Getting Schooled: Jenna White Talks Transparency

Gary Roskin
Roskin Gem News Report

Both AGTA and CSM share the common goal of improving the transparency and traceability within the international colored gemstone mining community, and desire to identify and cement best practices at sites worldwide

Just Following the Scientific Process

As announced earlier this year, a joint venture between AGTA, the American Gem Trade Association, and CSM, the Colorado School of Mines, is to research how to improve the transparency in the cultures of the colored gemstone supply chain, to add transparency to an otherwise opaque process.

The goals are as follows:

  1. To clearly illustrate best practices among colored gemstone suppliers using qualitative case studies.
  2. To clearly identify factors that are within the miners/suppliers’ control.
  3. To clearly identify external factors (e.g., policies) that create an enabling (or disabling) environment.
  4. To develop a tailored set of transparency and traceability standards and guidelines for colored stones (apart from those used for diamonds and other goods).

Jenna White, a PhD student at CSM, speaking as a researcher for the project, gave presentations at both the Denver HardRock Summit in September and at the Jaipur 2023 CIBJO Congress last month, sharing initial findings specifically from field research in Kenya and Madagascar.

The CSM team held over 70 interviews & focus group discussions, conducted with, diggers, mine managers, mine owners, organizers, local traders, foreign traders, NGOs, cutters, sellers, jewelers, jewelry shop owners, investors, and both local and national government officials.

Comparing Diamond and Metals Sourcing to Colored Gemstones Sourcing

White notes that one of the big challenges pushing this research is that there are guidelines developed for “responsible sourcing of diamonds and precious metals” trying to be forced upon the color gemstone supply chain. As has been pointed out many times in the past, the colored gemstone supply chain is “fundamentally different,” with over 90% of the supply being brought by artisanal miners. Colored gemstones simply move into the market differently than diamonds or gold.

Jenna White, PhD student, CSM

Industry Marketing Creates Confusion

White also points to another huge challenge, and that is in communication. “It is extremely important to note that there are efforts by some industry actors to focus on charity models and cause marketing.”

Charity Models focus on when you provide help by volunteering or offering money, or, for example, by holding fund raisers, or donating materials, etc., that are not necessarily related to the core gem business. This type of charity marketing does not affect the fundamentals of the way the colored gemstone business is done.

Then there is Cause Marketing, which aligns with a social or an environmental cause, like taking a percentage of sales for donations, or options to offset carbon emissions, for example. The goal of cause marketing is to increase business profits at home as well as increase awareness of an issue. And once again, this does not affect the fundamentals of the way the colored gemstone business is done.

Charity Models and Cause Marketing do not underscore business issues.

And according to this research, it is creating a lot of confusion for consumers, industry professionals and standards organizations.

Kenya Field Research – Some Initial Findings

Some very interesting quotes gathered from Kenyans should be a conversation starter.

“Children see that any wealthy [local] person who is around is from mining. It’s a good alternative.” An Alternative to school? What are the child labor laws in Kenya?

“Even if you have a permit # in a declaration form, it’s not a guarantee [that the stone came from that mine].” Is your business model based upon knowing the supply chain back to the actual mine? Do you believe you can guarantee that information?

“We need good marketing, not sympathy.” Have you been making donations rather than establishing business relationships?

“If I can cut stones for $10,000 and [my partner] sends me the money, we are partners and we are working. He doesn’t belittle me because I’m also benefitting him.” Are you ready to form partnerships?

“Let’s discuss work, not handouts – handouts don’t help.” But what if we see that they need help?

“If you give good prices, the person won’t need donations.” Will the higher price make for good business at the other end of the chain?

“There are foreigners who are taking advantage of our community. They are buying at throwaway prices. If you came here on a tourism visa – just tour. Just tour Voi, tour Tsavo. It doesn’t give you a dealer’s license. If you don’t have a dealer’s license you, [but you are acting as a dealer,] then you are illegal in our country and will be taken to a court of law.” – Principal Secretary State Department for Mining, Kenya

AGTA CEO John Ford taking questions along side Jenna White

One More

And then there is Impact Marketing – doing less harm (to the environment, to the society) in the way you operate your core business. You allow for better environmental, health, and safety procedures; higher wages… these things directly affect the fundamentals of the way the colored gemstone business is done.

“None of these ways of marketing are ‘bad’,” says White. “They are just different. The industry needs to start using these terms correctly, and differentiating accurately. Lumping charity, cause marketing, and impact all together is what I believe is creating the most confusion for consumers and retailers.”

Transparent & Traceable

Most of the jewelry industry wants to be present, making certain their clients feel good about doing business. They are looking for greater transparency, and having products that are traceable through ethical supply chains.

But which initiative, which association, which plan do we use to do that? “We hear that confusion loud and clear,” says White. But before we all jump into a plan, let’s let them do the work first.

Field Work First

This AGTA/CSM research study has just begun, looking at five countries Kenya, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Tanzania. We will have to be patient to see how fast they can gather information which would then lead to any conclusions or suggestions.  As White has said before, “We focus on one region and see how much we can really understand about the supply chain in this area.” Then they move onto the next.

Stay tuned.

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