Labour Abuses in the Jewellery Industry

Over 1 million children between the ages of 5 -17 are working in artisanal mining operations on less than $2 per day or receiving food as payment
Over 1 million children between the ages of 5 -17 are working in artisanal mining operations on less than $2 per day or receiving food as payment

In the wake of the development of modern slavery compliance legislation, there is a movement towards transferring the onus of responsibility onto large corporations to ensure their own supply chain is clean. Some of the worlds largest companies are in the jewellery business, with a notorious reputation for human rights abuses, yet some of the world’s highest revenue. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), specifically gold and diamonds generate over $300 Billion revenue annually, from 90 million carats of diamonds and 1,600 tones of gold. 

There has been an upraise in media on ethical supply chains in agricultural industries such as fishing, cocoa & coffee production, yet there are significant issues to be addressed in supply chain compliance and ethical sourcing compliance for the jewellery business – here addressing labour exploitation, child labour and human trafficking.

Examples of Human Rights abuses

 Specifically in relation to child labour, estimates suggest over 1 million children work in artisanal or small-scale mining operations, despite being illegal at both the domestic level and by international law. Statistics from the African Centre For Economic Transformation suggest these children between 5 -17 are working on less than $2 per day, or receiving food as payment. Child labour has been reported in Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia. However, regulation is lacking and children are continuously working in extremely dangerous and inhumane conditions, including exposure to toxic and explosive chemicals potentially causing brain damage, respiratory diseases from the dust, heavy strenuous lifting and exposure to dangerous machinery.

Concerning forced labour, it has been reported in Peru, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and in Zimbabwe where the military physically forced workers into diamond mining between 2008-2014. In the harsh conditions of the mining industry, workers are prevented from leaving either by blackmail or violence. In other cases, workers are trafficked to mines, by deception or force, in order to be exploited for mining work.

Wider rights abuses are continually taking place in the extraction industry, including land rights violations whereby indigenous populations have been displaced, armed conflict violations including money laundering to fund civil wars and violence by arming militias. Sexual violence, including abuse and torture by occupying mine workers, security guards and soldiers controlling mines has been reported, such as in Porgera mine, Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, environmental rights have been violated by disrupting 1000s of people and defecating habitats with toxic mine runoff, as in Nigeria 400 were children killed by artisanal mine toxic lead poisoning.

What are the current standards?  

Alongside prominent Modern Slavery legislation, as seen developed in the UK, USA and developing in Australia, that holds businesses accountable for their own supply chain regulation, there are several international standards for human rights compliance yet none that are prominent enough to control this issue.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights declares that companies are by law required to undertake “human rights due diligence” within their entire supply chain. Furthermore, they must have systems in place to identify and remediate human rights abuses immediately. However, when it comes to implementation this only document offers only ‘guidance’.

The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas provides an industry-targeted outline for mine operators. The major issue with this, however, is that it is voluntary and therefore not officially regulated.

Furthermore the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) is a significant international standard relating specifically to diamond extraction, to eradicate “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds”. However, again this proves too narrow, as it does not cover human rights abuses outside of active conflict zones.

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) provides a certification system for all stakeholders in the jewellery supply chain. However, as this is an industry led program, it fails to have the legal and regulatory weight to ensure due diligence is done. Instead, according to findings by HRW it has flawed governance systems in which most companies assign their whole credibility for human rights compliance.

Are jewellery companies adhering to Modern Slavery compliance regulation?

HRW released a report in February this year focusing on the policies and practices of 13 major jewellery brands that generate over $30 Billion per year. Many reporters and researchers fail to receive any comment from major bands as to their slavery and trafficking risks associated with gold mining.  HRW concluded that clear majority of jewellery companies are not meeting human rights standards within their supply chains. There are little hands on investigations, and too much reliance is put on verbal ‘assurances’ from their suppliers that the gems, minerals, products are ethically and sustainably sourced.

Two mining companies have monopoly over the global diamond industry, and account for over half of all diamond sales. De Beers, working from South Africa, Botswana, Canada, Namibia, and Russian company ALROSA. However, according to HRW, both of these fail to be transparent with the mines in which their diamonds are sourced.

