Some of the largest diamond companies in the world have committed themselves to the UN's sustainability goals, aiming to contribute to the development of several communities.

How the worlds leading natural diamond companies are moving towards sustainability
Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 14:52

There are all sorts of modern social conventions around natural diamonds. Nearly every woman in India wears at least one piece of diamond jewellery during important life events, from weddings and anniversaries to celebrating milestones. For many young couples, a diamond ring is a must for the perfect proposal - bigger the diamond, more the joy. But natural diamonds have also been at the receiving end of criticism surrounding their industry’s impact on the environment and the communities they depend on. Some of the largest natural diamond companies in the world want to change that, and have come together to conserve nature and give back to the people they work with.

An alliance of natural diamond companies, all members of the National Diamond Council, have taken three pledges to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Through their efforts to fulfil these goals, these companies plan to ensure that their infrastructures and processes result in benefits to the environment and local peoples.

As someone who may love natural diamonds but be confused by the perceptions swirling around the industry, you may have some questions.

What are the UN's Sustainable Development Goals?

The UN has said that its goals, which were launched in 2015, are an urgent call for action by all countries, developed and developing, in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth, all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

How does the Natural Diamond industry impact sustainability?

Natural diamonds are precious to the people who buy them, and their trade is precious to the economy. Diamonds have a legacy - both to the people who wear and cherish them, and to the communities thriving around and alongside diamond industries.

All the companies who have taken sustainability pledges are part of the Natural Diamond Council, formed by seven of the biggest natural diamond companies of the world. The council's Total Clarity Report says that their companies have worked for years in collaboration with governments, local community organizations and indigenous groups in order to minimize environmental impact and ensure maximum socio-economic benefit.

An example of this benefit: in sub-Saharan Africa alone, the diamond industry has been known to provide almost 40,000 jobs. As per the Total Clarity Report - which collected socioeconomic data over two years - member companies of the Council have provided high quality and safe local employment to more than 77,000 people in some of the most remote areas on the planet.

These modern diamond mining establishments have reported that they're already practicing sustainability in several ways. They pay their employees 66% higher than the national average salary and put worker-safety first. By sourcing goods and services locally, these establishments also create economic wealth for local communities. They also practice environment stewardship, as Trucost found during their research, by protecting 3 times the land they use for mining, recycling 83% of water they use, and emitting 69% less carbon emissions than lab-made diamonds.

What are the pledges taken by the diamond companies?

A Pledge to Strengthen Local Communities

Every year, pledging companies will re-allocate US$ 6.8 billion back into the communities around their mines by sourcing services and goods locally. They will also partner with local governments to contribute to long-term development projects that will benefit the locality.

ALROSA, which runs more than twenty diamond operations in Russia, is the largest employer and tax contributor in Yakutia, the country’s largest region, with all contributions, including taxes and dividends amounting to US$1bn. Along with helping with housing and healthcare for employees and their children, ALROSA contributes to the construction, repair and maintenance of dozens of schools, benefiting thousands of children in the region.

Another example of this is Rio Tinto, a founding partner of the Centre of Excellence for Indigenous communities in Canada, which is working towards supporting employment of indigenous communities. Today, almost 25% of Diavik Diamond Mine’s workforce is Aboriginal, with 50% of them from Northern Canada.

RZM Murowa, a member company in Zimbabwe, collaborates with the authority to maintain electrification of health centers and schools, construct bridges, and build and maintain roads.

A Pledge to Protect the Environment

To protect the biodiversity of mining areas, all mine-building and management decisions will be preceded by in-depth studies on the biodiversity and environment of the area in consultation with indigenous communities.

The De Beers Diamond Route, for example, is one of southern Africa’s most extensive and important conservation networks. It is made up of eight different nature reserves in South Africa and Botswana.

Another example is the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada, at a sub-arctic location. It has become a global leader in cold climate technology; proving that renewable energy works in remote, extremely cold locations. They’ve designed innovative ways to prevent energy turbines from freezing when the temperature plummets. The company has also partnered with indigenous groups to develop a wildlife monitoring program to ensure minimal impact on caribou and other wildlife.

A few years ago, ALROSA developed the Living Diamonds of Yakutia Natural Park to protect the biodiversity of Western Yakutia. It is a 32-thousand-hectare park - home to thriving populations of musk sheep, yaks, deer, Yakut horses, bears, reindeer, rabbits and peacock. The park has become a leading tourist destination and gathering place for festivals of local clans and summer camps for children.

A Pledge to Promote Gender Inclusivity & Equality

Today, almost one-third of the people employed by leading diamond producers are women.

Further to this, De Beers Group is investing US$3 million in programs that support women and girls in southern Africa and Canada. It’s accelerating Women Owned Enterprises (AWOME) program provides mentoring, network, business and life skills training for women micro-entrepreneurs.  It has partnered with UN Women to become a HeForShe Thematic Champion.

At another member company, Naseem Lahiri has become MD of Lucara Botswana. She is the first woman to serve in this high position at a diamond mine in the entire country.

These pledges are a promising, forward movement for the natural diamond industry. They will hopefully continue to validate the belief that natural diamonds, which signify a legacy of commitment, resilience and real strength, reflect those very same values at industrial levels,” says Richa Singh, Managing Director-India, Natural Diamond Council.