No matter how beautiful a shining diamond in the shop may appear, it may just carry a dark secret of using child labor to mine it and polish it. One of the major reasons that consumers are switching to lab-grown diamonds is due to the huge amount of problems, both for the Earth and for humans, that mined diamonds incur. Consumers are more conscious than ever before, and they value ethical diamonds. In this blog, we’ll explore the heart of one of the major controversies: child miners.
What is Child Labor?
There are broad misconceptions about what child labor actually means. Many people in countries like the US simply cannot fathom a small child being forced to do dangerous, hard labor like digging in mines for diamonds, but it has been a historically widespread problem that still exists today. And sadly, it doesn’t just happen in the mining industry — child labor occurs across agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and service-based industries like retail and restaurants. Child labor is such a widespread problem that the International Labour Organization (ILO) has written a detailed definition of child labor, as well as enacted many child labor laws. For example, children under 14 are not legally allowed to work, and children under 17 should not be working in hazardous conditions that could affect their health and safety. In short, the ILO defines it as work that:
- “is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
- interferes with their schooling by:
- depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
- obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
- requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.” (Source: ILO)
How is Child Labor Used in Mines?
The ILO reported an alarming and staggering statistic that on any given day in 2016, 152 million children were victims of child labor, of which 73 million were working in hazardous conditions. Mining is one of the most hazardous forms of child labor, in which children are exposed to unstable heavy equipment and structures located underground, toxic and explosive chemicals, and excessive heat. To make matters even worse, according to Diamonds for Peace, “Working in diamond mines is heavy labor: Children carry 50-60 kg of gravel from mines to workplaces and then look for only tiny diamonds by panning the gravel. Those children are easily exploited because they are cheap to use. They are also preferred as they are able to enter narrow areas using ropes for mining diamonds. They search for diamonds in puddles where mosquitoes could cause malaria. Furthermore, they have a risk of getting injured from falling down and dying from fights.”
It is estimated that somewhere near one million children in Africa work in mines, usually for less than $2 day — and sometimes for no monetary payment at all (source).
The Limitations of the Kimberley Process Certification
If you’re as shocked and disappointed about these crimes of humanity as we are, then you may be wondering about how the diamond mining industry has tried to address the child labor problem.
As a short refresher, conflict diamonds (often referred to as blood diamonds) emerged in the 1990s as a nickname for diamonds that were funding rebel militias in Africa who were trying to unseat the established government. Due to the horrible conditions, this created for civilians stuck between these civil wars, the UN stepped in to create the Kimberley Process. Many diamond shoppers ask for a Kimberley Certificate when purchasing a mined diamond in order to prove that it is an ethical diamond. In short, the Kimberley Process “imposes extensive requirements on its members to enable them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as ‘conflict-free' and prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate trade.”
Now, critics of the Kimberley Process point out that it has many limitations in the certification of ethical diamonds, and rightfully so. One of the limitations of its scope is that it does not protect children against child labor. Therefore, you may see a Kimberley Certificate with a mined diamond because it is certified conflict-free, but that does not mean that children were not used in the mining or polishing process. The only way to ensure you’re getting ethical diamonds is to opt for lab-grown diamonds.
Child Labor in Polishing Factories
The issue of child labor in the diamond industry extends beyond the mines and into the cutting and polishing centers, mostly in India. As you probably already know, the cut is one of the four factors considered when grading a diamond (cut, color, clarity, and carat).
Children are frequently forced to work by their families, as there is stark wealth inequality across India, just like there is in Africa. According to Diamonds for Peace, “it is said that children can do such work considerably better than adults. They usually have good eyesight and finger agility and skill to ensure high quality of diamonds. Small and cheap diamonds imported to India are cut and polished by children. India makes a substantial income from such diamonds. The risk of harming their health is unavoidable in dark factories with no fans. Polishing material is made of chromium oxide and diamond powder, which has a severe impact on the body when touched directly for long periods of time.”
How Lab-Grown Diamonds Help
These facts are huge reasons that consumers are turning to lab-grown diamonds. With the natural resources being depleted and children being exploited, people know that mined diamonds just can’t be ethically bought. At New World Diamonds, all our diamonds are grown in the US, by professional scientists. We offer ethical diamonds at the best prices possible since we own our own laboratory. And of course, our diamonds are just as brilliant and beautiful as anything that could be mined. With better prices, better ethics, and better sustainability practices, we completely understand why people love lab-grown diamonds. Ready to start shopping for a diamond you can feel good about? Browse some of our best sellers and gifts here >