Fair Trade Gems Project, USA | Print |

The Fair Trade Gems project was launched in 2004 by Eric Braunwart who heads the Columbia Gem House firm, which has extensive contracts with mine operators around the world. Its mining partners agree to support the company’s efforts to safeguard workers, the environment, and the integrity of the gems they produce. Columbia Gem House, Inc. is the first jewellery industry company to join the Fair Trade movement.

The Quality Assurance and Fair Trade Gems Protocols Braunwart helped create aims to produce real and lasting benefits. It increases the standard of living for miners and gem cutters and benefits the global community at large. Fair Trade Gems are closely tracked from mine to market to ensure that every gem has been handled according to the strict protocols, which include environmental protection, fair labor practices, health and safety standards, and a tight chain of custody that eliminates the possibility of treated gems or synthetics being introduced into the supply chain.

The program also includes the promotion of cultural diversity, public education and industry accountability. In addition to supporting employees and taking care of the environment, protecting the quality and integrity of the product is very important. It extends the protection of the Fair Trade Gems program to consumers, who are entitled to know what they are buying.

Braunwart sells gems including Tashmarine, a brand of green diopside mined in the remote Xinjiang Province of China, and Nyala Ruby from the Chimwadzulu mine in Malawi, where the company helped build a school for 450 pupils, the children of mine workers. Both gems are cut in his factory in Shenzhen, China, by workers who are paid three times the minimum wage and receive paid vacation, room and board, and medical, disability and unemployment insurance.

For Braunwart, the aim is to be able to demonstrate the origin of gemstones to the customer, and to identify what, if any, treatments have been done to the gemstone and determine that the gemstone is natural and not synthetic or imitation. In addition, he wants the industry to be able to confirm that the gemstone was obtained legally, and not support those who employ child or slave labor, or demand employees work exorbitant hours, or pay below the standard or minimum wages. The target is also to avoid doing business with firms which are destroying the environment, smuggling, or supporting terrorists groups or indeed which are unethical or non-transparent in any manner.

Braunwart’s attention was first drawn to the fair trade issue while managing a World Bank project in Madagascar several years ago. U.S. Officials in the country told him the aim of the project to clean up the diamond and gem trade industry was to discover if money was going to terrorists. Although Braunwart thought the suggestion far-fetched, when asked to disprove it he realized that it was difficult, if not impossible, to do so since there was very little tracking or monitoring by traders of the origin of goods they bought.