The obsession with designer jewelry may be fueling the Rohingya genocide.
Almost all of the world’s best quality jade and around 95 percent of rubies come from Myanmar. The gemstones command astronomical prices in the international market and although no exact figure of the production value exists, the gem and jade industry is the most valuable non-renewable resource of Myanmar.
However, the Burmese military dominates the gemstone mining industry and, unsurprisingly, enjoys a huge chunk of profits by issuing mining permits, controlling shares of the mines and quarries and running auctions.
The huge income stream funds the military and hence, the oppression of the Rohingya people.
The Muslim minority remains one of the most persecuted minorities of the world and the abuse is nothing new. Myanmar recognizes eight “national races.” The Rohingya is not one of them. Laws enacted in 1982 have effectively denied the minority the possibility of acquiring a nationality, despite the fact their history in the country dates back to the 8th century.
Their movement is also restricted, along with their access to education and government jobs.
Myanmar’s army killed at least 6,700 Rohingya in the northern Rakhine state in just one month and displaced more than 626,000 Rohingya Muslims from the country in just four months.
Villages have been razed and girls as young as 10 have been raped, while local undercover reporters documenting the abuses have mysteriously gone missing. The Burmese army and government have denied all wrongdoing.
Bulgari and other jewelry companies dealing with Myanmar can hardly claim to be surprised by the recent violent developments.
The International Campaign for Rohingya, campaigning alongside SumOfUs, has petitioned jewelry makers, especially Bulgari — whose creations are showcased by A-list actresses like Keira Knightley, Uma Thurman and Naomi Watts on the red carpet — to stop buying “genocide gems” from Myanmar.
In 2007, amid public pressure and U.S. sanctions on the country, Bulgari, Cartier and Tiffany & Co. boycotted Burmese jewels. However, nine years later when the sanctions were lifted, Bulgari and Cartier once again resumed their business with Myanmar.
On Dec. 6, more than 75,000 people signed an online petition against Cartier, who once again caved in to negative backlash by the public and announced it would stop buying gems from the Asian country.
Now, companies like Bulgari must follow Cartier’s example. It’s sad because the Italian jewelry brand has a history of protecting the vulnerable and the oppressed. During World War II, the Bulgaris hid three Jewish women during the raid of the Roman ghetto in October 1943. But its vision seemed to have changed since then.
Although the jewelry company has not yet commented on the campaign, its mission statements claims it is “committed to conducting its business in a socially responsible manner, a commitment that also extends beyond the confines of the company, to the promotion of ethical standards and socially responsible management practices throughout its entire supply chain.”
Looks like the designer brand needs a reminder of its own idealistic principles.