Gary Seneviratne at mine in Sri Lanka

Keeping it clean – what does it mean to be ethical in the world of gem mining?

Ethics is a complex concept that means different things to different people and in different industries. For the world of gemstones and jewellery many of the ethical issues we face stem from the tough, uncompromising and distinctly unglamorous world of gem mining.

It is fair to say that “ethics” is not a word that is always closely associated with the mining of gemstones, or indeed mining in general. Through the power of Hollywood, the term “blood diamond” is in the public’s vocabulary. There is an awareness of the less palatable side of the industry and that means it is even more important for us to be proactive in addressing this negative opinion.

Gary Seneviratne at mine in Sri Lanka

Gary Seneviratne at mine in Sri Lanka

We think that being ethical starts with the fair treatment of two key groups of people – our customers and our staff.

Our customers should not only expect a good quality gemstone at a fair price, but  they have a right to know where that stone originated, under what conditions was it mined and if it has been treated or modified in any way since it came out of the ground.

The principle of full disclosure is very important. We tell our customers everything we possibly can about a gemstone (backed up with as much evidence as we have available), so that they can make an informed buying decision. We consider that our obligation to them. We operate a fully transparent supply chain so that we maximise the traceability of our stock. It does require a little more effort to work in this way, but we think it is the only way to give our clients peace of mind when they buy from us.

Mining team

Mining team

Arguably, more important than how we treat our customers is the way we behave towards our staff. Of course¸ the fundamental agreement we have with our employees is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. The mining teams also benefit from a share of our mining output, which means they are partners in our success.

Beyond the financial side, we need to be particularly diligent in terms of providing a safe working environment. Mining is a hard and dangerous job at the best of times. As an ethical employer, we ensure our teams have good equipment and observe procedures for their own safety. We work closely with them to continuously appraise their working conditions and look for new improvements we can make.

Our business also looks at other key areas such as our impact on the environment and how we can minimise the disruption while we hunt for gemstones. We operate small-scale mines with low levels of mechanisation, often employing traditional techniques that are very eco-friendly and avoid the use of any hazardous materials.

Small-scale mine shaft

Small-scale mine shaft

On a wider scale, it is important for the industry to implement sustainable mining programmes so that the proceeds from mining benefit the whole community and secure their long-term future. For example, using proceeds from mining to set up other businesses within a village or offer microfinance to support existing ventures.

As well as commercial assistance, ethical businesses must actively support charitable projects, either through fundraising events or direct donations, helping those parts of the community which are struggling to help themselves.

Orphanage in Sri Lanka

Orphanage in Sri Lanka

Being ethical means acting in the “right” way on many levels. For our industry, there is still plenty of room for improvement, not least in the areas of child labour and human rights.

Fortunately, there is a growing number of companies, brands and individuals who are committed to making things better. Whilst mining will always be a dirty job, we can certainly be optimistic that it will justify an increasingly cleaner reputation.