Editorial by Marc Choyt, Publisher, Fairjewelry.org
Mining companies have colluded with governments to undermine the rights of indigenous small miners for hundreds of years. Typically, “the law” is used as their shield and excuse. Even in the developed world, mining companies and lobbyists collude with officials to write the laws that support their profit driven objectives.
Andrew Lee Smith, CEO of True North Gems, Inc., (TNG) wants his company to be noted as exemplary in their pursuit of Greenland ruby and, in his interview, he references people in the sector who are highly regarded for their fair trade gem practices.
Yet going along with a law when a law is ambiguous or unethical is no way for a modern company to behave, especially one that believes: “The days of colonialist approach to mining are an anachronism.”
At present, for example, Greenland’s Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum (BMP), violating established Greenlandic law as well as ancient Inuit tradition, has decided that Native Greenlanders can only mine “semi-precious” gems, but this distinction between precious and semiprecious has no legal validity in the international gem trade. True North needs to take a clear, public stance against this lie, which clearly plays into their hands since they are allowed to mine so-called “precious” Greenland rubies.
(With the political assassination of Burmese Rubies in the West, Rubies from Greenland will be eagerly sought out by the lucrative American and European markets)
True North also has made many serious cultural and political errors, particularly for a company that is branding itself as taking the high road. In his interview, Smith seemed not to have any sense of the 16 August Union’s popular support in Greenland and internationally. I also came across repeated accounts of comments made by True North’s employees that were so deeply racist that that no one would go on record for fear of being sued. In the field last summer, TNG’s project manager, according to witnesses, screamed in the faces of native Greenlanders in the 16 August Union: “This is WAR!”
Even now, TNG continues a marketing campaign, timed perfectly with the beginning of the Burmese ruby boycott, in which it is attempting to portray its Greenland ruby as “fair trade” and “conflict free.” To quote National Jeweler, which talks about TNG opening in context to the Burmese ruby ban: “The plan is to offer rubies that are conflict-free and fair trade, in sizes that range from melee up to as much as five carats.”
Teresa Novellino, Executive Editor of National Jeweler, who wrote this article, got this information from the marketing firm TNG hired to tell their side of the story.
The claim to be fair trade and conflict free in context to the Greenland ruby is disingenuous and deceitful. It portrays current events inaccurately and undermines legitimate attempts of others within the jewelry sector including my own, to create real fair trade standards for the jewelry sector.
Yet at this juncture, casting blame is probably a futile exercise. Greenlanders are going to get their rights to mine their Greenland ruby, and the longer the local government delays, the stronger their movement will grow. To some degree, True North has been a catalyst in creating a strong movement in support of independence from Denmark, which is due to take place on June 29st, 2009.
Yet, like Greg Valerio, of Cred Jewellery, I believe that True North is still sitting on the fence—an electric fence, about to get switched on. Their arctic rubies have been labeled as “apartheid rubies” by Niels Madsen, an emerging leader in the local community.
True North now has an opportunity that would set precedent for the rest of the jewelry sector. They should choose to do the right thing. As a jewelry manufacturer myself, I can attest to the fact that the sector as a whole lives in a shroud of massive denial of its atrocities. For example, not one diamond dealer has ever been held accountable for the purchasing of blood diamonds resulting in the death of nearly four million Africans. Dirty gold from untraceable sources continues to be used to make contaminated jewelry on a massive scale.
What is most needed to restore human dignity is truth and reconciliation.
True North Gems can begin by publicly apologizing to the 16 August Union and to all the good people of Greenland. Blandly mouthing “boiler-plate” key words, lifted from marketing studies is just not good enough. Instead, TNG should back Greenland’s artisanal gemstone miners, reaching from mine to market though generous beneficiation grants, local training, and local hiring.
TNG’s success in their Greenland ruby project can be best assured by tying their own fate to that of the artisinal miners, assuring the viability of their economic activity. This cost of this type of investment, creating a win/win scenario, is minute compared to its potential return. .
Just as the days of colonialist approach is over, so too are the days of the ignorant Native without resources.
Like their Native brothers and sisters in the Northwest Territory who have been able to stand up to large scale diamond mining, the Inuit have learned from history and have powerful allies.
There are plenty of rubies in Greenland—enough for everyone. A small dose of corporate humility is a small price to pay for defending TNG’s shareholders who are rightfully concerned about a company and brand that is in danger of being permanently soiled.