Harry Winston Inc., the world-renowned American luxury jeweler, announced on December 15, 2021 that it would not purchase any gemstones from Myanmar, amid harsh criticism of the country’s ethical standards, days only before the non-profit organization Global Witness published a damning report. report, alleging widespread human rights abuses in the Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma.
A military junta took control of Myanmar in February, prompting the United States to impose sanctions on its major gemstone companies. The country is best known for its jade and rubies, which the industry considers to be among the best in the world.
Global Witness, an international NGO established in 1993, with offices in London and Washington DC, is dedicated to breaking the links between the exploitation of natural resources, conflict, poverty, corruption and human rights abuses. man in the world. The organization has pioneered in seeing the link between natural resources, conflict and corruption and has for over 25 years investigated and exposed environmental and human rights abuses in the petroleum, gas, mining and timber and followed ill-gotten money and influence through the global financial and political system.
On the current situation in Myanmar, which is ruled by a military junta, Global Wirness says the junta’s decision to run an international gemstone store demonstrates the urgent need for tougher international measures, including import bans and sanctions , to ensure that conflict resources are not turned into financial resources. lifeline for the cash-strapped regime.
“The very fact that the junta is holding an international gem fair amid the country’s widespread economic and political turmoil shows its desperation to get internationally traded currency,” said Hanna Hindström, Myanmar campaign manager at GlobalWitness. “These funds will help the army support its illegitimate regime and finance the purchase of weapons used to violently oppress the country’s population.”
Harry Winston, a jeweler in the Swatch Group, did not buy gemstones directly from Myanmar, but previously bought them from “trusted and verified” suppliers, who had certified that their Burmese rubies and jades had been imported for a period without international sanctions. As a precaution, the company took extra steps to verify import dates and the original documentation was checked to ensure everything was within the rules.
However, cementing its ongoing commitment to responsible and ethical sourcing, House of Harry Winston recently announced that its company will no longer source gemstones from its Burmese-origin suppliers, regardless of their import dates.
Subsequently, Global Witness reported that Harry Winston’s recent policy change was indeed a welcome move, worthy of emulation by others in the gemstone and jewelery industry.
In an investigation recently published by Global Witness, Harry Winston was one of many luxury brands named as ruby sellers fueling “brutal conflict and human rights abuses” in Myanmar. Graff, Bulgari and Sotheby’s were among others the organization claimed were also doing business with these stones.
Global Witness further claimed that Myanmar’s gem trade is a “corrupt military racket” led by Min Aung Hlaing, the general who led the country’s takeover earlier this year. The army, according to Global Witness, has brought the gem trade under its control to tighten its grip on power and fund atrocities, including the February 2021 coup it led.
According to Global Witness, mining in the country has been illegal since the last license expired in 2020. However, since the coup, informal miners have filled the void, with soldiers “extorting payments for the right to dig rubies and other precious stones.
Clare Hammond, senior Myanmar campaigner at Global Witness, said: “There are no ethically sourced Burmese rubies. These gemstones are sold as symbols of human connection and affection, but the supply chain is steeped in corruption and horrific human rights abuses. According to Global Witness, the army also organizes gem fairs for “unscrupulous” buyers.
Based on official data, Global Witness estimates that Myanmar’s colored gemstone industry was worth an average of US$346-368 million per year, at full production between 2014 and 2017. However, the organization believes these figures are conservative and that the actual total could be up to five times more.
The other renowned jeweler named by Global Witness as a Myanmar ruby trader, UK-based Graff, told Rappaport News that they do not source gemstones directly from Myanmar, but source them from suppliers. trusted third party after having regularly sought and received assurances from them as to their source of supply in the country.
Another renowned jeweler, Tiffany & Co., said on its website that its company had not purchased any gemstones from Myanmar since 2003, when the United States banned imports of products from that country.
According to Clare Hammond, Myanmar campaign manager, “it is almost impossible to oversee the supply chain of a ruby from Myanmar. And until they know they are sourced responsibly, they must stop selling Myanmar rubies. The fact that a handful of brands have already taken action leaves the rest no excuse not to follow suit.
Global Witness has further warned jewelry dealers that Mozambique’s rival ruby supplier is not an ethical alternative in Myanmar given that mines there have also been linked to human rights abuses and corruption.