Are Canadian Diamonds Ethical?
We often assume that in countries like Canada and the United States, businesses and governments operate ethically and don’t ever violate human rights. When it comes to the gemstone and metal mining sector, we may think that our robust laws governing wages, working conditions, and environmental protections all ensure ethical mining.
But do the existence of these laws really tell the full “ethical” truth?
Let’s consider the “gold standard” of ethical diamond mining – Canadian diamonds. Many in the jewellery industry would like us to believe that if a diamond has been mined in Canada, then it did not fund war or terrorism, and is therefore ethically sourced. While Canadian diamonds are not as notoriously damaging as Blood Diamonds that financed war and genocide in other parts of the world, Canadian diamonds are not without their problems. We must expand our definition of ethical diamonds to include Indigenous and community issues.
The challenges facing many Northern Canadian communities where diamond deposits exist are numerous – lack of safe & reliable drinking water, changing climate patterns disrupting traditional ways of life, lack of adequate access to housing and meaningful employment, addiction, and mental health challenges.
While it may seem that locating a diamond mine near a community may offer economic and social benefits, the benefits that are offered may fail to be realized.
The Government of Canada requires Impact Benefit Agreements with mining companies to ensure that resource extraction taking place on Canadian soil is mutually beneficial. These agreements are to cover things like skills training, employment, infrastructure development, environmental protections, and environmental remediations.
However, there are many examples of how these agreements that may appear fair on the surface have actually failed to provide tangible benefits to the local communities.
An example of this is in Attawapiskat, Ontario, during the time that the De Beers Victor diamond mine was in operation. Although the mine was profitable and an Impact Benefit Agreement was signed, the local Indigenous community failed to thrive. The community faced a serious housing crisis, a clean water crisis, and even a mental health crisis among the community members which De Beers, the Canadian government, and the Ontario government failed to address. Although millions of dollars of diamonds were extracted from the Attawapiskat First Nations’ traditional lands, the community continues to fight for access to resources that many other Canadians take for granted. This is just one example of many where diamond mining has failed to be mutually beneficial in Canada’s North.
Mining work is incredibly grueling in many ways, with rotating shift work being common. This type of work has been shown to increase the risk for mental health challenges and substance abuse.
Diamond mining is also an involved and environmentally risky process, damaging not only the land that is being mined, but the entire environment surrounding it, including the people. Extracting rock exposes air and waterways to pollutants previously deep inside the earth which go on to bioaccumulate in animal, plant, and human life. Disruptions to the local ecosystem can have devastating long-term impacts to local communities.
If our government’s Impact Benefit Agreements are truly working, then local Indigenous communities with diamond mines on their traditional lands should have access to clean & safe drinking water, affordable housing, employment, mental and physical health services, and all that is needed for the community to truly thrive.
When we talk about ethical sourcing and ethical mining, we mean so much more than just ensuring the absence of conflict where our gems were extracted. We strongly believe that ethical sourcing and mining is entirely about creating conditions where all can thrive.
If you’d like to check out our sources and do your own research on the topic, we’ve provided a list for you: