I was lucky enough to grow up in and around Sydney’s Bondi Beach in the 80’s, which I believe is one of the most beautiful and environmentally conscious places in the world. My father was an avid environmentalist and instilled in me early an acute awareness of being conscious of my carbon footprint. Reluctantly, I spent many childhood hours watching documentaries about issues facing the environment, people and the planet.
Many years later my father, whilst visiting my then fiancé and I in the United States, asked me if I knew where my diamond came from before it was set in my ring. Like most people, I had never considered where my diamond was sourced from, only that it had been purchased at a jewelry store. This ‘unknown’ disappointed me.
I watched documentaries and forced myself to learn as much as possible about the atrocities associated with mining diamonds from the earth. And throughout this process I found my true calling – my life’s mission if you will. To fight the diamond mining companies and create a “greener diamond” industry.
Many cherish diamonds for their beauty and have no interest in knowing where, or under what conditions they are mined. Maybe it’s the fancy marketing. Or maybe we just choose to turn a blind eye. Either way, it’s time we start creating change. The environmental and aboriginal conflicts associated with purchasing mined diamonds – labelled “conflict” or not – is atrocious and something every consumer deserves to know about.
There wouldn’t be diamonds without diamond mining, so knowing a few necessary facts is a great place to start. There are four commonly used mining techniques – open pit mining, hard-rock mining, alluvial mining, and the latest technique, marine diamond mining. All of these mining techniques leave damaging effects on the earth, sometimes irreversible.
Sadly, the demand for diamonds has increased, driving mining companies to dig deeper into the earth and/ or towards more remote locations. Because of this, the extraction process has become increasingly complex and costly to the environment.
Each year, over 150 million carats of diamonds are extracted from the earth through mining. To do so, enormous amounts of soil is removed and processed. The earth mined diamond industry would like consumers to believe that the benefits of formal (regulated) mining far outweigh the environmental impact. However, truth be told, mining is catastrophic to the local environment and its native people.
- Depending on the mine, up to 1,750 tons of earth has to be extracted to find a 1.0 ct rough diamond and consumer demand for larger diamonds is on the rise.
- The average engagement ring diamond size in 1920 was 0.30 ct. Today that has risen to 1.25 ct per.
- Diamond mines in Africa (with the exception of Botswana) have no environmental regulations and in some areas miners have been known to re-route rivers and construct dams, exposing riverbeds for mining, causing adverse effects to local fish and wildlife.
- In the Kono district of Sierra Leone mining companies have abandoned thousands of mining pits and the wildlife has vanished, the topsoil has corroded, and land that was once fertile enough for farming is now barren and depleted.
- In Zimbabwe, experts took samples of water from the Odzi and Save rivers, after cattle was dying and locals bathing in the rivers developed rashes. The experts found high levels of nickel and chromium were being dumped in the river by nearby diamond mining companies.
- So called “conflict-free” Canadian diamond mines are often built in environmentally fragile ecosystems, have significant ecological footprints, and will significantly impact upon the caribou, wolverine, bears, ptarmigan and fish which provide food for native communities.
- Canada has become a diamond producing country at the hands of the same people who are pillaging diamonds and gold in Africa. Northern Aboriginals are faced with demands from competitive and eager mining companies to stake-out, explore and develop mines on their indigenous territories. Their lives have been changed by the complicated and time-consuming agreements required to protect the interests of their people. And now, they are also being transformed by the impact of the mines themselves.
There are many loopholes and reasons why the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) does not prevent conflict diamonds, with the main problem being the definition of a ‘conflict-diamond’ is too narrow and intentionally misleading. (If you missed my earlier post The Kimberley Process Certification Scam …Oops, I mean…‘Scheme’, you should definitely have a read.)
The definition of conflict-diamond, as per the KPCS:
“Rough diamond mined in an area controlled by insurgent forces whose sale is used to finance anti-government military action”.
