Image: Rhodolite Medallion Necklace
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of 'conflict diamonds' – diamonds which have been linked to fuelling violent conflicts around the world. The issue first gained global attention in the late 90's (and later shot to the top of headlines thanks to the 2006 film Blood Diamond), which resulted in the launch of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a global tracking system which helps establish transparent and traceable supply chains for rough diamond exports.
Yet, how much have you heard about ethical gemstones? Probably not a lot; when it comes to coloured gems, from rubies to sapphires and beyond, the journey towards traceability hasn't been as clear cut. Largely due to the sheer scope of this multibillion-dollar industry (gem mines can be found across more than 47 countries!), and the different ways in which various regions handle and regulate mining processes, a unified global system to track, trace and verify gemstones doesn't exist to this day. As a result, gemstone mining has a huge impact on the environment and the lives of miners and communities.
Why Guilt-free Gemstones Remain A Challenge
Here are various reasons why truly ethical and traceable gemstones are still extremely difficult to acquire, according to recent reports by Human Rights Watch and non-profit organisation Green America:
Health Hazards For Miners
Gemstone mining is a tough and tedious process. Excavations require hard physical labour, and miners are often subjected to harsh and unsafe working conditions in tunnels and cramped areas. Mining processes have also been found to cause respiratory diseases for workers and nearby communities, due to copious amounts of toxic dust generated by the mining process.
Displacement of Communities
Considering gemstone deposits are a natural occurrence, they can be found all over the earth. The trouble is, these deposits are often discovered near established communities of people, many of whom are indigenous groups who have lived on the same land for centuries. Since mining involves moving large amounts of earth, and can span large areas of land, these communities often face displacement.
On top of evicting communities, gemstone excavation processes (regardless if they are acquired from large industrial mines or artisanal and small-scale mines) also have a brutal impact on local ecosystems, including polluting waterways, landscape destruction, soil erosion and habitat loss for animal species, many of which are often endangered.
Where there is high demand for rare and precious materials, unfortunately corruption and destruction tend to follow. Like the diamond industry, the gem industry is highly profitable and rebel groups in places like Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have seized the opportunity to use gem sales to fund weapons purchases and ongoing conflicts. This, in turn, has opened the doors for human rights abuses of miners.
Gem Mining In The Wake Of Covid-19
The global pandemic hasn't made anything easier for the mining and jewellery industries as a whole. While lockdowns and travel restrictions have been essential to slow the spread of Covid-19, it has hindered government monitoring efforts of ethical mining practices, and in some cases even halted local gem market trading all together, threatening the very livelihoods of miners and communities who rely on the gem industry to survive. On top of that, there's been a slump in consumer demand for gemstones globally, meaning less work for miners in general.
Our Journey To 100% Traceability With Moyo Gems
Since launching Nyrelle, crafting ethical fine jewellery has been at the forefront of everything we do, and working towards making sure our stones are traceable and are sourced through an ethical and transparent supply chain is a big part of this ethical journey.
Our step towards 100% traceability has started with an ongoing partnership with Moyo Gems, an East African-based initiative which works directly with local artisanal female miners in Tanzania and Kenya (we source stones like rhodolites, spessartines, and emeralds from them!). This initiative ensures all miners receive fair wages and safe and ethical working conditions.
But Moyo Gems doesn't just stop there, they empower miners beyond financial freedoms by equipping them with all the tools and skills they need to build a better life and future for themselves and their families and communities. There is no participation fee to join Moyo Gems as a miner, and once a part of the programme, they are given full and free access to vocational benefits including health and safety training and gemology training. The initiative also helps them secure their legal mining rights for the areas in which they are working, meaning they are considered fully legal miners in the eyes of Tanzanian law – an essential step to eradicating illegal mining!
On top of that, all Moyo Gem miners are automatically members of the Tanzanian Women Miners Association (TAWOMA), a trade group founded by passionate women miners across Tanzania which works to fight discrimination and advocate for fairer laws, services, and resources. In short, Moyo Gems are doing everything they can to ensure gem miners receive the best quality of life possible, so when you choose to buy ethical and traceable gemstones, you're actively participating in improving the lives of these hard-working miners!
How You Can Help Build A More Ethical Gemstone Industry
Aside from simply making more conscious choices when shopping for jewellery and supporting jewellery brands that share their ethical sourcing and responsible practices, there are a number of ways in which you can help towards building a more sustainable gemstone industry. Here are 3 important ways to contribute:
While it's true that the reality of sourcing traceable gemstone is tough (to say the least), consider reaching out to brands when shopping for jewellery and asking them important questions. Let them know that sustainable practices are important to you, especially when it comes to gemstones, and don't be afraid to ask about how they address such concerns.
There's no harm in asking things like where their gemstones come from and if they can share any certifications to trace them. Without demand for more ethical gemstones, the less likely brands and businesses are to pursue ethical gem sourcing and practices – so you can play a critical role to push things forward!
Give What You Can
Financial aid will always be one of the easiest and most effective way to help initiatives and NGOs working to make a change in the industry, like Moyo Gems (who work in conjunction with non-profit organisation, Pact). Even minor donations and giving through crowdfunding pages can help towards covering program costs, resources and tools for gem miners. Click here if you're interested in contributing to Moyo Gems' fundraiser!
Monetary aid has been especially important in the wake of the global pandemic, which has left lots of miners out of work for long periods of time due to lockdowns and restrictions. Moyo Gems have teamed up with non-profit organisation Gem Legacy for immediate humanitarian relief, including distributing food, soap, water, and accurate government-approved COVID19 information in Swahili, to miners and communities that have been badly affected by the pandemic.
Spread The Word
Finally, word of mouth is a powerful thing. The more conversations and attention we can bring to ethical gemstones, with friends, family, colleagues and beyond, the more chances there are to increase demand and get brands and businesses to take more action. While the gemstone industry still has a long way to go in terms of more ethical practices and traceability, the future looks bright and the change starts with us!
Interested in shopping our collections featuring ethical gemstones like rhodolites and emeralds? Explore the collection here.