At Lawson Gems we believe that there is no black and white definition for a realistic definition of responsible sourcing. There are so many factors contributing to the impact the sale of any commodity has on communities and the environment. Below are explanations of a few of the factors we at Lawson Gems try to work by when it comes to sourcing our stones.
In a perfect world a stone would be traced from the point it leaves the ground to the point it reaches the consumers hand. This is not impossible and we try to achieve this level of traceability in as much of our stock as possible. By visiting producing mines and evaluating conditions for workers we are able to viably access the initial conditions of production. On top of this, at Lawson Gems we pride ourselves on providing support where we can in the form of equipment, training, geological consultation and a means to do business at fair market prices.
We are now also working on building up the cutting community in Madagascar prioritizing disabled workers. This is aimed at completing an unbroken chain of responsibly sourced gemstones.
As mentioned above this is the ideal situation, however with gemstones being traded for thousands of years, the industry has become heavily based on the re-sale of stones. We believe that this does not mean that stones cannot be responsibly sourced if the start of the trail has been lost. In many cases the trade of gemstones is the only means of living that countless people rely on. In such cases it is important to meet and build relationships with people who can be trusted and show that the money is going where it is really needed. There is often a lot of bad press for mine workers and gem sellers who seem far worse off than expected. It is important to note that many of these people are in very poor socioeconomic conditions, but by taking part in the gem trade they now have a viable means of supporting themselves and without this means of income they would be destitute. With these factors in mind, we feel that far better course of action (rather than shutting down what may be in part a negative industry), is to actually visit the smaller sellers in need of funds and not only give them a realistic market price, but provide a stable supply chain so that they can achieve stability.
Many gem dealers, as popularised by a number of television programs, really focus on getting in and out quickly and paying the absolute bare minimum they can, while selling the stones at huge profits. Though this tactic getting a great deal is glorified, it comes at the expense of the locals actually providing the stones. It would be unrealistic that anyone would turn down a good deal when presented with one, however we feel that if we are given such an opportunity we should provide additional support in return is such was as mentioned earlier.
In short we believe that when purchasing stones a buyer needs to:
a) Get as close to source as possible
b) Make sure they can see exactly where the money is going
c) Give a fair market price (do not try to undercut impoverished sellers)
d) Give back to the community where possible
In the world of coloured gemstones is has massive supply from artisanal sources, especially from developing countries. This can make it quite difficult to determine an environmentally friendly source. From developed producing countries there are usually laws enforcing rehabilitation and impact reduction, with this in mind stones like Australian sapphires/opals for example can be thought of as having a lesser impact on the environment. However when considering say, a Madagascan sapphire it is not so cut and dry. In this example there are regulations in place often requiring the rehabilitation of land after mining, however the taxes and fees are often far beyond what local mine owners can afford due to ineffective bureaucracy and corrupt government officials. In such cases it is not impossible to find environmentally concerned miners with international initiatives often having a focus on environmental impact and also with local community leaders heading mining collectives there are some who wish to preserve the local areas.
Another aspect is the comparison between large scale and artisanal mining. With the small artisanal mines impact is much less as there usually isn’t the resources to dig very deep or on a wide scale, the problem arises when a huge influx of miners sweeps an area with little to know concern for the impact on the environment, a good example being the now rather barren landscapes of Illikaka, Madagascar.
This does bring up an interesting question however, if a miner’s only means of feeding his family is digging for sapphire on the plains of Illikaka, should he be stopped and his family go hungry in order to preserve the area he would have mined? This is not a simple question and can only be tackled with large sums of aid and time dedicated to countless such situations around the world, but it is important none the less to understand where the miners are coming from.
The other side of the coin is large scale industrial mining of gemstones, here huge areas of land are torn asunder to reach the gem bearing areas. However, where such mining is undertaken, there are often rules and regulations and international watchdogs closely monitoring mine production. Such mines also provide communities with stable and legitimate jobs, infrastructure and rehabilitation of the land is usually required.
In this are we believe that when purchasing stones a buyer needs to:
a) Get as much information as possible on the mining of the material (it must be understood however that, as mentioned in the previous section, gemstones are often traded over and over again within multiple communities making it very difficult at times to get information beyond the area where the material was mined)
b) Try to get as close as possible to the mine source where possible
c) Try to buy from areas where realistic regulations are in place or mining practices are well known to be responsible
The trade of gemstones is often a complex web of deals and trades and we believe in always trying where possible to follow the ideals explained above. With that in mind, not all business have the capital to be able to fund such ideals utterly to a T, however we believe that is why it is important to really prioritize giving back to communities whenever possible. This is why Lawson Gems prides itself on it community work like helping setup small scale mines, providing free consultation and especially our work with the Centre for Socially Responsible Mining where we are setting up free education programs in Africa and supporting developing gem areas.