In the dictionary the word conflict is defined as “a struggle or an opposition” which has meaning beyond a battle or military action. The KPCS definition of a “conflict diamond” does not touch on the the negative environmental consequences of mining diamonds or the humanitarian conflict. The KPCS has been marketed to make consumers feel that if a diamond certified “conflict-free”, it means no person or environment was hurt or damaged as the diamond traveled from a mine to an engagement ring.
Many diamonds on the market are certified conflict-free, however I feel most consumers would agree with me that these diamonds are far from conflict-free. These dirty diamonds are being mined in conflict areas, causing catastrophic damage to local environments and aboriginal people, then shuffled around and certified by the Kimberley Process or The Code, making them clean, so they can be sold to unassuming diamond consumers who think they are purchasing “conflict-free” diamonds. All of which is completely unacceptable in this day and age.
- Zimbabwe: Under the KPCS definition, diamonds mined in Zimbabwe, which is notorious for killing, raping and maiming hundreds of artisanal miners, are considered “conflict-free.” This is because, despite being mined under horrific conditions, these diamonds do not fund armed forces.
- Canada: Many consumers think that Polar Ice Diamonds or Canadian Diamonds are an environmentally friendly diamond choice. This is mostly due to misleading marketing, with the pitch being that Polar Ice Diamonds and Canadian Diamonds abide by the Canadian Code of Conduct (the Code). I have many concerns about the Code because, from my experience, it seems to be another version of the KPCS, marketing to diamond consumers that Canadian diamonds are conflict-free despite the environmental and aboriginal conflict associated with mining these diamonds from the earth.
For example: the open pit Victor Mine located in Canada has an ecological footprint of up to 260,000 hectares – an area roughly four times the size of the City of Toronto that has been greatly compromised and creating irreversible damage to the environment.
- India: When a rough diamond is imported into India, it is mandatory that it arrives with a Kimberley Process certificate stating its country of origin. To begin with, the information on the certificate is of little accuracy, since certificates are known to be easy to fake and in most instances, the certificates are often tossed out anyway. And in case you didn’t know, about 90 percent of all diamonds, and probably most Zimbabwean diamonds, now pass through Surat, India for cutting and polishing, where there is a regulation-free environment and an abundance of cheap child labor. And because of the regulation-free environment, many workers suffer from “diamond lung” (tuberculosis) and other respiratory illnesses caused from inhaling tiny diamond particles over the years.
- Brazil: Open-pit mining techniques, can result in significant deforestation through forest clearing and the construction of roads which open remote forest areas to transient settlers, land speculators and small-scale miners. It is believed that these settlers and miners are a greater threat to the environment than industrial mining operations. For example ‘transient miners’ enter areas rumored to have precious commodities (gold, diamonds, etc.) and clear forest in search of wealth. They hunt wildlife, cut trees for building material and fuelwood, and trigger erosion by clearing hillsides and detonating explosives. Miners have been known to bring diseases to local indigenous populations (where they still exist). Brazil’s indigenous populations, the Yanomami natives, have lost 70% of their land and more than 20% of their population due to mining in the Amazon.
It’s unfortunate that retailers selling earth-mined diamonds use the Kimberley Process and the Code to comfort consumers who have concerns about conflict diamonds. But what’s even more unfortunate is that consumers are still falling for it.
From the moment my father asked me if I knew where my diamond was sourced from, I knew I would never wear a conflict diamond again, a diamond not only sold to fund war but also diamonds that have been irreversibly destructive to humanity and the environment. I now only wear lab-created diamonds or recycled diamonds because, the reality is, there is no need to mine for diamonds anymore, it is an outdated industry that is not right for today’s society.
- India – http://www.brilliantearth.com/news/surat-india-where-blood-diamonds-go-to-forget-their-past/
- Brazil – http://rainforests.mongabay.com/0808.htm
- Yanomami – http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/yanomami.htm
- Canada – http://www.miningwatch.ca/there-are-no-clean-diamonds-what-you-need-know-about-canadian-diamonds
Anna-Mieke Anderson has also initiated and runs ‘The Greener Diamond‘, which undertakes several development and other community projects across Africa, helping positively change lives of thousands of locals.
[This post was originally published on miadonna.com on Jan 25, 2016 and has been republished with permission]