COMMENTARY – Introducing responsible sourcing to small-scale colored gem mines faces hurdles
By David Brough
BANGKOK, October 2019 – Introducing responsible sourcing to small-scale colored gemstone mines is a big challenge due to complications linked to technology, literacy and poverty.
Delegates at the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA) Congress, which took place in Bangkok earlier this month, debated ways forward to introduce responsible sourcing to small-scale mines.
Responsible sourcing is greatly sought after by today’s Millennial consumers of colored gemstone jewelry.
Panel at ICA Congress discusses challenges in responsible sourcing of colored gemstones
Millennials want to be sure that no one has suffered, and the environment has not been harmed, in the mining and crafting of colored gem-set jewelry, studies have shown.
This is far from easy to achieve in the artisanal and small-mining sector, which accounts for 80 percent of the world’s colored gemstone production, carried out by miners in a host of developing countries such as Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Mozambique and Zambia.
A panel moderated by ICA Vice President Jean Claude Michelou and comprising experienced miners and gemologists, debated the issues before a big audience at the event, and delegates pondered the challenges on the sidelines.
Calls were heard for a direct participation by artisanal and small-scale miners in the Congress.
Responsible sourcing is an arduous challenge for small-scale extraction of colored gemstones, as some miners lack basic infrastructure, such as tools and electricity, and are illiterate without access to mobile communications.
Traceability in such cases — tracking the journey of colored gemstones all the way from small mines in remote locations to retailers across the world – becomes challenging, because artisanal miners do not have the resources to input data at the start of the supply chain.
For industrial mining – the remaining 20 percent of colored gemstone production – responsible sourcing is feasible, as miners such as Gemfields have the resources to trace the journey of the stones to the final customer, delegates said.
New technologies such as Blockchain, which can be used to monitor the supply chain electronically, will have much greater potential in the industrialized sector than in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector.
In a news briefing, Mr Prida Tiasuwan, Chairman of the ICA Congress 2019, said he believed a solution to improve the supply chain from small-scale mines could entail setting up a system starting with the auditing just of larger stones, say one or two carats and up.
Multilateral organizations and NGOs could potentially assist in the auditing of the supply chain for colored gemstones, he added.
Mr Prida Tiasuwan, ICA Congress Chairman, discusses challenges in responsible sourcing of colored gemstones
Mr Prida also said that at some stage in the future the ICA Congress should, in his view, take place in Africa, to help support the colored gemstone industry in the continent, a major origin for colored gemstones.
A non-profit organization, the ICA is the only worldwide body specifically created to benefit the global colored gemstone industry.
The ICA was founded in 1984 and now comprises over 700 gem industry leaders from mine to market, including miners, gem cutters, suppliers, retailers, trade associations, gemological laboratories, academia, museums, and so on, from 47 countries, who are devoted to advancing and promoting the knowledge and appreciation of colored gemstones.
The ICA’s global network works to develop a common language for promotion and consistent business standards necessary to improve international communications and trade of colored gemstones.
The next ICA Congress will take place in Shenzhen, China, from September 20-23, 2020, ICA President Clement Sabbagh announced.