Colourful gemstones, such as sapphires, rubies and emeralds, grace a huge amount of jewellery. But the world behind these gemstones looks a lot less attractive, poor working conditions are widespread. This is shown from a new study by SOMO into the supply chain of coloured gemstones.

The retail value of coloured gemstones is estimated at between 7 and 11 billion euros globally. Official global trade figures (import) indicate a value of almost 3 billion euros. “But,” says SOMO researcher Sanne van der Wal: “the supply chain for coloured gemstones appears to be a textbook example of unequal global distribution. The further back you go in the chain, the less people earn. The gemstones are often mined in the poorest developing countries, such as Tanzania, Madagascar and Zambia. They then go to slightly less poor developing countries, such as India, China and Thailand, where they are cut. Finally, they are sold in the wealthy West.”

The biggest labour problems occur at the start of the production process, however. Child labour, health damage, fatal accidents, low income and work insecurity: it is primarily the miners and cutters who suffer these damaging consequences. “Unfortunately there is still a lack of serious, sector-wide sustainability initiatives within the gemstones sector,” says Van der Wal. “The gemstones sector can take the gold and diamontsector as an example, which have many of the same jewellers as in the coloured gemstone sector and already have such international initiatives. It is high time that the sector takes responsibility for the fair production of coloured gemstones.”

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