Issue in difficulty for companies to trace their supply chains

With parallels to technology companies who source small parts from many locations, the jewellery industry has very complex supply chains, as oppose to fishing or agriculture where the total product (e.g. a fish) has one source of origin. For example diamond jewellery is handled by many actors, making it difficult for companies to trace their full supply chain. From the mines, diamonds are firstly sent to be cut and polished, whereby 70% of the global diamond supply is done in India and 20% in China, reflecting their low labour costs. The next stage in a generic supply chain is to jewellery manufacturers where the products are pooled and constructed. Finally they reach the end retailers, where the US has the largest market of 40% of global sales.

A crux of the issue is in the sale after the raw extraction process because as soon as the minerals go through the first process of trade or export, batches from many sites are often mixed up. This makes the sustainably and ethically sourced gems or metals untraceable from those that are product of exploitative labour. This is ultimately caused by negligence of the mine operators in dealing with and processing their products in a way in which they can be accounted for.

Some companies have CSR programs used to give back to the community and in exchange for their land use, build major infrastructure like schools, roads, and hospitals. (Harvard) However, there is speculation around using these methods as a way to be presented as human rights compliant, as these initiatives are undercut by their lack of transparency in their daily business operations and supply chain mechanisms. Analysis of the global extraction business points to the conclusions that this industry is fuelled by profit and capital gain, whereby there is a large disconnect between those that are receiving the benefits of the jewellery business and those that are suffering. This issue is on-going because perpetrators will not have interests in alleviating the abuses from their supply chains, unless legally forced to, or compelled by their customers through suspended of business.


Although the majority of companies are lacking in their supply chain compliance, HRW points out that some positive initiatives are blooming. For example a number of jewellers are exclusively working with artisanal mines that comply with the Fairtrade or Fairmined gold standard coming from Latin America, driven by consumers demanding ethical sourcing. In order to be most effective, successful domestic legislation such as the UK Modern Slavery Act should be used as a blueprint to regulate national supply chains. For countries that are less likely to adopt such policies, the international literature should become involuntary, binding and regulated, to cut out any internal corruption facilitating the mining industry. Furthermore, a percentage of the capital that is gained from mines should be redirected to the local communities through education and infrastructure to deal with the long term problem of child labour in the extraction sector.

Statistics drawn from Human Rights Watch Report February 2018: The Hidden Cost of Jewelry: Human Rights in Supply Chains and the Responsibility of Jewelry Companies


Migrant Crisis Reinforced by Large Death Toll Crossing the Mediterranean

Photo Credit: UNHCR/Alfredo D’Amato. An overloaded boat of refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe, as seen from the deck of an Italian Coastguard ship, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo Credit: UNHCR/Alfredo D’Amato. An overloaded boat of refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe, as seen from the deck of an Italian Coastguard ship, in the Mediterranean Sea.

The crossing between North Africa and Southern Europe has proved to be the most dangerous refugee passage. Concern has been raised by international agencies including the IOM and UNHCR by two fatal sunken boats over three days at the beginning of July 2018.

On the first boat around 103 people drowned off the coast of Libya, where the coast guard had limited capacity to rescue only 16 men. The mode of transport in which they were crossing was an “unseaworthy and overcrowded” rubber boat marking an example of the dangerous methods that migrant smugglers are using. Shortly following, a second boat capsized with 100 people still missing, 41 saved. This toll contributes to the statistics of over 1000 drowning on the Mediterranean crossing of this year alone.

The Libyan Coast Guard is continually intercepting boats with smuggled migrants who are attempting to cross the Mediterranean and turning them back to be held in detention centres. Although numbers arriving at EU shores are 5 times lower than it’s peak in 2016, over 10,000 people have been returned to shore so far this year, representing another significant increase in numbers. There is also concern over the human rights conditions in the detention centres, where women and children put at high risk of violation and exploitation.

On analysis, although this points to urgent need for action by the EU, this situation needs to be addressed carefully. Bureaucracy between Geneva and the Libyan government led to the 2018 EU backed anti-smuggling operations in Libya including tightening regulation of volunteer boats arriving on European shores, which inadvertently has impacted the increased death toll. The concern of agencies is regarding higher sanctions on boats already in transit, which will bread further desperation and in turn fatal impact if distress calls are not seen to.  Hence, emphasis should be made on reinforcing search and rescue operations, assist the Libyan coast guard and a careful and collaborative approach needs to be made with the international community to curb migrant smuggling and the cause of more deaths during this crossing.

