De Beers Group’s Victor Mine, located in Ontario, Canada officially finished mining efforts in March 2019 with production ending in May 2019. Accessible only by air, or a winter road for 2 months a year, the mine employed 350 people and approximately 150 contractors. So what now? The diamond industry likes to tell consumers that mining provides an income for local miners and that lab-grown diamonds take away their viability. But I’ve been saying for years… “Mining does not provide a sustainable livelihood.”
The closure of the Victor Mine is a perfect example. According to an article by CBC News, the local Attawapiskat Chief, Ignace Gull, is worried about the future of his people now that the mine is closed. “That’s going to be a tough spot for people losing their jobs just like that. As I said, it’s not easy to find another job somewhere … It won’t be easy for them to just move,” he said.
As a global community, we need to focus on providing education, training and small business support so that people can earn a living wage long after the mines dry up.
Our sister foundation, The Greener Diamond, goes into diamond mining communities and creates and supports projects designed to teach modern farming techniques, female empowerment, and skills training. Many of the programs offer microloans to graduates to help them get their own businesses or farms off the ground.
The economic growth provided by diamond mining companies during the life of a mine might be helpful, but once the mine is no longer producing, the big corporations take their money and run, leaving these communities without a transition plan or the means to accommodate the loss of income, both personally and community-wide. This is a well-documented trend known as the “resource curse” and illustrates that countries rich in natural resources suffer from lower economic growth and stability while dealing with conflict and strife more often than their neighbors who do not have natural resources.
Chief Gull is also concerned about the future of the winter road. De Beers spent around $5 million to maintain the road each year. Now the community is “struggling” to find a way to meet this expense and worries the government won’t have enough money to help.
Aside from the effect on the people and the community, it’s important to look at the environmental impact associated with the closing of the mine. Victor Mine is an open pit mine with a surface area of about 37 acres. This is just referring to the pit and does not include the land that was cleared for processing centers and administration buildings.
One of the main concerns is the impact on local wildlife. Caribou are a main food source for indigenous people, and the land clearing and removal have left fragmentation in the population. Attention is also being given to the grizzly bear population which was already experiencing a decline in reproduction rates. Of even greater concern is the health of local waterways. Victor Mine is located in the James Bay Lowlands. The introduction of calcium and many other toxic chemicals from the mining process has a major effect on all aquatic life and all sections of the food chain.
The other issue that can’t be overlooked is the giant hole in the ground. The reclamation process will include planting 1,200,000 plants, trees, shrubs and grasses, but does nothing to address the physical removal of earth. According to the data in the Frost & Sullivan Environmental Analysis - Production of Diamonds and the production reports for the Victor Mine, approximately 18,214 acres of land was disturbed, resulting in 21,040,000 metric tons of mineral waste.
Looking forward, I am concerned about the welfare of Botswana, which is being used as a poster child for the mining industry. Named the third most unequal country in the world, much of the wealth from mining is still not reaching the country’s most vulnerable. Botswana’s diamond production is expected to start declining by 2030, which means they could soon be suffering from the same resource curse as their mining predecessors.
With the onset of lab-grown diamonds and with $1 trillion worth of diamonds in the American recycled diamond market, it is time to ween the world off diamond mining. The industry needs to recognize the negative impact diamond mining is having on our planet and our people. I call on conscious consumers like you to lead the change by using your purchases (money) to vote for social and sustainable enterprises over corporations driven only by profit.