Lab grown diamonds: an ethical choice?
Lab grown diamonds are often advertised as a more ethical product than natural. In the latest in our series of blogs comparing the advantages and disadvantages of both types of diamond, we explore ethical considerations when choosing a diamond.
There is no doubt that diamonds have a less than brilliant history when it comes to the humanitarian impact of the industry. Terms such as ‘conflict diamonds’ and ‘blood diamonds’ became common in association with the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s and similar situations subsequently where diamonds were used to illegally fund conflict. At the peak as much as 5% of diamonds by value entered the market in this way. Although the industry was disappointingly slow to responding to these abuses, the Kimberley Process was eventually created in the early 2000s, providing a system of self-regulation with certification at source and checks as diamonds cross borders. This allows new problems to be dealt with more quickly and has been largely successful in keeping illegitimate diamonds from entering the market – now approximately 0.1-0.5% by value. The Kimberley Process is not perfect but it has made a real difference in creating confidence within and beyond the industry. Ongoing efforts to provide for the traceability of stones from the mine through to the final consumer are moving in the right direction, although this is still not possible for the vast majority of diamonds.
From our point of view, buying from trusted sources that subscribe to the Kimberley Process and the similar System of Warranties that applies to cut diamonds, gives us confidence that the diamonds we are buying are from legitimate sources. Most of the larger diamonds we purchase (those from around 0.25ct upwards) are from two sources. Both are sight holders with some of the largest diamond producers, buying directly from the mines and thus reducing the opportunity for the infiltration of stones from illegitimate sources into the parcels.
The diamond industry directly supports around 10 million jobs worldwide. While many of these, primarily in jewellery manufacture and retail, would be maintained if customers switched to lab grown stones, many livelihoods relying on the initial mining and sorting of natural stones would be lost. These jobs are often based in poorer areas where opportunities for alternative work are limited and diamond production can make a significant contribution to the economy when well-managed. Botswana is an example of the difference the industry can make. Diamond production accounts for approximately 40% of the country’s GDP, paying for their much-admired education, healthcare and public transport systems that are often regarded as amongst the best in Africa.
The spotlight focus on the diamond industry means it is encouraged to keep ahead in terms of health and safety, pay and conditions. Mining is a dirty job and potentially dangerous, but diamond mining is amongst the best-regulated – a result of the scrutiny it has come under.
Away from mining, the diamond industry also provides huge numbers of jobs in cutting and trading centres around the world, especially in India which is now the world's major centre for commercial diamonds. Hari Krishna Exports, one of our India-based suppliers (a sight holder as mentioned above) is well-known for the fantastic initiatives put in place for the benefit of their workforce and the wider community, really investing in the local area and its people.
Lab grown diamonds are not associated with concerns about conflict. They are produced in relatively new, purpose-built facilities with modern health and safety requirements. We are not aware of any problems with their safety or conditions. As with the ecological impact, any associations with poor treatment or methods are more removed, related to the recovery of the necessary raw materials.
The freedom of lab grown stones from association with conflict is often highlighted as a big advantage and reason to buy. The history of natural diamond production is certainly far from perfect, but many arguments against natural diamonds seem to be based on outdated assumptions about the industry. Where properly managed natural diamonds can make an important contribution to the societies in which they are mined. As with the ecological impact, the situation is more complex than generally asserted and both products have their advantages and disadvantages.
If you have concerns about the ethics of the jewellery you are buying then please ask for more information. We try to work with suppliers who meet our own expectations in this regard and have options for wedding or engagement rings to be made with Fair Trade or recycled gold as well as natural and lab grown diamonds from trusted sources.
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