A lawsuit is catching the attention of some in the diamond sector, because it signals what some believe is could be the industry’s next reputational challenge. Involved is a complaint by residents of Koidu, a mining area in Sierra Leone’s diamond-rich Kono district, in the northeast of the country. They are are suing the operators of a local diamond mine who they claim has polluted the environment.
The case is complicated, for the mine’s owners, Octea Ltd, is part of BSG Resources, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019. The mine itself began operating in the early 2000s, during the conflict diamond crisis that plagued the country. It was first owned by a group of mercenary soldiers called Executive Outcomes.
Residents complained of noise, environmental degradation, loss of livelihoods, dumping of toxic waste, and various health concerns.
Following an environmental impact assessment, an agreement was reached over a resettlement action plan. But, in March 2019, 73 residents of Koidu filed a class-action lawsuit alleging breaches of the deal.
“People deserve to be treated well when their natural resources are being exploited. Octea and the other owners of the Koidu mine have done their best to dodge our plaintiffs at every turn,” said a lawyer for the complainants.
As part of its environmental program, De Beers intends replacing all all fossil fuel-generated electricity with energy created by wind and solar power plants.
RELATIVELY CLEAN ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD
The case is unusual for, while other mining sectors have been plagued by environmental challenges and often suffered expensive legal challenges, this has rarely been the case when it comes to the diamond industry.
There are multiple reasons for this relative clean record, with one of the most important being that diamonds emerge from the earth in essentially the same way that they are set in jewelry, meaning that they do not require the use of toxic chemical processes in order to extract them, as is the case with gold and platinum, for example.
The second reason is that the vast majority of diamonds are mined by a handful of larger corporations, who commit to extensive environmental protection plans and then reclamation projects after mining ends, before they are ever licensed to mine their properties. Thus, even in extremely fragile biosystems, as in the case in the frigid Northwest Territories of Canada, environmental claims against the industry are exceedingly rare.
But the fact they are rare does not means that the industry has not been targeted for environmental indiscretions, such as was the case with laboratory-grown diamond producers who claimed that their product was “greener” than natural diamonds.
THE DIAMOND AS NATURE’S CALLING CARD
Indeed, responsibility for environment has been a calling card for a company like De Beers, which has described the diamond as “a unique expression of the power of the natural world.”
“Working with diamonds at their source gives us a deep respect for the planet and all of its awe-inspiring creations,” the company claims on its website. “We are acutely aware that some of the areas in which we operate are particularly at risk from the effects of climate change, and we are introducing innovative technology to make our operations more energy efficient.
For its part, De Beers has pledged to be carbon neutral in our own operations by 2030, and is working with its majority shareholder Anglo American on technologies to realize the goal. This includes reducing energy with its FutureSmart Mining program, whereby all fossil fuel electricity will be replaced by wind and solar power plants that are being built.
De Beers is also looking at water usage, intending to reduce its water footprint by half by the end of the decade, with water reuse and recycling at all mines being substantially increased.
From a conservation perspective, the company is developing the Diamond Route, a 500,000-acre ecosystem for Africa’s most vulnerable species, which is to six times the total land being used for mining.
In Southern Africa, De Beers is developing the Diamond Route, a 500,000-acre ecosystem for vulnerable species, which is to six times the total land being used for mining.