May 9th, 2018, 10:59 AM

The Grim Side of Gemstones

By Cristina Mendoza
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Diamonds and other precious gemstones may be glamorous and glitzy, but many have a dark and dangerous history.

Have you ever thought about where your jewelry comes from? The process behind the diamonds, gemstones and gold that creates beautiful pieces of art for us to wear?

The reality behind beautiful jewelry isn’t always beautiful and glamorous. Gold and diamonds are more often than not mined under brutal conditions that are life threatening to the workers and wreak havoc on the environment. Adults and children are forced to work 18 hour days under abusive conditions and absolute minimum pay. They're put at further risk of mercury and lead poisoning due to polluted waterways.

Although not as prevalent today, many civil wars in countries throughout Africa such as Sierra Leone, Angola, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Uganda were largely funded by mining gold and diamonds. Even after the civil wars, some conflict still remains and millions of people are still feeling the aftershocks and consequences of being displaced and having lost loved ones.  

According to Human Rights Watch, about 90 million carats of raw diamonds and 1,600 tons of gold are mined every year to generate over $300 billion in revenue. The complexity of the supply chain for gold and diamonds can make it nearly impossible to pinpoint the origin, and whether it is a high-risk origin, without proper due diligence.  

The raw gold and diamonds are mined in dozens of countries around the world, traded, exported, sold, and processed in dozens more.

As more awareness has been brought to the dangerous and deadly nature of mining in high-risk areas, there have been stipulations and guidelines put in place by the UN (United Nations) and OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) to ensure that jewelers are taking the necessary measures to “identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for their own impact on human rights.” However, many of these guidelines are not strictly enforced and companies either find loopholes or ignore them.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted a study on 13 well known luxury jewelry brands and rated them based on the information each brand provided, as well as public records, to determine how ethically sourced their materials were. Out of the 13 companies, 10 responded and only six actually had discussions with HRW. The study found that most of the companies recognize their responsibility to protecting human rights, but did so in different ways and to varying degrees.



Strong—Tiffany & Co

Moderate—Bulgari, Cartier, Pandora, Signet

Weak—Boodles, Chopard, Christ, Harry Winston

Very Weak—Tanishq

No ranking (no disclosure)—Kalyan, Rolex, TBZ Lt.d

The study also found that because of the lax nature of international standards for sourcing gold and diamonds, many companies look to the Responsible Jewelry Council for their due diligence. However, the RJC has flawed governance and standards which do not make it an effective or strong institution qualified to ensure human right protections.

Not only should jewelers be doing their due diligence and making efforts to guarantee that their sourcing does not contribute to human rights violations and pollution, but consumers as well need to be informed and conscious about who they are purchasing from. HRW set up a campaign on twitter, #BehindTheBling, for consumers to be able to express their concerns and demands for knowing where their jewelry is coming from.

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