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Jewelers’ Ethics: Rubies from Myanmar and Corals from Sea Reefs

24 july 2009

According to, several jewelry organizations worldwide have urged the US Congress to consider lifting the US ban on rubies from Myanmar (Burma). The organizations include the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and the World Jewelry Confederation (CIBJO) among others.

The Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act went into effect in September 2008. The aim of the embargo on the import of Burmese rubies and jadeite to the US was to cut off funds to Myanmar's military junta rulers who have been condemned for human rights abuses, including violent crackdowns against peaceful dissenters.

AGTA President Doug Hucker stated at JCK Las Vegas:  "We're asking Congress to re-address this issue. We feel that this embargo is not going to achieve the expected goals."

The following organizations signed a letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in this matter: The Canadian Jewelers Association, Hong Kong Jewelry Manufacturers' Association, Indian Diamond and Colorstone Association, International Colored Gemstone Association, New York Gem Dealers Association and the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association.

In the letter, the organizations stated that although they condemn the behavior of the junta, they do not believe think the JADE Act will achieve the intended economic repercussions. They noted that rather than impairing the military government’s finances, the crackdown has harmed Myanmar’s poor, many of whom are not only gemstone miners but also active resisters of the junta, Hucker said.

The jewelry organizations believe that tens of thousands of Burmese artisinal ruby miners in the country’s outlying areas, where rubies have been a key part of the economy, have been hit by the US sanctions.

Also feeling the blow are jewelry manufacturers in China, Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, where the rubies were cut and embedded in jewelry prior to the US law.

Most of the jadeite sold through state-controlled auctions in Myanmar goes to Chinese markets, which purchase it for domestic consumption.

Hucker stated that while the law remains valid, jewelers should be prepared to answer customers’ questions about Burmese rubies and assure them that their gemstones comply with the law. He urged jewelers to acquire a relevant warranty from suppliers according to which the rubies are from some other location, such as Tanzania or Madagascar, or a guarantee that they were imported prior to September 2008.

One of the biggest international jewelers, Tiffany and Co., is also well known for making jewelry ethics one of the most important aspects of its image. Reaffirming its "no coral sales" policy, Tiffany and Co. unveiled store windows worldwide with an "Under the Sea" theme to raise awareness about the damage coral harvesting inflicts on critically important marine ecosystems, reports.

Tiffany window designers created a fantasy world devoted to coral conservation, with each store window offering a different view of the ocean floor, complete with hills, valleys, waves, bubbles and vibrant coral shapes sculpted in resin.

The ocean-themed windows seek to inform the public that corals are living animals that, together with the reef systems they help to create, provide marine life with food and fertile grounds for reproduction.

"Today, corals are in crisis - the result of destructive fishing methods, climate change and their removal for use as decorative objects and jewelry," Tiffany Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael J. Kowalski said in a media release. "In 2002, we discontinued selling coral jewelry, concluding that in a world where corals and reef communities are under siege, we could not be complicit in their destruction. It is our hope to raise consumer awareness of this important issue and to urge fellow jewelers to join us in refusing to sell coral jewelry."

Tiffany also supports nonprofit organization SeaWeb and its "Too Precious to Wear" campaign, designed to educate consumers and retailers about coral conservation. Tiffany also backs the reauthorization of a U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act and the addition of red coral to the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II, which lists species that could become threatened with extinction if trade is not carefully monitored.

According to Tiffany, the company is also committed to what it calls "sustainable style," enduring designs of beauty that pose no threat to natural resources.

The "Under the Sea" windows will be available for viewing throughout the summer, with rotating designs from Tiffany's renowned collections, including Bezet, a new diamond engagement ring.