The main takeaway from the Second World Emerald Symposium was the need for industry players to focus on ethics, with an emphasis on responsible sourcing, transparency, sustainability, and an ethical supply chain. Illustrating the importance the Colombian government places on these best practices, a number of high-level officials spoke at the symposium. Among them was vice-minister Caroline Rojas Hayes of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, whose keynote address opened the event with a welcome to the delegates. Rojas Hayes then discussed Colombian emerald mining in general, along with specific issues related to formalizing the small-scale and artisanal sector (mining regulations, taxation, licensing, and social responsibility).
Colombia’s minister of foreign affairs, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, continued the discussion on responsible sourcing when he outlined policies intended to help the entire emerald industry supply chain, including local communities as well as the environment. These include licensing, protecting the forests and rivers, and transparency, as well as education and retraining to allow some ‘guaqueros’ (artisanal miners) to move into other, more lucrative activities. Monica Maria Grand Marin (directorate of mine formalization, Ministry of Mines and Energy) also explained how the government co-ordinates with unlicensed miners to help them acquire legal status and work in accordance with national standards.
“We also provide assistance to firms to secure financing and check to ensure that they are following safety procedures,” she said.
Among the other keynote speakers was Edwin Molina, president of Aprecol, which groups emerald producers and promotes established best practices, sustainable development initiatives, and social responsibility. Founded in 2002, Aprecol works alongside the Colombian government to help set policy and support sustainable emerald production. It recently established a secondary emerald recovery plant, working with artisanal miners to dispose of mining waste in an environmentally responsible manner. Aprecol also works with the private sector to improve the quality of life in mining communities.
“We aim to create more plants with the help of the local firms throughout the region,” said Molina. “We believe emeralds should really be green—from every point of view.”
This green effort also extends to improving infrastructure, helping local farmers, driving tourism, and even offering cultural programs (such as promoting community art classes for adults and children).
Keynote speaker Guillermo Galvis, president of Acodes and chair of the symposium, noted responsibly sourced gems build confidence for consumers who are concerned about their purchases, while reiterating how important it is for the private sector to work with the government and local communities to achieve lasting social solutions for sustainability in the mining areas.
“It’s up to us to have a better industry,” he said.
Under the skillful gavel of moderator Anthony Brooke, representatives from the major trade organizations also spoke on a variety of ethics-related issues. These individuals included:
- Jean Claude Michelou (International Colored Gemstone Association [ICA] advisor and 2WES international co-ordinator);
- Clement Sabbagh (ICA president);
- Jeffrey Bilgore (American Gem Trade Association [AGTA] president);
- Alan Hart (Gemmological Association of Great Britain [Gem-A] CEO);
- Gaetano Cavalieri (World Jewellery Confederation [CIBJO] president);
- Ahmed Bin Sulayem (Dubai Multi-commodities Center [DMCC] chair);
- Shane McClure (coloured gemstone department director for the Gemological Institute of America [GIA]);
- Kenneth Scarratt (Bahrain Institute for Pearls and Gemstones [DANAT] CEO);
- Claudio Milisenda (director of the German Gemmological Association [DSEF]);
- Taijin Lu (chief researcher for the National Gem Testing Laboratory of China [NGTC]);
- Prida Tiasuwan (Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association [TGJTA] chair);
- Zhao Xin Huo (director of the Gems & Jewelry Trade Association of China [GAC]); and
- Pramod Agarwal (Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council [GJEPC] chair).
Discussing ethical supply chains, Charles Chaussepied of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) stressed the need for companies to be proactive in ensuring their products are sourced in a responsible manner. Following up on this theme, Cathelijne Klomp, environmental project manager at the luxury group, LVMH, reiterated companies must take the initiative to ensure all elements of their products—metals and gemstones—are ethically sourced.
Supply chain traceability
Edward Mendelson, sustainable supply chain project manager at Everledger, elaborated on how blockchain technology can be used to trace gems from mine to market.
“As assets move along the supply chain, the use of blockchain allows them to be tracked permanently and for the transactional data to be accessible to all relevant parties,” he said. “A visible and auditable trail is created, ensuring full transparency to create an ecosystem of trust among stakeholders.”
Continuing the traceability theme, Daniel Nyfeler, managing director of Gubelin Gem Lab, explained the lab’s Emerald Paternity Test (EPT) project, which was recently initiated with a few industrial miners. EPT is an example of a physical tracer applied on the rough gemstone directly at the mine, containing information specific to the mine and enabling the testing of the exact source at any later stage in the supply chain. It makes use of the latest generation of nanolabels, custom-built for a specific mining operation. Nyfeler indicated this technique might not, however, be suitable for small-scale miners unless a structure could be put into place to organize them into a larger group.
A somewhat different approach to traceability was provided by Gloria Prieto from Colombia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy. She unveiled the government’s plan for a five-year ‘Mineral Digital Fingerprint’ project, which started in 2018. The goal of the project is to provide an understanding of the particular conditions and physical/chemical characteristics that were present at the time of a mineral’s geological formation, which then gives a specific geochemical DNA. This ‘fingerprint’ can also be traced at the different stages of exploitation, refinement, and commercialization of the mineral.
Traceability was also the subject of a panel moderated by Michelou. Seven members (including Nyfeler, Klomp, Mendelson, Chaussepied, Molina, and Charles Burgess of MTC Muzo) offered their outlook for the necessity of responsible industry practices and traceability. The takeaway was traceability and responsibility not only are good for the industry, but also generate goodwill with the consumer.