All Roads Lead to Fair Trade

ICA Congress in Brazil showcases how to make fair trade a reality
irrespective of a global certification scheme in place in the gem trade

New York, NY, May 6, 2011 - Whether or not the colored stone industry is able to make a certification scheme like diamond’s Kimberley Process a reality should not preclude gem traders from executing practices that can ensure the legitimacy of its products through the supply chain, advocate speakers at the International Colored Gemstone Association’s 14th Biennial Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Tackling traceability, members of the gemological laboratory community shared their take on this complicated issue given the variety of gem types, origins within each type and the role labs can play in identifying gem footprints. “Origin identification not only provides historical reference and value basis, it’s becoming increasingly more important for traceability,” says Thomas Hainschwang, managing director GGTL GEMLAB, Geneva, Switzerland. He reports greater demand for these services that have shifted from a purely commercial aspiration to an ethical one.

Dr. Dietmar Schwarz, research manager for the Gubelin Gem Lab in Lucerne, Switzerland concurs: “As consumer awareness has increased in recent years, geographic origin reports have also become more important for those wishing to avoid politically or ethically challenged producer countries.” In fact, Hainschwang adds that by proving goods originate from ethically responsible sources, gems get new added value, equating to higher demand and acceptance in the market.

Hainschwang cites the use of infrared spectroscopy, UV-Vis-NIR spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence, microscopic examination, luminescence imaging and other physical properties like inclusions, growth features and chemical characteristics—showing the differences between emeralds from Colombia and other producing nations like Brazil and Zambia.

Similarly, Schwarz employs “mineralogical-gemological fingerprinting” to identify origin of rubies and sapphires, from chemical and spectral to inclusion features, optical data, luminescence behavior, and isotope composition. “Origin determination is only possible because the properties of ruby and sapphire that are measured in the lab reflect the specific geological-genetic conditions that prevailed during their formation in nature,” he says. “Based on these properties, the gemologist can relate the unknown gem to a specific genetic environment like sapphire from a basalt-environment or ruby from a marble-type host rock.”

But Hainschwang notes that without the scientific backing of gemological laboratories via the development of a database from known geographic localities and/or specific geological environments with samples in situ and sample analysis and referencing, such traceability is not really possible.

Dr. Wilawan Atichat, director of the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT), advocates the necessity for standardization of gem identification and certification among gemological laboratories. GIT amassed its own comparative database of chemical analysis and gem mapping for corundum deposits in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Vietnam, Burma, Tanzania, and Cambodia, Atichat reports.

She advocates the fortification of groups like the Gemstone Industry & Laboratory Conference (GILC), founded and organized by ICA which brings top industry leaders together to present research findings and discuss gemological, certification or laboratory and trade issues relevant to the gems and jewelry industry and to consumers.  

Atichat believes country of origin certification of colored stones could be beneficial to the gem supply chain with application in ethical mining and fair trade practices by increasing the reliability and value of a gem, its traceability of origin, and as a tracking alternative within a broader certification process. Among the cons are, varying opinions in origin determination among labs, and the use of such certification as a non-tariff barrier in global business.

But while the gem industry searches for the ideal fair trade model/certification scheme, it should not lose sight of what it can do now, says Robert Weldon, manager photography, laboratory publishing GIA. “Do the right thing” in all that you do. You will know it, your supplier will know it, and so will your customers.”

Weldon cites examples: Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House, Vancouver, Washington established detailed protocols identifying governments, miners and non-governmental organizations as his partners. Eric and Mark Saul of Swala Gem Trading built and run a school near their tsavorite mine in Lemshuko, Tanzania so local miners can bring their families to the region and educate their children. Marcelo Ribeiro plants and reforests the land and reclaims and purifies water at his Belmont Emerald Mine in Itabira. Brian Cook encourages sustainable farming among local mining families at his claims in Brazil. Ramiro Rivero focuses on worker wellbeing with reasonable work hours, equitable pay, meals, entertainment, and clinic at his ametrine mine in Anahí, Bolivia.

Weldon offered Congress attendees a blueprint for basic fair trade practices: establish guidelines all partners must sign and focus on; ensure all aspects of supply chain comply with fair trade goals; restore nature in mining efforts; provide value added benefits to remote mining communities; create sustainable adjuncts to mining operations; provide workers with adequate shelter, food, and health care; and work towards poverty alleviation, a living wage, and gender equality.

Photographs available on request.

For more information:

Barbara Wheat, ICA Executive Director
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