Anne-Marie Fleury, the Standards and Impacts Director at the Responsible Jewellery Council, chaired the joint CIBJO-RJC session.
November 5, 2017
CIBJO joined forces with the Responsible Jewellery Council on the first day of the 2017 CIBJO Congress in Bangkok, conducting a panel discussion on Coloured Stone Supply Chain Integrity. Anne-Marie Fleury, the Standards and Impacts Director at RJC, moderated the discussion, which she also opened up to questions and comments from the floor.
After outlining a study currently underway at RJC, with the goal of developing a code of responsible business practices for the coloured gemstone sector, Ms. Fleury began by asking Sean Gilbertson, CEO of Gemfields, about the environmental promises and practices the miner requires from its downstream partners.
Mr Gilbertson answered that, because his firm mainly deals with rough materials — mining, grading and selling them at auction — it does not place any demands on downstream customers. “We have agreements with buyers that the money they pay does not come from unethical sources and that we are not doing anything detrimental to the environment. We are not perfect. All we can try to do is set new benchmarks, and try and run mines and auctions that set new [ethical] standards. We look after the Montepuez [ruby] mine [in Mozambique] where we backfill the land and plant trees. At Kagem [emerald mine in Zambia], which is bigger and deeper, that’s not possible but we will fill it with water and populate it with fish at the end of its life.”
He also spoke about a new initiative the firm has launched which was developed together with the Gübelin Gem Lab where a parcel of emeralds was mixed with a resin produced by the Gübelin, made up of liquid containing nano-particles that enable the placing of a marker on the gemstone with a time and origin. He said that this could only be destroyed if the stones are heated to a very high temperature, but that problem might be solved in the future.
He said the cost of the new technology was “north of $100,000.”
“Probably other labs will develop something similar in the future, but this cannot really be applied by the small-scale artisanal miners, unless they are working in alliance with big miners. Then they could produce their own nano-particles,” Mr. Gilbertson said.
Jean Claude Michelou, the Communications Director of the International Colored Gemstone Association, an advisor to UNICRI and a long-time expert in gemstones and in traceability, said the industry should follow best practices that firms such as Gemfields are doing. Codes of practice should be transparent and reliable.
The OECD has been driving guidelines that many are following and is preparing a platform with information for the public about how to do business legally with all countries, stated Mr. Michelou, adding that it was important for companies to know their supplier.
Emmanuel Piat, the head of the renowned Parisian gemstone firm Maison Piat was asked how he sought guarantees that his suppliers had total integrity. He said he relies on a very good supplier in Mogok in Myanmar due to his clients’ demands for responsibly sourced stones. “Smaller mines do not have the time to fill in forms that they are operating ethically, because they are fighting to make a living,” he stated.
“I need responsibly sourced stones because that is what my clients, especially the big international brands and younger designers, are requesting. When you buy from artisanal miners, you do so via people you have never met, so then you don’t know what you are buying, and they could be synthetics. For that reason I trade with people I have known for some time, or who were recommended to us,” he said.
Sapphires and rubies expert Richard Hughes was asked for his view on responsible practices. “You have to start with: first, don’t do any harm. Don’t harm the people you want to regulate. If you are going to ban child labour or other bad practices, then you have to find alternative work for them. Perhaps we can help as an industry to provide Africans with wells for clean drinking water. They have basic everyday challenges that we need to help them solve.”
Gemmologist Vincent Pardieu said he had a first-hand view of the nature of the problems facing the artisanal sector and responsible sourcing, since he was one of the few people going from the First World to remote mines in the Third World.
“Today’s production can be covered because we have the means to identify the goods as they come out of the ground, but what about all the millions of carats that went before. What can origin determination provide as far as they are concerned,” he asked.
“Mining firms today can show where their goods came from, but the rest of the stones in circulation are from miners who are dead, so the only way is for an independent third party to determine [their origin]. It’s a huge job which is beyond the capacity of smaller labs. Stones that were mined in the Middle Ages are here in our industry today,” Mr. Pardieu stated.
Eduardo Escobedo, head of the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform (RESP) a Swiss based non-profit organisation, agreed there has been some change in responsible sourcing in the past five years. “A growing group of stakeholders is becoming aware of the need to address issues related to integrity, and translating that into concrete steps such as transparency and traceability that, even five years ago, people were saying was not possible. This has also been translated into collective action. When I first started discussing this with stakeholders they said it was difficult to have free sharing of information.”
“But there are clear limitations related to the type of stakeholder collaboration that is possible. How do you get all the areas involved and all the artisanal miners? Language can also be a barrier, because the debate is usually carried out in English and not everyone speaks English. These are complex issues that require a lot of resources – not just money, but people and skills. I haven’t seen clear frameworks for how each stakeholder will act. The question is how do we get engagement with the stakeholders, and how do we translate that into action because it requires a bottom-up approach,” he said.