IMPACT on Coloured Gemstones
Just as we have promoted a legal and conflict-free diamond supply chain that benefits artisanal miners and their communities,
our efforts have expanded to coloured gemstones.
What are coloured gemstones?
Coloured gemstones are all non-diamond gems, including rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Along with diamonds, these gemstones are collectively classified as the four precious stones due to their relatively high value compared to semi-precious gemstones, such as peridot, garnet, topaz, agate, turquoise, and amethyst.
Where are coloured gemstones found?
Coloured gemstones can be found all over the world. The majority of emeralds found today are in Colombia, Brazil, and Zambia. Rubies have also been found on almost every continent, but are most commonly mined in Asia and Africa. While sapphires can be found in Africa, Australia, and the United States, they are mostly concentrated in Southeast Asia.
How do you use coloured gemstones?
When we think of coloured gemstones, we tend to think of birthstone pendants and jewellery, but we may use gemstones more often than we realize. While coloured gemstones are most commonly used for jewellery, they also have many industrial uses. Topaz is frequently used as an abrasive in products like scouring pads and grinding equipment. In powder form, opal can be found in some fertilizers and insulation, and is also used as an absorptive ingredient in medicines and cosmetics. Rubies are sometimes used in laser technology for uses like tattoo removal.
How are coloured gemstones mined?
Coloured gemstones can be found at the surface or below ground. Surface mining includes equipment-intensive industrial operations, like hydraulic mining, quarrying, open-pit, or strip mining, as well as labour-intensive operations like river panning, that are typically more informal and undertaken by artisanal miners. Underground mining involves the creation of vertical tunnels deep below the ground using explosives such as dynamite. According to the World Bank, artisanal and small-scale miners extract a large portion of coloured gemstones, including about 80% of sapphires.
Coloured gemstones, security, and human rights
Coloured gemstones are small, valuable, and easy to transport—making them attractive to smugglers.
Around the world, coloured gemstones are often mined by artisanal miners working informally, without regulation. This creates conditions where armed groups can exploit mining communities and opportunities for illicit trade.
At mines where armed forces are present there are instances of human rights abuses, dangerous working conditions, child labour, and gender-based violence.
While the link between coloured gemstones and conflict financing is not as well reported as for other minerals, there are many instances where armed groups or governments have exploited gemstones for their own gain, such as Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and sapphires and Myanmar’s military and jade.
The artisanal mining of coloured gemstones is linked to extensive environmental damage, including water pollution and deforestation. Similar to experiences with other minerals, countries around the world may have an abundance of gemstones but their monetary value is rarely translated to enduring benefits for miners and their communities. Most of the profit from gemstones is obtained after they are exported and have been cut and polished.
Our research investigates the drivers of the illicit trade of conflict-prone minerals, such as coloured gemstones. We spotlight networks involved in smuggling, examine how lax controls—internally and at trading hubs—facilitate illicit trade, and provide recommendations to support formalization of the artisanal mining sector.
We also provide analysis of traceability and due diligence as it applies to the coloured gemstone supply chain.
We have supported the development and implementation of private sector initiatives that promote transparency and due diligence in the coloured gemstone sector, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.
We provide capacity building and sensitization to policymakers, civil society organizations, and the private sector on their responsibilities with regards to the OECD Due Diligence. We also work with stakeholders to develop strategies to improve controls and end the illicit trade.
Our work to end the illicit trade of coloured gemstones requires significant dialogue between stakeholders to promote traceability and due diligence and to ensure artisanal miners and their communities are benefiting from the minerals.
We are a member of the Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Working Group (PS-MSWG), which brings together policymakers, industry, and civil society in an effort to strengthen due diligence implementation for precious stones, including coloured gemstones.
We also promote sensitization and raise awareness among consumers about the origins of the coloured gemstones they purchase.
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