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Expanded sanctions on Burmese gems


#1

Hello Orchid,

Due to the recent events in Burma/Myanmar there has been talk in the
news about expanded sanctions on Burmese gems. Does anyone know the
details of these new sanctions and what are your thoughts on the
ethical implications of buying and selling stones from there?

Douglas


#2

Douglas,

As someone only recently in the jewelry business, I speak for
myself. The recent events in Burma/Myanmar were gut wrenching to
watch unfold, the implications far-reaching.

My partner and I are in agreement; we do not knowingly purchase gems
from Burma. We do not purchase materials because they are least
expensive, we purchase quality materials from businesses and persons
who receive a fair living wage. We purchase gems whose history is
known. The only exceptions are reclaimed or recycled materials.

We do this whether the governments decide to place an embargo on
materials from Burma. We also do not purchase from China, as that
country is one whose leaders could have chosen to place effective
embargoes on Burma and perhaps saved the lives of many monks and
Burmese citizens. This is hard on our business, but it’s a choice we
have made.

Your mileage may vary.
Kim


#3

Great question and a really deep topic.

Here is a link to the report from the EU meeting:

My understanding is that their idea is to hit the military regime
with sanctions of the type which affect them but not the general
population. Its a very very sticky situation to say the least. I
believe much of the gems are illegally exported so I’m not sure how
effective that part of the sanctions will actually be.

As far as end users such as ourselves buying gems - I have a hard
time with rubies and jade. I love the stones but don’t intend on
buying them for the time being. People have to make their own choices
of course. Its very complicated. If there was any leverage to use
for better working conditions - fair trade mining – but there
isn’t…

Reminds me of the phrase from the movie Blood Diamond, they say
"TIA" meaning ‘this is africa’ – the same thing goes for Burma. Its
not like the restof the world. It’s Burma…they (the regime) don’t
operate in a way that we can make sense of or interact with.

The Irrawaddy is a good news source put out largely by different
peoples from Burma who are living in exile (if you want their
perspective on things): http://www.irrawaddy.org

Mizzima news is another. http://www.mizzima.com

Here is an article from the Telegraph this past July about the
mining ‘industry’ in Burma: http://tinyurl.com/2b2ltp

Janice


#4

Hello Fellow Orchidians-

A bit of a lurker here but I’ve been active in the gemstone trade for
over 25 years so I’ll add my thoughts here: Buying and selling stones
from Burma is ethically wrong, period. It is an established fact that
the “official” Burmese production is accomplished in a fashion
similar to the “great expansion” in Russia during the early 20th
Century: Forced labor, often by oppressed minorities or indigenous
peoples who have no rights.

There is a loophole that states that if the stones are cut in another
country (ie Thailand) then they are not considered to be sourced from
Burma. I know several dealers who use this little loophole to salve
their consciences and cover their rears when dealing with the
authorities and ethically-conscious customers, but the fact remains
that a dealer/jeweler knows where the gems are sourced- if they
didn’t then they are simply in this business for the short term- and
the gems are used to finance local municipalities and keep military
and financial power concentrated in a few hands. It’s a dirty little
secret that anyone who trades in gems is aware of, and it’s been kept
quiet for decades as slave labor keeps gemstone rough prices low.

I’ve refused to deal in certain stones (Tanzanite for example) or
production from certain areas (Burma, Congo and Kashmir) due to
ethical considerations, and I’ve lost many opportunities to make
serious profits when asked to turn a blind eye to inhuman mining
conditions. When possible, we ally our finances with a few trusted
sources and offer more money to miners when we can confirm that the
miners are either partners or are paid a fair wage for their
production.

In the end, each one of you decide whether you want your gems soaked
in the blood of slaves, or refuse to trade with regimes that are
truly inhuman- and it matters not one bit how far removed you are
from the actual mining process. There is a growing trend in the US
toward ethically-produced jewelry, and those of us who are actively
involved in the ethical gem trade should make it our goal to educate
our fellow jewelers and artisans in the truth about how gemstones
are mined in certain areas of the world.

Respectfully submitted,

Clyde Gilbert
Greenwood Studio


#5

ive not seen anyone suggest contacting the state dept. in washington
dc perhaps they will have the skinney on sanctions status for burma

  • goo

#6

This definitely is an interesting topic with no easy answers. It
appears that JA as well as several large jewelry retailers are
calling for an industry wide boycott of Burmese stones. Aside from
the difficulty of proving the origin of any stone, (with the
exception of jadeite I suppose) the question has to be asked whether
a boycott will hurt the people or the generals more.

