‘Conflict rubies’ sold by top jewellers fund Myanmar junta atrocities, campaign group says

Some of the world’s most famous jewellers risk funding Myanmar’s junta by selling rubies that are likely sourced from mines in the military-ruled country, according to a new report by a UK-based campaign group.

The report, released by Global Witness on Wednesday, says that Graff, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Sotheby’s are among the companies that could be funding a regime that has killed at least 1,300 people since seizing power on February 1.

“Of more than 30 international jewellers, auction houses and mass-market retailers we contacted, most did not have adequate due diligence measures to determine the sources of the precious stones they buy,” said the group in its 71-page report. 

Only four—Tiffany, Signet, Boodles and Harry Winston—declared publicly that they have stopped sourcing gemstones from Myanmar, it added.

“Luxury brands are burying their heads in the sand and selling rubies that are highly likely to be funding conflict on to unwitting consumers,” said the group’s senior campaigner, Clare Hammond, in a press release published the same day.

“There is no such thing as an ethically sourced Burmese ruby,” said Hammond. “These gemstones are sold as symbols of human connection and affection, yet the supply chain is steeped in corruption and horrific human rights abuses,” she added.

Myanmar is one of the world’s two largest ruby suppliers, and the source of some of the world’s finest precious stones. Around 90% of its ruby extraction takes place in Mogok, a town in Mandalay Region that is synonymous with the ruby industry. Most of the ruby mines operating there are controlled by or associated with the military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Limited and its subsidiaries.

Based on research carried out from 2017 to 2021, Global Witness estimated that Myanmar’s ruby industry was worth between $346m and $415m a year. There has also been a boom in informal gemstone mining since the coup, it said. 

“The revenue from this lucrative trade has enabled the Myanmar military to consolidate power and financial resources, and bankroll atrocities including the February 2021 coup,” said Global Witness. 

Hammond said that by the time Myanmar rubies reach Thailand, where most of Myanmar’s rubies are processed, many dealers have no idea which mines they came from and often don’t even try to find out. 

Global Witness called for broader due diligence regulations to ensure ethical and responsible sourcing from conflict-affected areas such as Myanmar, as well as proper enforcement in line with the guidance of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

It also urged local gemstone companies in Myanmar to halt illegal mining operations and boycott the military-run jade and gemstone emporiums.

Myanmar’s gemstone export business depends mainly on exhibitions that generate large sums of money for the junta through taxes.

One such exhibition in 2019 generated over €439m ($498m) in revenues, according to the Myanma Gems Enterprise. The military council is planning to hold another exhibition in Naypyitaw in December, industry insiders told Myanmar Now. 

(Global Witness)

Global Witness said jewellers should end any existing business relationships that risk funding the junta and demand transparency from their gemstone suppliers.

“Until they know that they are being sourced responsibly, they must stop selling Myanmar rubies. The fact that a handful of brands have already acted leaves the others with no excuse not to follow suit,” said Hammond.

In late November, Indian jewellery company Vaibhav Global Limited (VGL) removed all online listings that included precious stones from Myanmar after activist group Justice For Myanmar called out the company for selling the gems on popular online platforms based in the US. 

After VGL’s move, the pressure group continued to urge US retail giants such as Amazon, Walmart and Overstock to ban sales of gems from Myanmar on their sites.

While the US has introduced sanctions against the junta-controlled Myanma Gems Enterprise, it has yet to ban the import of gems from Myanmar. Such a ban is included in the Burma Act 2021, which is now before Congress.

Related Articles

Back to top button