Rubies, topaz, sapphires, amethyst, and so many more! Gemstones are truly wondrous gifts from Mother Earth. We love them, and it is my privilege to be the product manager overseeing Rio Grande’s gemstone offerings. Rio buys from around the world, always seeking out trusted favorites, as well as the newest trending gemstones that have risen in popularity.
One question I have often been asked is where our gemstones come from. The answer is sometimes easy, but other times difficult. For example, we know opal comes from Australia, and we know we buy turquoise from Arizona. But some gemstones are more commonly available, and for example we’re not able to say where our garnets were mined. But we do know where our gemstones are cut.
I thought Rio Grande customers might like to know about an initiative we have been pursuing. We have always bought gemstones from reputable firms. We’ve striven to select trading partners who share our belief that employment should be good for the workers who do the labor. I’ve had this conversation several times, and I know that our customers want to know that there is no human suffering in the production of the gemstones we love to use in our jewelry creations.
So we considered what we know about the gemstone trade, and the partners we work with. First of all, everyone who helps bring gemstones to market with Rio Grande is committed to giving honest materials with full disclosure of how the gemstone may have been treated. You can see this online and in the Rio Grande catalog with our prominent use of precise gemological terms, and our consistent use of AGTA gem treatment codes. But even beyond that, we are quite conservative in how we select gemstone factories to partner with.
We believe in long-standing relationships, where we can build trust by constantly providing the best repeatable quality available. We know that you want the best materials in your creations, and we strive to be the supplier you can trust for these materials. This commitment to quality is a powerful incentive to our gemstone factories to produce the best quality products they can. And with many of our relationships stretching over decades, we have come to know our partners well, as well as understand the way they conduct themselves in business. So it is natural to start documenting how these firms do the right things for their employees—we want you to feel as good about these products as we do. When you work with good people, you can know that you are supporting an honorable enterprise.
While it is great to know your trading partners, there is also value in developing a formal program of verification. We put our thinking caps on and came up with a score card we thought would address the points of concern sometimes raised to us by our customers. Here was our list:
- No child labor
- Adequate ventilation
- Available health care
- Reasonable work hours
- Payment of fair wage
- Allowance for time off and reasonable vacation
- Compliance with local labor and pollution laws
- Adherence to import/export laws and consumer policies
We considered how we could confirm adherence to these issues. Clearly we would need to visit our cutting centers and see things for ourselves. But also, our vendors would need to provide some documentation. So we began sending our cutting centers information about how we would be expecting them to comply with our new “Verified Vendor” program. I was very pleased to see how our cutting centers not only agreed, but were enthusiastic to show us how they operate.
In the past few months we’ve traveled to Thailand and India to conduct site visitations. We still have more sites to visit. But what has become clear is that our cutting centers do share a common belief that employees are precious and not to be mistreated. I’ve enjoyed visiting our trading partners and getting to know their operations even better. And best yet, I am excited to begin to share some of this verification with Rio Grande’s customers.
With regard to ventilation, we could see the care that our cutting centers gave to protecting their workers:
In addition to face protection, we observed the rooms in this Thai factory had multiple air ventilators. Also, a quick look outside the factory helped confirm how much effort is given to promoting good air to breathe:
In India, we observed a commitment to ventilation as well, although it sometimes it was more simplistic:
On a general safety level, we were pleased to see that in Thailand our cutting center had marked escape routes (in case of fire). Fire extinguishers and an alarm system were present:
While our India factory did not have a marked escape route (which we have asked them to create), they did have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers deployed. And they did point out to us that they have huge easy to open windows (which you can see below), making quick exit possible.
The in-office nurse station at our Thai cutting center, which is pictured above, reassured us that health care is important to our cutting center partners. Also pictured above, we observed that whether you live in America or Asia, punching a time clock is part of the routine, and it’s interesting to simply get to know our friends from different cultures better. For example, did you know you take your shoes off when reporting to work in India?
Our Indian site also had a room devoted to rest. It was not a true medical dispensary, but a doctor is on call just minutes away.
Of course, there is more to safety than just ventilation and emergency evacuation routes. We also went over their compliance with our other criteria of not using child labor, facilitating reasonable work hours, paying fair wages, providing time off, and ensuring legal compliance with labor, pollution and export laws. of course, it’s difficult to provide photographic proof for these compliance issues.
But I am pleased to report that our cutting center partners opened up their books to us, showing how they adhere to the principles we’re looking for with our listed criteria. We were able to review time-off requests and payroll records; including punch records, and government inspection reports. We received affidavits of no child labor, and we certainly did not see any children in any factory we visited. In addition, our partners also demonstrated how they adhere to local laws, ensure they are not polluting, and that they honorably comply with exportation requirements.
We were really heartened by the way our vendors opened up their operations to our site inspections. We have always striven to work with the best vendors and world-class firms because we want to provide the best gemstones to our customers. What we did not initially understand was how excited our suppliers would be to show us what they do, and how well they do it.
I hope this report is helpful to Rio Grande’s customers. We run Rio Grande/The Bell Group through our stated principles. You can read more about our principles here. By giving you a glimpse behind the scenes, we hope to assure you that the gemstones sourced by Rio Grande are ethically cut.
Finally, I think a mention of gemstone rough and the miners who dig it from the earth is merited. To be honest, we do not always know the story behind the rough our cutting centers use. We know some mines are carefully monitored by various government inspectors, but we also know that other gemstone rough comes to market through brokers, making it impossible to trace back to its origin, so we do not have a very good picture of what may be happening at this level of the gemstone industry.
For now, we are focusing on what we can control—which firms we choose to do business with. We are members of AGTA and ICA, and we attend industry events and panels. We are committed to helping foster an environment where every gemstone worker works under humane conditions and has a decent wage while they produce the wonders from the earth that we all love.
I’d love to hear from interested or concerned parties. Feel free to leave a comment or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.