabwe, have become notorious for allegations of forced labour and human rights abuses.
Working in the diamond mines often means up to 12 hour days in hazardous conditions for as little as $1 a day. These workers have no rights and no holidays, and usually have no other options to earn a living.
Workers responsible for childcare often bring young children with them as they can’t be left at home alone, which can mean they start working too at a young age to help support their family.
Diamond mining linked to animal cruelty
Wildlife often pays a high price for diamond mining. For example, in Gecho Kue Lake in Canada an entire lake was emptied and more than 16,000 fish were just left to die, simply to extract diamonds from beneath.
Mining disturbs animal habitats, potentially pushing some species towards extinction.
The pollution of lakes and rivers can make areas uninhabitable for wildlife, plus migratory routes can be affected by mining sites, affecting reproductive behaviour and species well-being.
Diamond mining and child labour
Reports of children working in mines across Sierra Leone, the DRC and Angola are sadly not uncommon.
Many begin by accompanying their parents and the need for an extra income leads to them working their too.
This dangerous, dirty work sees children as young as 9 years old working in areas where adults can’t fit, where their sharp eyes, small bodies and hands are an advantage.