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Increasingly, awareness of the provenance and production process of luxury items has become as important to consumers as the actual product itself. The Thailand gem and jewellery industry has only developed over the past 30 years, but has emerged as one of the world’s leading exporters of gems and jewellery (though there is a long history of gem mining) and for those buying coloured gemstones in Thailand it is imperative that there is transparency, traceability and accountability to the stones that are being purchased.
The world is already aware of the Kimberley Process to ensure that diamonds are mined and processed in an ethical way, but the fact is that gemstones are of less financial value than diamonds and the workers that are involved tend to be small traders and dealers and are less protected – indeed the market for gemstones has been described as ‘woolly’ on account of its ‘notoriously fragmented supply base’ and ‘the unregulated nature of the industry’.
The vast majority of non-diamond gemstones are mined in low cost, widely dispersed artisanal and small-scale mines in remote regions of developing countries. Most gemstone producing countries have environmental and social policies relating to these mines, however, they rarely have the power to enforce these policies.
There are however some cutting and polishing factories that look after their employees in an ethical way with a ban on child labour, educational facilities, appropriate remuneration and housing provided. It is essential that buyers can verify for themselves the claims of fair-trade practices such as good working conditions, fair trading relations and a long term commitment to their workers.