Jewels

Countries Where Jewels are Reportedly Produced with Trafficking and/or Child Labor

Jewels Commodity Risk Map

Emeralds:

  • Colombia (CL)

Gems:

  • Zambia (CL)

  • Tanzania (CL)

Gem cutting:

  • India (CL)

Jades and rubies:

  • Burma (FL, CL)

Sapphires:

  • Madagascar (FL, CL)

Where are jewels reportedly produced with trafficking and/or Child Labor?

According to the 2016 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, jade and precious stones are mined with forced labor in Burma.[1] The U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor of Forced Labor notes that jade and rubies are mined with forced and child labor in Burma. Sapphires are mined with child labor in Madagascar, and emeralds with child labor in Colombia. Various gems are mined with child labor in India, Tanzania, and Zambia.[2] A 2008 report from the International Labour Organization noted hazardous child labor in gem mining in Zambia.[3] Media stories, including a 2014 story from the BBC, have reported child labor in tanzanite mining in Tanzania.[4] In India, children are involved in caste-based bonded labor in the gem cutting industry.[5] Labor exploitation, including child labor, has also been reported in the emerald mining sector of Colombia, where a majority of the mines are dominated by various organized crime factions.[6] The U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report lists Colombia as a Tier 1 country. Zambia, Kenya, Madagascar, and India are listed as Tier 2 countries. Tanzania is listed as a Tier 2 Watch List country, and Burma is listed as a Tier 3 country.[7]

For information on forced labor in the diamond sector, see the Diamond commodity report.

[1] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf [2] U.S. Department of Labor. 2016. List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2016.

https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/TVPRA_Report2016.pdf [3] International Labour Organization. Rapid assessment of child labour in non-traditional mining sector in Zambia. 2008.

http://www.ilo.org/ipecinfo/product/download.do;jsessionid=afe1caecc9778bb3e98ff0aad6c9f6890f7f5ffaeb3da0bbdcf4b4e4f002e17e.e3aTbhuLbNmSe3qMb40?type=document&id=13633

[4] Famau, Aboubakar. BBC News. “The Tanzanian Gemstone Mined by Child Labour.” June 19, 2014.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27933666

[5] International Dalit Solidarity Center. Dalits and Bonded Labour in India. http://idsn.org/caste-discrimination/key-issues/bonded-labour/india/

[6] Parkinson, Charles. “Inside Colombia’s Emerald Battle.” The Atlantic Magazine. August 7, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/inside-colombias-emerald-battle/278429/

[7] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

What does trafficking and/or child labor look like in the production of jewels?

The jewels industry is a thriving business. Child labor and forced labor are found in both the mining and processing of gemstones. The vast majority of gemstones, such as rubies and sapphires, are mined in small scale digging sites, rather than large industrial mines.

In the artisanal mining sector, miners are not officially employed, but instead earn a living from whatever they mine themselves. These workers, including children, frequently work in extremely hazardous conditions without supervision or safety gear. Artisanal miners sell their finds to intermediaries, who may set prices below market value; as a result, miners can easily become trapped in debt cycles, accepting prices below market value.[8] Children engaged in mining are vulnerable to suffering many health issues, including lung and respiratory system damage; headaches, hearing and vision problems from noise; joint and muscular disorders; exposure to toxic chemicals used to clean the gems; and injuries from falls in mine shafts, sharp tools, falling stones and mine collapse. In addition, families involved in artisanal mining can migrate large distances from their homes. Removed from their normal support networks, these families may become vulnerable targets for human traffickers.[9]

Children involved in processing, cutting, and polishing gemstones are exposed to dangerous tools and machinery, eye strain and injury, repetitive motions, toxic chemicals and dust.[10]

Gem stone mining is notoriously linked to conflict and crime around the world, including civil wars, guerilla and terrorist group activity, smuggling, money laundering, and fraud. These links have been noted in Burma, Cambodia, Tanzania, and Afghanistan, among other countries.[11]

