4 facts to consider before purchasing your ethical diamond engagement ring.
The issue of conflict “blood diamonds” has become common knowledge in recent years and many consumers have responded. Shoppers who are looking to buy ethical diamond rings often ask about conflict free options, and feel better about their purchase when it complies with standards set by organizations, such as The Kimberley Process (KP), that work to end the flow of conflict diamonds. As satisfying as it is to trust that these bodies will guarantee that your diamond is sourced socially and environmentally responsibly, there are various factors you should consider if you’re serious about purchasing an ethical diamond.
1. Enforcing the Kimberly Process is a challenge.
Thousands of diamonds, whether legal or illegal, from Africa or Central Asia, are sent to the diamond processing capital of the world, Surat, India. According to Foreign Policy’s Jason Miklian, these clean and dirty gems are delivered to facilities where legitimate and undocumented diamonds are mixed together to be cut and polished. Once sorted, the true origin of each diamond becomes obscure and blood diamonds become legitimized in the process.
“Once the Gujarat Mail reaches the end of the line in Mumbai, the stones have had their damning histories washed away, and buyers ship more than $40 billion of certified merchandise annually out of a country that international authorities say is clean. But if you own a diamond bought in the 21st century, odds are it took an overnight journey on the Mail. Odds are too you’ll have no idea where it really came from.”
2) The organizations enforcing ethical standards follow a narrow definition of “ethical”.
Even if they were fully enforceable, organizations such as The Kimberly Process aim to control the distribution of “blood diamonds” by warning consumers against diamonds that are sold to fund warfare; they do not, however, guarantee that the “ethical diamond” comes from certified ethical sources. As fair trade jewellery company Brilliant earth explains, a diamond ring labelled “conflict free” may still encourage social and environmental injustices that you don’t support.
“Under the Kimberley Process, if a diamond has not funded the rebel side of a civil war, it is not considered a conflict diamond. The narrowness of this definition means that a diamond receiving Kimberley Process certification may still be tied to killings, beatings, rape, and torture by a government army. It may have been mined using child labor, or by adults earning a dollar a day. It may have destroyed the local environment where it was mined. The Kimberley Process, in short, does very little to stop violence, worker exploitation, and environmental degradation tied to diamond mining – or most of the pressing ethical problems facing the diamond industry today.”
There are many challenges facing the diamond industry today, and it isn’t enough to avoid one part of a multi-faceted issue. So, while it is comforting to know that you aren’t purchasing a “blood” diamond, the so-called ethical diamond at your local jewellers may still be unsustainable and socially irresponsible.
3) Diamond mining encourages the displacement of indigenous peoples closer to home.
While KP-certified diamonds attempt to offer support for citizens in unsettled regions, how about citizens closer to home? Many companies offering ethical diamond rings pride themselves on offering Canadian or Australian diamonds, but at what cost to the people who live in those nations?
The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) offer indigenous peoples the right to their lands and resources, and to a consultation in good faith in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to any large-scale economic activities that might affect their communities. Despite this, conflicting laws that support industry interests often take precedence.
“ Many of the countries in which indigenous peoples live are highly dependent on investment in the mining, oil and gas sectors as a source of foreign exchange, income, and technology transfer. National laws have been adapted to facilitate such investment and ministries such as those for mining, energy or finance are charged with developing these areas. In such cases, governments pursue apparently contradictory policies, granting concessions to extractive industries that may impinge upon the legally-recognized lands of indigenous peoples.”
In order to explore and exploit non-renewable resources, governments and mining companies violate the laws set out to protect indigenous peoples and their lands, imposing on their human rights. Once displaced, the sacred environments that indigenous people are spiritually tied to and depend on for subsistence are destroyed and the strong sense of community they rely on in order to maintain their cultural identity becomes challenged.
4) The environmental destruction tied to diamond mining is massive.
In the Northwest Territories, diamond mines are wreaking havoc on water and land-based habitats in the area. The destruction of streams, drainage and change in water quality of lakes, as well as the complete elimination of 20 lakes has resulted in a loss of fish habitats. On land, caribou, grizzly bears, and wolverines have lost their habitat. Furthermore, the pollution caused by the millions of litres of diesel it takes to fuel diamond mines is a significant contributor to the greenhouse gas emission produced by the Northwest Territories each year.
Clearly, it’s time to make some changes in the way we think about and shop for ethical diamond engagement rings. If you’re married to the idea of wearing a truly ethical diamond, opt for a standout vintage piece, or, if you would prefer a modern cut, try a lab created or a recycled diamond.