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Canadian Diamonds: The best ethical option ... or not?

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Canadian diamonds are preferred by many conscious buyers for their more ethical origins. But are they really ethical? Let's take a deeper dive and see ....

Canadian diamonds come from three active main mines - the Ekati, Diavik and Victor mines.

Map of Ekati, Diavik and Victor Diamond Mines in Canada

Map of Canada showing the location of diamond mines. Photo credit: Geology.com

Of these three, the Diavik is the largest diamond mine in Canada. It produces approximately 7 million carats per year (for reference - Canada's annual output is approximately 11 million carats). The Diavik mine is co-owned by two large diamond companies - Rio Tinto and Dominion Diamond Corporation.

Aerial map of the Canadian Diavik Diamond Mine

An aerial map of the Diavik Mine. Photo credit: Rio Tinto 2016 Diavik Mine Sustainable Development Report

The Diavik mine is massive, but it's tucked far up in the Northwest Territories of Canada close to the Arctic in a remote place that that is inaccessible during winter months and seemingly far away from human civilization. But is it?

An aerial photograph of the Diavik diamond mine

An aerial photo of the Diavik Mine. Photo credit: Rio Tinto 2016 Diavik Mine Sustainable Development Report

Canada's Northwest Territories is the home of dozens of aboriginal groups that represent 50% of the total population of the Northwest Territories.  These people have lived in this seemingly barren ice field for thousands of years. Their rich traditional culture is derived wholly from the land. They survived by hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. In addition, they are known for their great skills and craftsmanship in various art forms, again, all derived from the land.

Pow Wow First Nations of Northwest Territory

Aboriginal Pow Wow in 1888 in Northwest Territories. Photo credit: City of Vancouver Archives

In the year 2000, the Diavik mine entered into an environmental agreement which was developed with local aboriginal groups in partnership with the federal and territorial governments. The agreement formalized Diavik’s environmental protection commitments, established reclamation security requirements, and provided transparency and oversight to local communities. Basically, in exchange for their land, the communities were promised "limited" environmental impact and some jobs.

Inuvik Town Northwest Territories

Inuvik town, Northwest Territories. Home to indigenous groups. Photo credit: Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic

Approximately 200 indigenous people are employed in the Diavik Mine at any given time - out of a total of approximately 1000 workers at the mine. And, despite the promises of giving back to the communities surrounding the mine, the aboriginal communities in the Northwest Territories survive at a much lower socioeconomic level than others in Canada, they tend to display poorer mental health than the average population, and their traditional culture is being chipped away at for a number of reasons. Meanwhile, the Northwest Territories has the highest GDP per capita of any province in Canada.

Diamonds from the Canadian Diavik Mine

Diamonds from the Canadian Diavik Mine. Photo credit: Diavik.ca

Of course, mining has its impacts no matter where it is done. The Canadian government, in partnership with the large diamond companies have done their best to minimize the impact on the local indigenous communities. The workers work in safe conditions, the emissions are offset as much as possible by renewable energy projects, and programs to give back to local communities are in place. But, is it worth it?

At The Raw Stone, we source our diamonds from a siteholder in southern Africa where diamond mining has been in place for centuries and where mining, generally, is an accepted part of traditional culture and an important economic aspect to local survival. We make sure that the mines we work with are held up to the highest standards with regards to working conditions, community impact and environmental remediation. Mining is an imperfect system, but we do the best we can to source as responsibly as possible so that consumers are given an option of owning an ethical piece of fine jewelry.

 

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