Burma’s resource-rich northeast reportedly supplies between 80 and 90 percent of the world’s rubies, in addition to sapphires, quartz, and diamonds.[12] Jade deposits at Hpakant, in the northern state of Kachin, were estimated to be valued at USD 31 billion in 2014, nearly half the GDP of the entire country.[13] Mines at Tanai contain large amber deposits.[14] Relatively little is known about the labor conditions at these mining sites, as sanctions have only recently been lifted following decades of military rule. Conditions are hazardous; dynamite is used to blast open mines, landslides are common, and the temperatures in mine shafts can reach below freezing. Locals often sift through industrial waste to extract gems.[15] Due to the massive vehicles used by the military and private companies, pollution is heavy and there are numerous accidents.[16] Children are regularly seen helping their families.[17] Although U.S. sanctions were lifted in 2016, concerns remain that profits are disproportionately benefiting the military elite; rather than the miners working in hazardous conditions.[18]

Recently discoveries of massive sapphire deposits in eastern Madagascar’s protected rain-forests have brought thousands of miners to the area in another gem rush. Madagascar produces nearly half of the world’s sapphires.[19] The environmental consequences of the expanding mining, much of it illegal, could affect thousands of rare species of plants and animals.[20] The smuggling of sapphires has been reported, as well as murder and other safety concerns around the mines. Children are used to see if sapphires are present in small holes, and they are particularly susceptible to injuries caused by falling shards and rocks, collapsing pits, and underground fires.[21]

[8] Irin News. “Malawi’s Small Scale Miners Think Big.” July 1, 2013. http://www.irinnews.org/fr/report/98332/malawi-s-small-scale-miners-think-big

World Vision. Behind the Bling: Forced and Child Labour in the Jewellery Industry. 2013.
http://campaign.worldvision.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/7185_DTL_Factsheet_Jewellery_LR.pdf

[9] World Vision. Behind the Bling: Forced and Child Labour in the Jewellery Industry. 2013. http://campaign.worldvision.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/7185_DTL_Factsheet_Jewellery_LR.pdf

[10] World Vision. Behind the Bling: Forced and Child Labour in the Jewellery Industry. 2013. http://campaign.worldvision.com.au/wpcontent/uploads/2013/09/7185_DTL_Factsheet_Jewellery_LR.pdf

[11] Archuleta, Jennifer-Lynn. “The Color of Responsibility: Ethical Issues and Solutions in Colored Gemstones.” Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Summer 2016. https://www.gia.edu/gems-gemology/summer-2016-color-responsibility-ethical-issues-solutions-colored-gemstones

Collet, Lea, Laura Curtze, Kathrin Reed. “Responsible Sourcing of Colored Gemstones.” Graduate Institute of Geneva,

Applied Research Seminar Report. December 15, 2013. http://www.responsiblejewellery.com/files/Responsible-Sourcing-of-Colored-Gemstones_ARS-Final-Report_-Collet-Curtze-Reed.pdf

[12] Solomon, Feliz. “Welcome to Mogok, Myanmar’s mysterious mining mecca.” Southeast Asia Globe. December 29, 2016. http://sea-globe.com/myanmar-mogok-rubies/

Summer, Chris. “Searching for one life-changing stone: How thousands of miners scratch a living in Myanmar’s ‘land of rubies’ where gems can sell for £1 million a carat.” Daily Mail. January 4, 2017. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4086450/Scratching-living-Myanmars-storied-land-rubies.html

[13] Fawthrop, Tom. “Smuggling Away Myanmar’s Chance for Peace.” The Diplomat. May 31, 2017. http://thediplomat.com/2017/05/smuggling-away-myanmars-chance-for-peace/

[14] Kean, Thomas. “Into the Valley of Rubies.” Frontier Myanmar. November 1, 2016. http://frontiermyanmar.net/en/into-the-valley-of-rubies

[15] Solomon, Feliz. “Welcome to Mogok, Myanmar’s mysterious mining mecca.” Southeast Asia Globe. December 29, 2016. http://sea-globe.com/myanmar-mogok-rubies/

[16] Htay, Hla Hla. “Myanmar’s elusive gift from god.” Agence France-Presse. February 17, 2017. https://correspondent.afp.com/myanmars-elusive-gift-god

Global Witness. Jade: Myanmar’s “Big State Secret”. October 2015. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/oil-gas-and-mining/myanmarjade/

[17] Solomon, Feliz. “Welcome to Mogok, Myanmar’s mysterious mining mecca.” Southeast Asia Globe. December 29, 2016. http://sea-globe.com/myanmar-mogok-rubies/

