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Jewellery Retailers Challenged on Burma/Myanmar Gems Sourcing

May 30th, 2023  •  Author:   Burma Campaign UK  •  4 minute read
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Burma Campaign UK is writing to 40 of the biggest and highest profile jewellery retailers in the UK asking them to demonstrate that the gems they sell are not sourced from Burma/Myanmar in ways which help fund the Burmese military.

Following the attempted military coup, which began in February 2021, the Burmese military now dominates Burma’s gems industry, which is potentially worth $2bn per year. Through its own private companies, control of the state-owned enterprises and government ministries, control of trade routes into areas not under its control, legal and illegal trade, and the business interests of military family members, the Burmese military extracts revenue from the gems industry in numerous ways.

This revenue can be used by the Burmese military to buy arms and equipment and so funds the human rights violations they commit.

Research by Burma Campaign UK shows that most retailers do not specify the origin country of gems, such as rubies, which they sell.

“Some retailers may not be aware of the risks of funding the Burmese military when they sell gems from Burma. We want to draw these risks to their attention and give them the opportunity to do the right thing,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK.

In the United States, a ‘Genocide Gems’ campaign run by the International Campaign for the Rohingya has persuaded Cartier, Harry Winston and Tiffany to stop sourcing gems from Burma.

The Burmese military stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice and is being investigated for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Numerous United Nations and human rights organisations have documented war crimes by the Burmese military.

The Burmese military is currently unleashing an unprecedented wave of atrocities and repression across the entire country as it desperately seeks to consolidate the coup.

Weapons designed for fighting armies have been unleashed against the civilian population. Airstrikes and long-range artillery are used on a daily basis, creating a human rights and humanitarian crisis. Schools, hospitals and religious buildings are deliberately targeted, forcing more than 2 million people to flee their homes.

More than 22,000 people have been arrested, with political prisoners subjected to torture and sexual violence after arrest. Executions are taking place again for the first time in decades. There is no freedom of speech, media organisations are banned or heavily censored, and internet access restricted or completely blocked.

Burma’s democracy movement is calling on the international community to do everything it can to help cut the economic lifeline of the Burmese military. Gems are a major potential source of revenue.

Any international company engaging in the trade or retail sale of gems from Burma needs to be able to provide evidence that the gems it is selling have not helped to fund the Burmese military and the human rights violations they commit. If they cannot do so, they must commit to ending sales.

We will be publishing a report based on the responses we receive from companies. Companies which are selling gems from Burma and cannot demonstrate that the gems they sell do not fund the Burmese military will be named and shamed in the report and face public campaigns, including boycotts.

We will then consider high profile campaigns against these companies, including placing them on our ‘Dirty List’ of companies helping to fund the Burmese military, and consumer boycott campaigns.

“People don’t want to wear jewellery which has helped pay for soldiers who rape children and bomb schools,” said Mark Farmaner. “Companies have a responsibility to ensure they are not funding human rights violations and those which don’t act responsibly face significant reputational damage.”

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