Gemstones & The Mob
When you think of gemstones, you may not often think of organized crime, yet all over the world, organized crime and gemstones are found to frequently have an intricate and dangerous relationship. In our continuing effort to ethically source our materials, we’re constantly learning more about what ethical sourcing means, and how all individuals in the supply chain are affected. This is how we’ve come to learn about the gemstone organized crime world and how it relates to materials we all use in our jewellery.
Organized crime is rampant in countries with poor governance, lax laws, weak enforcement, and government corruption. In regions that have an abundance of gold or other minerals and poor governance and enforcement, a perfect opportunity is created for criminal organizations to become involved in the mineral extraction industry. Mining is often happening in remote areas without a large government presence. Many regions have criminalized artisanal mining as a method to regulate the industry, but as mining may be one of the only sources of income, many small-scale miners are operating illegally. Criminalizing the act of mining has done little to curb criminal activities and in fact has put many small scale miners at risk.
The real problem comes from large criminal networks – when they control these mining locations, they can embroil miners in debt bondage, set low prices, or use intimidation to prevent miners from selling elsewhere for a higher price. If artisanal miners are mining illegally, they then must sell their ore to illegal processing plants who also use unfair and indentured workers in extremely dangerous conditions – the black market.
Not only are miners affected in the way of lower pricing and limited (criminal) buyers, but the presence of organized crime also negatively affects the local communities. We’re referring to other issues like human trafficking, violence, intimidation, and lack of state resources. The black market relies on smuggling, bribery, and fraud to get illegally mined minerals to international marketplaces. Minerals can be easily smuggled to other countries as they’re easy to conceal, fake documentation can be generated to make it appear like the materials were mined legally, and government officials can be bribed to allow the export of illegally mined material.
Here are just a few examples of the biggest criminal activity surrounding gemstones in the world.
- Illegal minerals have been the #2 source of revenue for the Taliban behind the poppy trade
- Because the cocaine trade has been made more difficult due to the US’ war on drugs, drug cartels have sought to control production of Colombia’s emerald mines as a new source of revenue
- Illegal gold is thought to be twice as large as Peru’s notorious cocaine industry, and Peru is the largest gold producer in Latin America
- The religious war between the Christian militia and the Muslim Seleka rebels is funded by illegally mined gold and diamonds
So what can we do?
It's clear that the criminalization of ASM (artisanal small-scale mining) puts local miners in an impossible position, so the biggest change would be the decriminalization of ASM, and a crackdown on the criminal networks who use revenue from these resources to further their goals. As consumers, we can take every step available to us to ensure that we are only purchasing ethically sourced jewellery pieces.