There are no two ways to say it – mining has a bad reputation. From chronic illness, cancer, and premature death to forced labor and modern-day slavery—and let’s not forget those billions of dollars going to fuel bloody wars and conflict in production zones. If you’re a compassionate individual, it’s enough to put you off even considering a gemstone, gold, or other precious metals.
Why Do “Conflict Diamonds” Exist?
Blood diamonds, conflict diamonds are the product of human rights abuses in many countries around the world, but most notably in Africa. Many of these countries are fraught with war and strife. However, they possess rich mineral resources and vast potential to prosper – a feature that does not go unexploited. Rebel factions fighting against their governments leverage these riches to fund their interests. The greedy are always ready to twist a situation to their advantage, despite the far-reaching cost to humanity and the environment.
Unfortunately, the divide between rich and poor in these countries is vast. It’s not unusual for children to be denied an education and sent to work in the mines to support their families. There are no safety regulations, no worker’s rights, and very little pay for the back-breaking work that fans the flames of conflict. In 2006, the film Blood Diamond brought the situation to the world’s attention, but there were already efforts underway to “stop the bleeding.”
Namibia and Botswana are excellent examples of countries with an unwavering commitment to ethical mining processes. They prioritize the safety and security of their people and have strict measures in place to prevent human rights and environmental travesties so that their people can thrive.
Canadian diamonds, are considered conflict-free. Strong legal frameworks are in place to ensure environmental restoration once mining operations close, so issues are few and far between. However, there are some exceptions, which we’ll talk about shortly.
Have We Seen the Last of Blood Diamonds?
While nobody can claim a total turnaround, there are now measures and standards to reduce the harm done in the mines and help consumers make more educated buying choices. Ultimately, the onus is on you to learn more, if you’re so inclined. But if you know the right questions to ask your jeweler, you will get the answers you need.
The truth is, conflict diamonds still exist today, but knowing the conflict zones helps you avoid them. A little research on your part will reveal ethical producers who are committed to raising people and communities up through their efforts, rather than tearing them down.
Some of the regions that are still a concern include Zimbabwe, where forced and child labor is still a significant concern. Some countries like the USA and some organizations like the GIA have banned all diamonds from Zimbabwe until they change the human rights laws and abuse.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), which has been sanctioned by the Kimberley Process, diamonds are smuggled into countries like Russia and resold as “conflict-free,” indicating that the KP standards can’t be trusted absolutely.
While Canadian diamonds are considered conflict-free, DeBeers is currently in a lawsuit brought against them for mercury contamination of the soil and groundwater. The fallout from this situation has impacted animal populations, aquatic life, and the food chain at all levels and has left the local (mostly indigenous) community unable to support its people and the infrastructure they need to thrive.
2003: The Kimberley Process
The value of the diamond industry is just over $25 billion a year. Almost half of those diamonds are destined for the United States. If 65 percent of the world’s mined diamonds come from Africa, how can you be sure you are purchasing a stone that doesn’t have blood on it?
This is the answer the Kimberley Process (KP) seeks to provide. KP’s mission is to eliminate conflict diamonds from the world’s supply. While there are still pockets of conflict, the organization has successfully prevented 98.8 percent of trade in conflict diamonds. Participating countries commit to minimum safety and ethical requirements and establish enforceable, transparent legislation, and import/export protocols. They trade only with other members of the scheme and provide certification that the goods are conflict-free.
Mining Today: What’s Changed?
Throughout history, we have become acquainted with the casualties of mining. Whether it’s coal, gold, or diamonds, mining has always been seen as a dangerous and high-risk undertaking. Miners work in unsafe conditions and risk death every day. When the mine’s riches have been depleted, communities are left with the aftermath. Deforestation, soil erosion, contamination of local wetlands, and an irreversible change in soil composition are all possible, as is excessive noise, vibration, and poor air quality. Also, when the mine is spent, people tend to leave. Local economies suffer, and some do not survive.
What’s different today is that modern mining leverages highly sophisticated machinery that is minimally invasive and significantly less disruptive to the environment. Most work is done by robotic or autonomous machinery, and much of the planning can be done virtually. Fewer humans need to be put in harm’s way, helping mining companies work smarter and more efficiently than ever before. As a result, this is also providing a new kind of education and job qualification to local village workers. Instead of being forced to endure manual labor, they learn modern skills, like computer and digital techniques, that provide them with more options and opportunities.
Such advances have also made it possible to mine with minimal impact on the environment. The best companies prioritize the safety and long-term wellbeing of the communities they operate in. Mine-site remediation is considered throughout the mine’s lifecycle, to remove or neutralize harmful contaminants so that the area can continue in a new (non-mining) capacity.
The Tip of The Iceberg
When we talk about diamonds, gold, precious metals, and the impacts of mining, it’s a subject so layered and fascinating that it would be impossible to distill it all into one article. Hopefully, we’ve got you thinking, but there’s lots more to consider if you’re committed to making an ethical choice.
Our best advice is to speak frankly with your jeweler, and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Buying a diamond is about so much more than making a statement. It’s a responsibility and a mind set. If more consumers start asking these questions, jewelers will be forced to change their sourcing methods and the ways they operate.
If you would like to learn more, reach out today.