​ It is also important to highlight the ​increase of displaced and vulnerable migrants who are at risk of exploitation, given the complexities of the migrants’ journey, it is a frequent occurrence that the definitions of trafficking and smuggling become obscured. Often victims will believe they are being smuggled but become trafficked through transit or at their destination country. Factors such as political instability, economic pressures and environmental issues are often the catalysts for migrants seeking to come to Europe. Illegal migrants often rely on organised criminal networks to facilitate their passage to Europe, leading to higher risk of exploitation and further blurring of the distinction between trafficking and smuggling. The migrant crisis in Libya provides a unique yet unfortunate opportunity for clarification: the controls aimed at ending the smuggling of migrants to Europe has been the catalyst of human trafficking inland.

For Untitled Nations reporting on the migrant crisis see here:

Immigration Policy Impacts Trafficking Statistics

Image Credit: Polaris Project Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis 2015-2017
Image Credit: Polaris Project Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis 2015-2017

Polaris has recently investigated a structural cause into the increased trafficking statistics within the USA. From 2015-2017, around 50% of all victims who reported labour trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline had legal employment visas, of whom 797 had specifically Temporary Work Visas (H-2A, H-2B). From their research, 75% of the victims were recruited for valid job offers within a variety of industries including agriculture, domestic work, landscaping, hospitality, restaurants, and construction.

This suggests that there is a disconnection between the legal framework that a temporary visa provides and the reality of employment, where a grey area allows employers to exploit their foreign workers. Indeed, Polaris’ latest report details how firstly, labour recruiters for the USA demand an array of complex fees and hidden costs often amounting to disproportionate debt for the victim. Furthermore, many of the visa holders are vulnerable to exploitation because they are legally bound to a single employer to uphold their right to remain in the USA. This often leads to a form of debt bondage to their employer because by loosing their job they are imminently subject to deportation, which can be used to blackmail and demand on-going labour.

Instead of the cause of this trafficking being rooted in the recruitment process that usually occurs abroad, the issue posed takes place at the next stage once employment is confirmed within a domestic situation. This must be looked at within the context of the USA border policy, which tends to be outward focused in an attempt to control inward trafficking of drugs, weapons and humans. However, these statistics suggest there is an oversight made domestically, with a need for regulation of labour policies for immigrants. Polaris suggests the need for transparency and supports the proposed Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking (VTAT) bill to address this issue.

For the full Polaris Report on Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas, read here. 

Forced Labour in Technology Companies’ Supply Chains

PICTURE CREDIT: Alexandru-Bogdan Ghita/Unsplash
PICTURE CREDIT: Alexandru-Bogdan Ghita/Unsplash

On Monday a list was released by KnowTheChain ranking the top 40 global technology companies according to their methods to the address the risk of forced labour within their supply chains. The ranking considered factors including ‘purchasing practices, monitoring and auditing processes’. Within the production of tech goods there are many small components that are often sourced from places aimed at cheap production, in which the workers are vulnerable to exploitative and forced labour conditions. Despite this seeming removed from the end glossy product, supply chain regulation accounts for the network of all actors involved from the production, manufacture and distribution of the product, from which the company will profit.

According to this list, Intel, Hewlett Packard and Apple were the three consecutively highest-ranking companies. The assessment indicated that there is an evident correlation between large company size (and likely CSR budget) and the capacity to address the risks of forced labour within supply chains.

Since the list was initially complied in 2016, there has been progress made by most of the 40 companies. This is likely due to the growing pressure applied by modern slavery compliance legislation, which forces business practices to put their mind to the issue of forced labour. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act was considered the global benchmark solution to ensuring corporate supply chain transparency, and the USA & Australia have followed suit with similar supply chain provisions. Generically, this obliges commercial organisations submit a slavery and trafficking statement.

On top of this greater regulatory pressure, the rise in social media and accountability has led to higher consumer pressure on major technology companies to address the issues of forced labour.

For the full ranking by KnowTheChain, read here. 

Airlines Unanimously Commit to Anti-Trafficking Resolutions

Credit: IATA JetBlue fight against human trafficking in Cancun Airport
Credit: IATA JetBlue fight against human trafficking in Cancun Airport

Human trafficking is a widespread network that utilises many forms and modes of transport; from dangerous fishing boats between North Africa and Europe to occurring in plain sight on commercial transport carriers. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has the agenda to address trafficking of persons through the global air transport network, that flew 4 billion people around the world during 2017 alone.

