It’s a stark, startling contrast. Beautiful, precious jewels, like rubies, emeralds and sapphires, are often sourced in dismal conditions where disadvantaged workers and lawlessness make it easy for valuable stones to trade hands under unscrupulous circumstances. In remote, rural parts of Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, far from the markets where most of the stones are sold, there’s little pressure—or appetite—to improve.
Gemfields is bidding to change the mining culture. The London-based company is committed to sustainable mining wherever it sources stones, including at its ruby mine in Mozambique and emerald vein in Zambia. To support that mission, it spends 32 cents of every dollar in revenue on ethical practices—social programs, sustainable initiatives, taxes and royalties often dodged by rivals, and pays staffers about 10 percent more than the industry’s minimum wage.
Gemfields’ success in the past several years—the company has sold more than $425 million through its ruby auctions since the sales started in 2014— underscores that a steady supply of quality stones from a qualified, ethical source is a potentially lucrative proposition. The firm’s corporate mandate provides safe mining practices and offers education, farming skills and medical services— something that might seem like standard practice yet is sorely lacking in gem-producing countries.
Near the ruby mine in Montepuez, Mozambique, for example, Gemfields funds two mobile clinics—offering everything from family planning to vaccinations to 5,000 patients a month—and four schools, refurbished or built from scratch, that are now educating almost 2,000 students within the community.
A recent visit to Montepuez revealed how the company’s efforts are transforming communities: A flourishing vegetable farm operates as a co-op, involving families from seven nearby villages. They’ve pooled land and used new techniques—relay farming, for one, where complementary crops are planted together in the same ground—to turbo-charge yields.
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