Ethical Gemstone Issues


In an ideal world, a fair trade gem would come from a third party certified, cooperative mining community. Beneficiation, including polishing and community development, would be based in and benefit local economies. This situation simply does not exist. To understand the best efforts to produce a fair trade gem, read on.

The issue of what constitutes a fair trade gemstone is complex and difficult. Much of what appears in the jewelry case comes out of a holding dug up by a small miner with a shovel and pick. Dealers purchase rough (unpolished gemstone still in its matrix) and sell it to others who may export it for polishing. This may then be sold to a wholesaler who presents the gem at a show. By the time a gemstone finds its way to market, it becomes impossible to trace it back to its source.

At this time, there are no third party, fair trade certified gemstones. We use the term 'fair trade gems' only for search engine purposes. We source our gems from companies that fall into three different models for the emerging for fair trade market: Co-operatives, Companies, and Collaborators.


Co-ops or associations of small scale miners (ASM), ideally would be selling fair trade finished gems, similar to the Oro Verde project which sells fair trade gold from Colombia. One example of an organized group which is working on this is the Tanzania Women Miners Association (TAWOMA).


These are companies developing a fair trade process by owning the mine itself. Columbia Gems has pioneered this process at a ruby deposit in Malawi with their cutting tightly supervised in China. A second example of this type of company is Ruby Fair, which sources out of a remote village in Tanzania.


These are individuals who contact the artisanal miners directly and develop relationships that benefit their people and villages based upon a fair trade ethos. They personally finance exploration and shepherd the rough to cut through a factory which they know is ethical.

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