Sustainability Issues in the Coloured Gemstone Industry

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. This is shown from a new study by SOMO into the supply chain of coloured gemstones. SOMO carried out research into the CSR policy of leading international jewellers: Signet Group (US, VK), Wal Mart & Tiffany (US), GemTV (UK) and the leading jewellers in the Netherlands: Bijenkorf and Siebel. SOMO also carried out field research into the working conditions of cutters in Thailand and miners in Madagascar. 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.”

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