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Which diamonds are truly ethical? The surprising answer.

In my previous post, I looked at the validity of the claim that Canadian diamonds are eco-friendly (Brilliant Earth even refers to them as ethical). In my opinion, ethical and eco-friendly denotes a positive effect – not something we can say about diamonds that harm the environment from which they are sourced.

Botswana diamonds

After I canceled my order for a Canadian diamond, I looked into the diamond industry in Botswana to see if this was a better alternative (also offered at Brilliant Earth). Botswana is hailed as a champion in small scale economies. In the 1970s, Botswana made a deal with DeBeers to allow them to operate their diamond mines in their mineral rich country, in exchange for a 15% stake in the company. This seemingly small stake allowed Botswana to build paved roads, schools, and hospitals, and provide free education and HIV vaccines to their people. Now, however, their economy is suffering and their sales are at an all time low due to heavy competition with China and Russia [Source]. DeBeers has already begun closing down exhausted mines in the region [Source].

Any pros of diamond mining in Botswana are fading fast from reality. Even when we look into the origin of the growth of the diamond industry there, we can see that indigenous people were illegaly removed from their lands so that their land could be mined [Source]. The mining industry in Botswana, as one group of researchers observed when looking at a copper-nickel mine, brought an influx of migrant workers, outstripped the town’s capacity to provide social and housing support, and led to the creation of squatter settlements [Source].


Botswana Diamond Mine: Image [source]


The Bench Marks Foundation raises many issues with the Botswana diamond industry, from the discouragement of organized unions, to the environmental impact, to the legislation that had to be enacted to pay workers for health issues suffered as a result of mine work [Source]. In August 2004, 3800 workers at both the Orapa/Letlhakane and Jwaneng mines went on strike and demanded a fair increase in payments and bonuses, rejecting what they termed were slave wages [Source]. The strike was deemed illegal and hundreds of workers were fired.

” As long as mining houses disregard their duty to consider the interests of all stakeholders and get away with negative environmental and social impacts such as damaged eco-systems and dispossessed and disempowered communities the road to sustainable development will be long and arduous.”

– John Capel, Executive Director, Bench Marks Foundation [Source]

The Bench Marks Foundation also noted that “The mining operations actually fences out the surrounding community and fences in the ‘closed’ community living in the mining towns operated by the company, reinforcing the closed/secretive nature of the mining sector in Botswana”. Workers who live on company property must apply to have visitors through management and BMF compares this system to that of a prison [Source]. And although environmental protection acts have been signed into law, communities are not consulted with, and no community has the right to refusal of opening up mining on their land [Source].

“The mining operation also requires massive amounts of water to cool machines, to wash gravel, to supply potable water to the residents of the mining towns, etc. This view was confirmed in a paper by Conoly and Gibson who explained that to create the necessary optimum conditions, well fields of boreholes are created around the operation to pump out the ground water so as to effect the required drop in the water table.

Botswana is severely water stressed“.


BMF found a history of neglect regarding water pollution, silence on human rights violations of indigenous communities on or around mined land, and coal-based energy use, despite promises for a greener business [Source]. From rivers diverted for use in mining that leave residents without access to water or fishing, to the lack of independent environmental inspections not funded by the diamond industry, Botswana cannot be considered an ethical diamond industry.

Image [source]

Lab Grown Diamonds

Another diamond that carries the ethical and eco-friendly tag is the lab grown diamond. While it has far less implications on social impact, it’s environmental impact is not nonexistent. Lab grown diamonds are created with the same pressure the earth uses to turn carbon into diamonds, except this process is synthesized in a lab. The process uses two key methods for making synthetic diamonds – High-Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) process and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) [Source]. Synthetic diamonds are actually “grown” from tiny diamond seeds (so real diamonds) in a 4,000 lb machine. So while lab grown diamonds may have a lesser impact than some natural diamond mines, it still has an impact and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

” The energy usage for synthetic diamonds on a per carat basis may still be considerably greater than for mined diamonds because of issues of scale.”

– Saleem H. Ali, “Ecological Comparison of Synthetic versus Mined Diamonds” [Source]

Image [source]

Recycled or Pre-owned Diamonds

Now for the main event – the truly ethical diamond. Surprise – it’s the one that does not create demand for newly mined diamonds. There are two parts to this category: the first is buying recycled (both metal and stone) jewelry from a designer. The second, slightly better option, is to buy vintage. There is no energy used to produce the ring in real-time, no new greenhouse gas emissions, except maybe in the way it is shipped to you, or if the store you buy it from doesn’t use LED lightbulbs. Buying vintage or pre-owned diamond jewelry is by far the most ethical way to buy diamonds. 

While some people may be concerned about “karma”, I personally feel that your own power is far greater than any you believe to be embedded in a piece of jewelry. Not only do I think you can overpower any negativity in the ring, but you can also cleanse it with sage for peace of mind. I think that the karma from a newly mined diamond by workers still alive and struggling in their difficult jobs, with it’s current environmental impact is far worse.

So which diamond ring did I choose for my engagement ring? I’ll share that in an upcoming post.

Main image [Source]

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