Uprising in Burma Sparks Boycott Talk

A government crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Burma has renewed debate on whether or not to enforce the ban on Burmese gems. Many in the colored stones industry believe a boycott of Burmese gems won’t be effective, but Jewelers of America supports a ban.

“There’s no question that the government gets wealthy from its gem resources, but they will not suffer from a boycott,” says Dick Hughes, staff gemologist for the American Gem Trade Association laboratory and a frequent traveler to Burma. “This can only harm the Burmese people.”

Hughes adds, “We don’t really have the means to stop gems from going out. So a boycott is too simplistic for a complex problem.”

Nata and Roland Schluessel, owners of Pillar & Stone, Tiburon, Calif., travel extensively to Burma and have witnessed the effects of economic boycotts, political isolation, and other pressure. “Our experience has shown that it always hurts the wrong people—the poor and the poorest,” says Nata.

The Schluessels say only a complete international boycott—which would have to include China—on all raw products would put substantial economic pressure on the Burmese government.

At Jewelers of America, director of public affairs Peggy Jo Donahue says the organization has asked Congress to amend the Burmese Freedom & Democracy Act of 2003, which bans the importation of products from Burma, to include gemstones. JA also has asked that this amendment remain effective until Burma agrees to the democratic reforms articulated in a proposed January 2007 resolution put before the United Nations Security Council.

“Please note, JA has made it very clear that members should seek, on all future orders placed, written assurances from their suppliers that they will not knowingly supply any gems mined in Burma, until the process of democratic reform has started in that country,” Donahue says. “Mistakes could occasionally be made by suppliers, but their good faith statement that they will avoid knowingly supplying Burmese gems to our members is a reasonable assurance.”