Mining for Development Initiative
Our vision for this project is to provide sustainable training, employment and development to ultimately tens of thousands of people, upholding the highest ethical standards in working conditions.
The focus is on helping the most economically disadvantaged people, particularly women, and ensuring the highest ethical and environmental standards for the sustainable mining of the gemstones they will be cutting. We would also like to ensure a combination of Buddhist’s and Muslims working together to create positive interfaith engagement in the project.
Most gemstones in Myanmar have historically been exploited to the benefit of a few people; some of the regulations create unofficial channels for the sale of the natural resources (e.g. smuggling), which does not then provide any income to the State through taxation or benefits, such as employment, for the vast majority of its citizens. The Fayre Share Foundation, in partnership with the Suu Foundation, is seeking to bring equipment and experts to provide training to then create a local gemstone cutting and polishing industry, with aspirations to develop this further in to jewellery manufacturing.
Besides engaging with charitable organisations and social enterprises in developing this project, Ostro Minerals, the world leader in the semi-precious stone Blue Topaz, is supporting the project. This gemstone is inexpensive enough to allow for relatively inexperienced people to be trained to cut it.
By connecting existing companies with those graduating the training program, we can leverage the commercial expertise to maximise the commercial gain for the graduates and give them access to international markets for what they produce.
Rubies, sapphires and jade, by contrast, are generally too expensive to allow for any mistakes in the process and so the vast majority are exported in a rough state. Our focus will be on less expensive gemstones (topaz being one such example) which can be sourced locally and provide work to large numbers of people.
The project will support the training of people to first cut inexpensive gemstones, with the view that over time they will graduate to more expensive stones. The eventual outcome of this will be to create an industry for tens of thousands of unskilled, individuals in remote areas. This is of particular value to women who have limited access to child care or are home bound to take care of ageing parents.
The plans being developed will bring together the various components required for the graduates of the program to be self-employed, including access to equipment with provision for electricity and the water needed for the cutting process, as well as access to micro-loans and a network of the support needed to get the materials they need and channel their finished products to consumer markets.
Over 50 years ago, Ostro Minerals founder Max Ostro was a pioneer in bringing coloured stones to the Far East. He was one of the first to open a gem cutting factory in Thailand and was instrumental in developing the industry in Sri Lanka. Today, both of those countries employ tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of people in associated businesses.
Thailand, in particular, now has difficulty in finding sufficient gem cutters as many of them have gone on to work in electrical goods, car manufacturing and other advanced industries. Myanmar now has a real opportunity to fill this gap.
By collaborating with Ostro Minerals, the Fayre Share Foundation is ensuring that there will be a guaranteed market for the finished products; the alternative would be providing training with the risk of uncertainty over the potential market size.
Ostro Minerals is well placed to guarantee the market for the finished product, not only because of its skill in the treatment of Topaz (they are processed from white to become blue), but also because of its marketing expertise including exposure on Television shopping channels.
Ultimately, we would hope to promote this type of ethical manufacturing in the wider gem industry. In addition, we will also investigate the possibility of the certification/accreditation for those graduating the training program. In parallel, we will seek to provide the certification of ethical and sustainable mining for the gemstones being used.
The partnership with the Suu Foundation is key to ensuring the correct governmental and NGO support on the ground, enabling the certification of the mining of the gemstones required by the international jewellery trade to maximize the value and scale of this initiative.