Pandora versus the diamond industry: Do lab diamonds harm vulnerable miners?

Pandora versus the diamond industry: Do lab diamonds harm vulnerable miners?

Last week Pandora made headlines around the world when they announced all diamonds used in their jewellery would be lab-grown instead of mined. Their decision was based on wanting to be more ethical when sourcing materials and generally be more sustainable.

This prompted a very strongly worded response from several leading natural diamond organisations, accusing Pandora of misleading the public and harming the communities in third-world nations that rely on diamond mines for jobs. They even called on Pandora to issue an apology, which was unceremoniously ignored by the Danish-based jeweler.

Now, their statement certainly comes from a place of self-preservation as opposed to one of genuine concern for their workers, but ignoring that obvious fact, their argument does have some merit.

More consumers buying lab diamonds does in theory does reduce demand for mined diamonds, which could impact the financial viability of certain mines. Any disruptive new technology will create ripples in the industry by its very nature which we shouldn't ignore, but overall we feel like more ethical alternatives actually helps vulnerable workers by forcing change into the industry.

Read on to find out why.

Diamond miners will only become more ethical if they are forced to by competitors and market forces

History has proven the diamond mining industry isn't capable or interested in increasing ethical standards or becoming more sustainable without outside pressure (as with blood diamonds, change only came about because public outcry demanded it, and standards quickly began to slip as soon as the spotlight was turned off).

The entire industry strives in maintaining the status quo of the past 50 - 100 years because it's extremely favourable for them. Cheap labour, transparency and high-profit margins, all at the expense of vulnerable people working in mines.

But consumers demanding more ethical products disrupts this status quo. And before the advent of lab diamonds, there wasn't a better alternative available to customers. You either bought an unethically mined diamond, or you didn't get a diamond at all.

For the first time in history, people who are committed to buying a diamond can do so without an ethical dilemma with a lab-grown diamond. We believe this new option can force mine operators to become more ethical if they don't want to continue to lose market share to lab diamonds.

And it's entirely possible for mining companies to achieve this, we've seen the likes of the Dominion Diamond Company in Canada. Their diamonds are extracted ethically and are some of the most sought after on the market today.

We've also seen some mines in developing nations follow suit, raising their ethical standards significantly. It's these operators which Nightingale uses to supply the mined diamonds customers request in their bespoke rings.

The transition from mined to lab-grown will be a gradual one

Whilst lab-grown diamonds are becoming more popular (Pandora's move evidence of this), but they are still a very small section of the overall jewellery market. And they likely will be for the next 5 years at least.

That means demand for mined diamonds isn't disappearing overnight. Instead, we predict a gradual transition away from the current providers towards a combination of ethically mined and lab-grown diamonds.

This gradual shift to ethical sourcing is exactly what we want to see as it has the potential to transform worker communities instead of crippling them with sudden job losses.

Ethical mine operators invest a lot into the local communities that their workers come from, often upgrading infrastructure and education facilities. If you combine that with the much higher wages offered by ethical mines you build an ecosystem that pushes future generations into greater affluence and makes the community as a whole less reliant on mining as their only source of employment.

But again, traditional mining companies don't partake in schemes like this because it disrupts the status quo. The only way this happens is if lab-grown and other ethical diamond sources continue to rise in popularity forcing a change in behavior from these types of companies.

Nightingale and mined diamonds

When we first formed Nightingale, a big part of our discussions was around how a business like ours could affect the vulnerable workers in the supply chain. The arguments we listed above are part of the reason we chose a mix between stocking lab diamonds as well as an extremely carefully sourced selection of mined diamonds.

We wanted to give our customers the choice, which is what we've built our business around. And by stocking mined diamonds, we can do the work to ensure they're ethically sourced.

As we mentioned, we currently sell mined diamonds with the Canadamark accreditation scheme. We also source from select mines in Botswana that are known for their high working standards. We'll continue to sell mined diamonds from these sources because doing so secures the short-term, but more importantly, long-term future for these vulnerable workers in developing countries.

And that long-term view is what the diamond industries' response to Pandora is ignoring, choosing instead to spin a false narrative that only way miners continue to have jobs is by maintaining the harmful status quo of the industry.

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