Simple in its logic, the laboratory-grown diamond sector has long positioned its products as an ethical alternative to mined diamonds. If it’s difficult to ensure that a natural diamond is not associated with conflict or human rights violations in some war-torn country, they state, why not avoid the dilemma by buying a man-made stone that was grown in a factory in a western, democratic nation.
“Our diamonds are sustainably grown aboveground in America’s beautiful Pacific West, powered by the Columbia River,” states the American laboratory-grown diamond manufacturer the Diamond Foundry on its website. “Avoiding the vast human and environmental toll of mining means: no conflicts funded, no land displaced, no wildlife displaced, no animals harmed, no ground water polluted, no local communities displaced.”
It’s a compelling argument, and one that is a resonating among younger consumers, who research shows are more socially and environmentally conscious than their parents, at least when it comes to buying luxury products.
But this considered by some to a morally bankrupt argument, for while it ensures affluent western consumers that no animal, plant or human being was directly hurt during the manufacture of a laboratory-grown diamond, it ignores the plight of literally millions of poverty-stricken individuals who may have their main source of income removed because the diamonds they mine are not man-made.
MORE TRACTION IN THE MEDIA
While the argument that natural diamonds represent real social value has been made by some in the diamond sector, it traditionally has gained very little traction in the popular media. But this may be changing. In an article recently published by the Britain’s The Guardian newspaper and website, Tess McClure writes that switching to synthetic gems may have environmental upsides, but it could harm the very communities consumers worry about.
“If you start to grow diamonds in a lab, you’re not only taking away a job, but you’re also closing down communities and closing down countries,” McClure quotes Urica Primus, president of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation. “How will [miners] survive, how will they sustain themselves, their livelihoods, their families?”
Luxury companies that care about ethics should invest in improving standards in the mining areas, and not disappear, Primus to The Guardian reporter.
Laboratory-grown diamond manufacturer the Diamond Foundry has made its sustainability claims a central plank of its marketing strategy.
“These companies have made millions and millions of dollars from mining. Now, what percentage of the profits are they willing to give back, and support the development of the industry that has basically kept them alive for decades?” she stated.
Primus said that she is not only concerned about the miners. “It’s the government’s ability to finance development of the country by way of the contributions and GDP received from the mining industry, it’s the families of miners … the entire ecosystem of mining will be impacted by that shift,” she told The Guardian.
Boycotts of natural diamonds do not help mining communities, says Professor Ali Saleem, Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware.
BOYCOTTS DON’T HELP MINING COMMUNITIES
One important figure that has taken a more nuanced approach to the debate about social and environmental responsibility between the natural and synthetic diamonds sectors is Professor Ali Saleem, a Pakistani-American-Australian academic who is the Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware and also directs the university’s Minerals, Materials and Society program.
While he earlier was skeptical about the diamond mining sector’s readiness to go toe to toe with laboratory grown diamond manufacturers in the argument about which if the two had the larger carbon footprint, telling the Gizidmo website that the natural diamond industry “will never be able to compete” with lab-grown diamonds from an environmental perspective, and that it “should not even by trying to do that,” he is also critical about the lab-grown diamond producers insistence to use the conflict diamond problem as a key plank in their marketing programs.
“You had the episode in Sierra Leone and you had DRC issues, but that was 10, 15 years ago, and there was clear legislation passed to address it,” Ali was quoted in The Guardian article.
Boycotts do not help mining communities, he stated. “We should try to solve the problem rather than just kind of ‘cutting the umbilical cord’ so that you just don’t have to deal with the problem,” Ali said.