By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
Many important topics were discussed during the World Jewellery Confederation, or CIBJO, Congress, Oct. 3–5, 2023, held in Jaipur, India, but one presentation may have generated the most buzz of all.
Colorado School of Mines’ (Mines) Jenna White, a Ph.D. student and seasoned researcher with 16 years of experience in corporate social responsibility and international development, shared initial findings from her scholarly research for the “Transparent and Traceable Gemstone Supply Chains Initiative” that AGTA embarked on with Mines earlier this year. White recently completed the first leg of her travel to several major international mining locations. The goal of the endeavor is to identify best practices in the colored gemstone supply chain.
White traveled to CIBJO along with AGTA CEO John W. Ford Sr. and Board President Kimberly Collins, Kimberly Collins Colored Gems, to take part in both pre-Congress steering committee meetings, taking place Oct. 1–2, and to present initial research. She presented findings in the “Special Coloured Gemstone Responsible Sourcing” Session on Oct. 4 with other panelists and moderator David Brough, Editor in Chief of Jewellery Outlook.
White’s methods include countless interviews with players in source countries and determining what works for them and what doesn’t. She spent months living and working in the supply chain conducting in-depth case studies.
“Academia says to look at your behavior and what you can control,” says White. “I’m seeing a lot of poor practices and a lot of tears in this research that I must communicate back to our audience. It makes me wonder what we are really doing in these communities.”
Takeaways from her presentation contradicted oft-repeated misinformation circulating through the industry, such as that all miners or those who work in mining have cell phones. More key points are below.
- Guidelines that were developed for responsible sourcing of gold and Diamonds were adapted from initiatives in the coffee and banana industries and do not fit the colored gemstone supply chain, which is 80% artisanal mining. Gemstones get to market differently.
- There’s confusion around best practices and a proliferation of charity models that aim to make the supply chain feel good but don’t necessarily consider their impact.
- Defining terminology was an important part of the interviews. Many women interviewed in source countries claimed they were miners, but when pressed further they revealed that they worked in the mining supply chain. Diggers, on the other hand, are those who climb into mines to pursue hard-rock mining.
- Blockchain works well for things that are similar, not things that exist in complex social networks like networks of people. We trust people in the jewelry and gemstone industry, not stones.
- Short-term fixes—such as one-off donations—are tempting to implement in the supply chain, but they can have negative unintended consequences because gemstones operate in a complex system.
- When recipients of charity thought they were in business transactions, donations were deemed offensive and undermined the expansion of those markets.
- If you give good prices, then partners on the ground don’t need donations. Groups that buy at throwaway prices but provide marketing shouldn’t expect partners to happily accept their terms. Miners want fair prices and to be treated like business partners.
- Make sure stories are based in facts. Some on the ground in source countries know the game they are expected to play to make a sale and don’t like the stories they are expected to help perpetuate.
- Respect local values and don’t confuse them with Western values. For example, donating solar panels can be a technical solution that is not realistic for some communities.
- There are serious problems in source countries, such as intimidation at mine sites. One interview subject relayed a tragic tale of a murdered miner whose head was staked on a pike as a warning to others. In these instances, players on the ground couldn’t care less about solar panels or stories about women in mining. Most don’t want their photos used nor do they want photos taken of orphans to sell gems. The latter was a point shared with White by a community player who said practices like that “don’t match my Christian values.”
- Be careful not to sell false hopes, such as faulty apprentice models that claim to teach cutters in source countries how to cut to international standards in a few weeks. These are not realistic promises.
- Charity is the new tax avoidant.
- The gemstone and jewelry industry is about relationships and trust from mine to market, a common theme in both source countries and among stateside gemstone dealers.
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