Yes, diamonds do good. But what happens when they don’t?

Rob Bates

[During the week of October 25], De Beers released a report that showed that, when consumers buy diamonds—younger ones in particular—they rank sustainability concerns above traditional factors such as style and price. They want good environmental stewardship and support for local communities.

The report called this an opportunity for the natural diamond industry, which “undeniably—and significantly—positively impacts the people and place where diamonds are discovered.”

That is true, in many cases. Unfortunately, it is not true in every case, and in some cases, sadly, it isn’t true at all. While I agree the industry has done a lot of good—which you can read about herethe diamond supply chain still has serious issues that we can no longer sweep aside.

Consider: The Koidu mine in Sierra Leone is now the subject of litigation brought by irate locals complaining of mistreatment. (Owner BSG Resources denies the charges.) Petra had to settle a lawsuit after guards at its Williamson mine in Tanzania used violence against local diggers. The conduct and nontransparency of miners in Marange, Zimbabwe, has long been a problem; those diamonds are banned from the United States. Last month, a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) official claimed that a tailings leak at Angola’s Catoca mine killed 11 people in the DRC, and sickened thousands more. (Catoca denies this.) [During the week of October 18] Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition webinar brought up environmental and community issues around mining in Lesotho.

No industry is perfect, and there will always be an inherent tension when rich miners set up operations in poor countries. But these are ugly episodes, not minor blemishes. They were never acceptable, but they are even less so now.

Moreover, these problems aren’t limited to the artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) sector—which has always had issues—but involve large-scale miners. They are supposed to be the “controlled” part of the industry.

Granted, we’re not the only business with these concerns. Gemstone mining has problems; so does gold. Trillion-dollar eco-darling Tesla and other tech giants have drawn fire for sourcing cobalt from a mine where 43 artisanal miners were killed.

Yet the natural diamond business faces more scrutiny than others, due to its history and bad public image (not many industries have had a big movie slamming them). Diamonds are also a luxury product that no one needs. It also has a sharp-elbowed competitor nipping at its heels, happy to use these tragedies as marketing hooks.

This heightened scrutiny may not be fair to the diamond industry, but getting assaulted or having to drink poisoned water isn’t fair either.

So, what should the trade do? The Kimberley Process (KP) is unlikely to adequately address these issues even if it did expand the definition of conflict diamonds—which, of course, it hasn’t. The industry can’t always rely on local governments to step in; they are often partial owners of the troubled mines.

Ten years ago, I asked, if the Kimberley Process “is not the best forum to handle these questions…then what?” We still don’t know. Some say just give up natural and sell lab-grown; but killing the business in poor countries risks negating the positive effect the industry does have, and jeopardizes millions of livelihoods.

Moreover, just as with the natural sector, not all is rosy with lab-growns. Some companies have been owned by criminals, or their associates. Most synthetics are produced in Chinese factories, many of which are owned by its military. Those factories could be fine; they could be terrible. Without certification, it’s hard to know. One must always know who you’re dealing with, and refrain from painting huge, sprawling industries with a broad brush.

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Source JCK Online