[18] Htay, Hlay-Hlay. “Treasure Hunt.” Asia Times. January 7, 2017. http://www.atimes.com/article/treasure-hunt-myanmars-land-rubies/

[19] The Guardian. “’Sapphire rush’ threatens rainforests of Madagascar.” April 2, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/02/sapphire-rush-threatens-rainforests-of-madagascar

Brilliant Earth. “Sapphire and Colored Gemstone Issues: Labor.” https://www.brilliantearth.com/sapphire-issues-labor/?utm_expid=1332916-281._WC2PT4rTnCrmQje-Lvlkg.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

[20] The Guardian. “’Sapphire rush’ threatens rainforests of Madagascar.” April 2, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/02/sapphire-rush-threatens-rainforests-of-madagascar

Brilliant Earth. “Sapphire and Colored Gemstone Issues: Labor.” https://www.brilliantearth.com/sapphire-issues-labor/?utm_expid=1332916-281._WC2PT4rTnCrmQje-Lvlkg.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

[21] The Guardian. “’Sapphire rush’ threatens rainforests of Madagascar.” April 2, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/02/sapphire-rush-threatens-rainforests-of-madagascar

Brilliant Earth. “Sapphire and Colored Gemstone Issues: Labor.” https://www.brilliantearth.com/sapphire-issues-labor/?utm_expid=1332916-281._WC2PT4rTnCrmQje-Lvlkg.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Jewel Production and Supply Chain

Precious stones are extracted most commonly from mines in Southeast Asia and Africa. Brokers and intermediaries buy stones from miners and sell them to exporters who sell the stones again. The exporting process can obscure the source country of the stones. Gemstones are then cut and polished. After polishing, gems are sold on the international market and are ultimately sold by retailers, often incorporated into jewelry.[22] It is estimated that 80 percent of gemstones are extracted via small-scale artisanal mining, and the stones reportedly change hands a number of times between mining and manufacturing, making traceability challenging and opening the door to exploitation of miners by intermediaries.[23] As the export data provided above shows, many of the top exporting countries do not reflect the location of the original mining activities.

[22] World Vision. Behind the Bling: Forced and Child Labour in the Jewellery Industry. 2013.
http://campaign.worldvision.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/7185_DTL_Factsheet_Jewellery_LR.pdf

[23] Collet, Lea, Laura Curtze, Kathrin Reed. “Responsible Sourcing of Colored Gemstones.” Graduate Institute of Geneva,

Applied Research Seminar Report. December 15, 2013. http://www.responsiblejewellery.com/files/Responsible-Sourcing-of-Colored-Gemstones_ARS-Final-Report_-Collet-Curtze-Reed.pdf

How do Trafficking and/or Child Labor in Jewel Production Affect Me?

A Gem Miner

Gems such as rubies and sapphires are used in fine jewelry, including engagement rings, and the demand has grown in recent years. Jade is a very durable gemstone that is used in jewelry, sculptures and other ornamental objects. These luxury items are mostly exported to developed countries, including the United States.

EXAMPLES

What Governments, Corporations, and Others are Doing

Certification organizations, such as Fairmined, audit gem supply chains against ethical standards in order to guide consumers to ethical purchases. Fairmined is an assurance label that certifies gold from empowered responsible artisanal and small-scale mining organizations and is backed by a rigorous third party certification and audit system.

The Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) announced in early 2016 that it would begin reviewing its scope to consider including colored gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, and emeralds.[24] The RJC is a voluntary company initiative with multi-stakeholder consultative components that includes a certification system.[25]

[24] Professional Jeweller. “RJC announces expansion into gemstone initiative at Baselworld.” March 21, 2016. http://www.professionaljeweller.com/rjc-announces-expansion-into-gemstone-initiative-at-baselworld/

Shor, Russell. “RJC Panel Explores Colored Gemstone Issues at Baselworld 2017.” Gemological Institute of America (GIA). April 18, 2017. https://www.gia.edu/gia-news-research/rjc-panel-explores-colored-gemstone-issues-baselworld-2017

[25] Responsible Jewellery Council. http://www.responsiblejewellery.com/

LEARN MORE

Read about the World Vision Campaign for ethical jewelry.

Learn about Burma’s jade industry from Global Witness and its ruby mines from National Geographic.

Read about the environmental impacts of sapphire mining in Madagascar.