I have heard quite respected gemologists speak with glee about the
amazing deals they used to get on Pailin sapphires from the Khmer
Rouge in Cambodia back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. When asked
about the ethical consderations of supporting genocidal maniacs the
reply was “Hey, everybody needs rice.”

here’s a link to the Colored Stone article about the boycott:
http://www.colored-stone.com/stories/nov07/burma.cfm

Douglas


#7

I buy Maw Sit Sit from a friend who has family in Thailand. He goes
back twice a year to visit and buy gem minerals from private parties
who have smuggled it out of Burma. This source may be curtailed with
the new sanctions he may not be able get them back in the US. Now
who am I hurting by not buying Maw Sit Sit when it was purchased
indirectly from the miners/smugglers trying to feed their families?

We try to be as green and as humanitarianly aware as possible but who
can truly say if a gem was mined humanitarianly and as green as
possible. The only gem mineral I work with that I can say is 100%
conflict free is Cripple Creek Turquoise because I know the miner
and have personally mined with him. To the same degree any gem
minerals mined in the US. But anything else is a crap shoot.

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Colorado Springs, Colorado
rockymountainwonders.com


#8

Not being an expert in gems, I can’t speak much to the specific
stones. I can speak to the concept of boycotts hurting the people or
the generals more. The people work as something closer to slaves in
the mines and the government keeps the profits in the spheres it
controls, not those of the people.

And if I thought that buying Burma’s (Myanmar’s) gems would take
care of the people, I’d do it…but then, it hasn’t yet. The current
regime has last faced an uprising in 1988, and then it was quenched
with blood, as it nearly has been this time. Thanks to the internet,
sources for made the beginnings of the uprising viewable
to the world. The same made it possible to hearten a world shaken by
the knowledge of so many people (including Buddhist monks) were
murdered. Some survived…some of the people, some of those who were
given orders to roust monks and kill them escaped, some monks arrived
home from where they were supporting the pleas of Burma’s monks.

There have always been people living on the backs of others. In
jewelry this is perhaps sometimes much more true than we’d like. I
know this. But there are some situations I find it appalling to
ignore. And as I say this there are people in all parts of this
country standing on this same line with different thinking and making
their own choices. We all have that right. But remember…me buying
gems from Burma doesn’t necessarily put rice on anyone’s table. It
might put another body on someone’s table though. IMHO.

Sorry for the rant. I come to this field from an education steeped
in social awareness and social responsibility. We are always free to
choose differently, and it’s not my place to decide whether you ought
to follow my steps or not.

And thank you for the article.

Kim


#9

It’s a difficult position, being as ethical as we can in this field.
I agree with you, Rick, that we really never know with certainty
where a gem comes from, where the metal comes from.

Unfortunately, even in the US, the gifts of the earth are taken from
land stolen by the government…sacred land. Or they are mined in
such a way that they blow apart mountains from the top down, or the
ground up. They are taken in the least expensive way possible, even
when it is also the most damaging.

These things are shameful to me, taking from the world our
children’s children’s children will one day inherit. And we cannot
undo some of these things. What we do is the best we can to be
ethical, knowledgeable, and appreciative of what the earth gives up.

I agree with my husband. This is an interesting living, and we sure
are learning a lot. We have strong opinions, and we do our best not
to judge those who make different choices. We don’t know if our
choices are ‘correct’ or not, they’re just the lines we draw in our
sand on our beach. Lucky we all have a little sand and beach, or it
would be awfully crowded.

Thank you everyone for this wonderful discussion!

Kim


#10

This is a very interesting and thought provoking thread. When I first
started buying gems last year, the first batch I naively bought was a
group of eight gorgeous rubies from Myanmar. They are absolutely
stunning and I’ve been planning to make something nice for my
in-law’s ruby wedding anniversary (which happened earlier this year),
as soon as I can afford the gold to do so. I often look at them as
they are so pretty but now that I’ve been reading this thread and the
articles that people have posted links to, I look at them with
different eyes.

It’s like many such thought provoking issues, you read someone’s
views on it and wholeheartedly agree with what they say and so you
decide to stand on that side of the fence, but then you read someone
else’s opposing view and also agree wholeheartedly with what they
say and as such are left not knowing which side of the fence to stand
on!

I’ll continue to read this thread and people’s views with interest
in the hope of understanding where I stand.

Helen
UK


#11

I’m certainly not an expert in gems, either. I’m still at the stage
in learning jewelry-making where I use “pretty stones”, not “precious
gems”. I know a little more about human behavior.

