The 2006 film “Blood Diamond” brought attention to the conditions of diamond mining in Africa and the problems within the diamond industry. It addressed diamonds that were sold to finance political conflicts, horrible working conditions in the mines, slavery, and diamond suppliers that profited off of the situation.
The industry started changing before the film, in 2003 the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established to ensure diamonds are not supplied by mines that fund conflicts or have sub-standard work environments. While it is widely acknowledged that the diamond and gold industries have made strides in ensuring fair compensation and safe working conditions, the colored gem stone industry is not there yet, but that does not mean there aren’t people trying.
Fair Gems Process, a French non-profit organization, is striving to give the colored gem industry a fair trade system similar to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme . Based in Sri Lanka, there is an extraction mine in Ratnapura and a training center in Beruwala both aimed at improving the local colored gem industry. The idea is to set up a structure so workers are fairly compensated and treated. Workers often migrate from other regions looking for employment, leaving them dependent on employers for lodging and pay. The organization hopes to improve conditions by having local mine owners agree to their standards and charter. Another key part of the program is improving the community, helping to build houses, schools, and supporting other social programs. As of April 2011they had 168 mine owners sign the charter. They are currently working to be approved by Flo-Cert, an agency that approves fair trade certifications, and are reaching out to other trade organizations in hopes of spreading their influence.
At Pam Older Designs are hopeful about these efforts and hope these standards will some day be pervasive in the industry. We strive to learn more about how we can be better buyers of fair trade goods.
For more information on the Fair Gems Process see this article.