Rough Cut: Sustainability Issues in the Coloured Gemstone Industry
46 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 9, 2010
Global coloured gemstone industry suffers from poor working conditions Coloured gemstones such as sapphire, ruby and emerald adorn countless pieces of jewellery. However, recent field research in Thailand and Madagascar, a company survey among leading international jewellers and a literature review by SOMO all demonstrate that the world behind these gemstones does not hold much sparkle.
The retail value of coloured gemstones is estimated at US$ 10 - 15bn worldwide. Trade statistics indicate a value of nearly US$ 4bn worldwide. However, as in many other commodity chains value and sustainability issues are distributed unevenly.
People tend to earn less every step down the coloured gemstone supply chain. Many stones originate in the poorest developing countries, like Tanzania, Madagascar and Zambia. Then they go to less poor developing countries like India, China and Thailand, where they are cut and polished. And eventually they are sold to wealthy consumers in the West.
Major labour problems occur at the beginning of the production process. Child labour, health hazards, fatal accidents, low income and employment insecurity: it is mainly the miners and gemstone processing workers who suffer from these effects. To date however there are no serious industry wide sustainability initiatives in place to address and attempt to mitigate the sustainability issues that plague this sector. Whereas the gold and diamond sectors, often involving the same jewellers as the coloured gemstone industry, show that industry wide efforts are possible. It is the authors’ opinion that it is high time for the jewellery sector and other coloured stone stakeholders to start taking their responsibility.
Keywords: jewelry, gemstones, labour problems
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