If nobody buys the gems coming from those mines, and there is no
reason for these mines to stay in operation, what happens to those
people then?


#12

This is an issue I have struggled with since the 60’s. There are no
easy answers. When I buy gold, some of it might have been stolen from
an Egyptian King’s tomb 4000 years ago, or it might have come from a
strip mine in Colorado that is now filled with cyanide, or it might
have come from a Native American miner’s pan in Alaska. Darned if I
can tell the difference, and the people that I buy it from have no
idea where it’s from either.

Same with stones. Unless you actually see the stone come from the
Earth and physically cut it yourself, you really don’t have knowledge
of where that stone comes from and who was involved in it’s trip to
you. Just like our customers, we are required to trust those with
whom we do business. This also requires that they trust their sources
and that those people in turn trust their sources. Sure, to a degree
you can have a lab determine where a stone is from, but how much does
finding out cost, and is it really something you would do on a daily
basis? And even if you go to those lengths, how do you know who dug
the rough from the ground and whether their motivation was to avoid a
beating or to get a pay check?

The only thing that we who live in freedom can do that has any real
and lasting effect is to vote for and elect people that do not take
money or favors from governments, companies or individuals that
participate in or condone behavior such as we have most recently seen
in Burma. Our politicians that turn a blind eye to such crimes
against humanity so they can keep their campaign coffers full are
just as much to blame as the slave drivers wielding whips. Both
accept blood money as bribes, and will continue to do so until the
majority of free people stop them.

Pay attention to where the politicians you support really get their
financing and to whom they owe allegiance. If you haven’t been
active in politics and what has happened in Burma and similar
atrocities around the world are an important issue to you, study up,
and vote accordingly. Don’t take other people’s word for whom to vote
for, especially the politicians themselves. They might let their
ideology interfere with the truth. Find out for yourself, and be
honest with yourself. If you don’t, you have no room to complain.
This is the blessing and the curse of being free.

Dave


#13

Dave makes a good point when he says that we never really know the
origin of the stones or the gold we buy. I can remember some years
ago when some gold was marketed that was radioactive. If I recall
correctly, it had been reclaimed from some hospital. Several women
developed cancer in their ring finger of the left hand, and detective
work traced it to the fact that the gold being used in making the
rings was radioactive. Perhaps someone can recall the details better
than I have.

Alma


#14

Hi Dave,

Same with stones. Unless you actually see the stone come from the
Earth and physically cut it yourself, you really don't have
knowledge of where that stone comes from and who was involved in
it's trip to you. Just like our customers, we are required to trust
those with whom we do business. This also requires that they trust
their sources and that those people in turn trust their sources. 

I am off topic to the subject, but i want to respond to the above I
have tried to bridge the gap so to speak, I go to the source and buy
the rough, heat treat it then facet it in-house and list them on my
web site for sale. I have made a youtube video of the process.
http://www.crescentgems.com/wholesale.php

I do have to confess, I don’t source all the gemstones this way but
Over 70% of the stones are bought in the rough. the larger Stones
(over 3 ct) I buy from trusted dealers in rathnapura.

Best regards

Ahmed Shareek
Crescent Gems
http://www.crescentgems.com


#15
Dave makes a good point when he says that we never really know the
origin of the stones or the gold we buy. I can remember some years
ago when some gold was marketed that was radioactive. If I recall
correctly, it had been reclaimed from some hospital. Several women
developed cancer in their ring finger of the left hand, and
detective work traced it to the fact that the gold being used in
making the rings was radioactive. Perhaps someone can recall the
details better than I have. 

This apparently happened back in the 1930’s and 1940’s see
http://radlab.nl/radsafe/archives/0008/msg00025.html

Jim

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


360-756-6550


#16

Hello Ahmed,

Do you sell your gems in Tucson in February? If so, where will you
be?

Also, the duplicate ring we made will be picked up by the client
tomorrow. It looks great. Thank you for your excellent job on
cutting the czs to our exact measurements. You were very patient with
our complications and prompt and accurate in your work. Nice dealing
with you.

Thank you Hanuman for the Orchid and the opportunity to connect with
far flung colleagues.

Sincerely,
Janet Alix


#17

It is also worth remembering that most Teak comes from Burma. Even
is the retailer says that it comes from sustainable forests and may
have been imported from other parts of Asia, it usually comes from
Burma. Burmese teak is taken from unsustained forests. The indigenous
people are driven away, beaten and sometimes killed. The generals
treat Burma as their own private company because money from with
money from trade being fed through them. Don’t buy anything that
could remotely come from Burma.

Richard
www.richard-whitehouse.co.uk