Many of the world’s diamonds are harvested using practices that exploit and degrade children, communities, the labor force, and the local environment. Workers are subject to brutality, degrading working conditions, low pay, and sometimes death. Labor abuses are built into the industry in many parts of the world, community development remains stagnant, and environmental degradation continues apace.
Small-scale mining is usually an illegal activity carried out under dangerous, often unhealthy conditions, and without safety equipment, proper tools, or recognition from the state. Gender imbalances and child labor also plague the sector, which is composed of some of the poorest people in the world. Without formal training or education in their trade, small-scale miners often rely on harmful practices that can leave the earth ruined for future agricultural development.
Lack of regulation, harsh labor conditions, and poor wages make child labor a regular practice in the diamond trade. Children are commonly considered an easy source of cheap labor and are often sent into small areas of mines that adults aren’t able to enter. They are often given dangerous and physically challenging tasks, such as moving earth from pits, or descending from ropes into small holes or pits where landslides may claim their lives.
In Angola, a recent study found 46% of miners are under the age of 16, with many of the children working because of war, poverty, and the absence of education. And in India, where more than half of the world’s diamonds are processed, child labor is commonly used for cutting and polishing diamonds. Taken on as “apprentices,” these children suffer for years in dangerous conditions for little to no pay until they are replaced, often by younger siblings.
While over half of the Congo’s foreign exchange earnings are derived from the export of diamonds, and an estimated 700,000 people dig for them, most are unregistered, and their efforts are largely unrecognized. In fact, more than 90% of the country’s $700 million in diamond exports is produced by small-scale entrepreneurs earning wages of a dollar a day - the international standard for extreme poverty.
In Sierra Leone, diamond-rich regions remain poor in absolute terms. Partnership Africa Canada found that Kono District, which has produced billions of dollars worth of diamonds and is home to the largest concentration of artisanal miners, has a far higher level of poverty than Pujehun District, a largely agricultural area.