The 74th IATA Annual General Meeting took place last week involving the UNODC, which led to all member airlines unanimously approving commitments to curb human trafficking facilitated by their airlines. The resolutions included:

  1. The sharing of best practice between airlines, with regulations incorporated into the IATA Human Trafficking Guidelines
  2. The training of airline staff to identify and deal with trafficking circumstances without endangering the victim
  3. The cooperation of government authorities, airline staff and all involved in the value chain to create discrete and practical methods of crime reporting.

The outcome of this meeting is a positive step in addressing trafficking through commercial airlines. The limitation, however, is with effective airline policing, traffickers will look to black market and alternative means of transport, which may be significantly more dangerous for the victim than travelling via conventional air transport.

For further reporting on the IATA Annual General Meeting, please read here. 

Africa Stands out as Concern in Global Child Development Report

Image Credit: Save the Children USA
Image Credit: Save the Children USA

Save the Children have released an annual report ‘The Many faces of Exclusion’ in the lead up to June 1st, International Children’s Day.

The three major ‘threats’ to child development are poverty, armed conflict and discrimination against girls. The report suggests 1.2 billion children face one of these threats, and an alarming figure of 153 million children are subject to all three of these factors.

What stood out was the geographical distribution of development, as Africa has 27 of the 30 lowest ranked countries, and Niger again the lowest. Development benchmarks including education, health, freedom and safety regressed over the last year in 58 of the 175 countries studied, of which a third were African states. In comparison, 7/10 of the top ranked countries are Western highlighting the division in wealth between the First World and the rest.

On analysis, many of the causes are interlinked and through lack of education, poor child development leads to poor economic prosperity downstream. However, in the rankings of USA (36th), Russia (37th) and China (40th) child prosperity is not relative to their global leadership in GDP, military strength and technological advancement. This signifies that domestic policy and commitment has room to shape the well being of the child population.

For the full report by Save the Children, read here.

The Rise in Trafficking of African Footballer Players

There are 12 current FIFA investigations into false identification documents for young African football players trafficked to Europe
There are 12 current FIFA investigations into false identification documents for young African football players trafficked to Europe

The exploitation of aspiring young African footballer players is being analysed as a rising channel of human trafficking. Boys on the West Coast of Africa, along with their families living in various degrees of poverty, are sold into a form of ‘debt ​bondage​’ through the dream of playing for a European league, in which their fortunes would be immense. With premier European football transfers reaching 200 million Euros, the attaining a cut of this fee is being seen as a lucrative business opportunity.  Following recent African football heroes such as Stephen Appiah, now a multimillionaire who began as an academy player of Ghana, there scouts from European clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco looking for talented players within the developing world. Although aiming to provide opportunity for talented players, the chances of selection for the majority remain disproportionately slim as the selection process is based on a system of privilege and club prejudice. However, aspiration to these African football idols is used by local football ‘agents’ as a ‘realistic opportunity’ to leverage poor African families to spend their life savings and limited resources to pay agents from football academies around $3,000 per player to promise passage to Europe and signing by a big club

In attempted replica of the few legitimate academies that successful African footballers used, a number of illegitimate clubs or unlicensed ‘academies’ have begun to develop mostly in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. Often, the agents themselves claim to be ex-pro players, yet have false resumes and limited knowledge of the game or the professional football selection process. In many cases they present binding contracts where agents are guaranteed a majority cut of their potential success, as well as require payment for all intermediate consultation and logistic services. Such fees are extortionate ​in relation to the families’ financial situation, where houses, family heirlooms, jewellery is often resorted to as payment. Furthermore, because of the devotion to this opportunity, boys are pulled out of education or any other form of skill development, which narrows their chance of economic prosperity in any other field.

The reality is that in many cases for these boys to get to Europe, they would have to be trafficked or smuggled by the agents via extremely dangerous routes, using illegal identification documentation obtained through domestic corruption. On arrival in Europe, given the illegitimacy of the clubs they come from, the chances of the players getting a professional trial are very slim. In some cases, they are provided with this opportunity, however as reported by Italian authorities, the fake documentation they have will jeopardise the opportunity for their selection – as seen by the current 12 investigations into FIFA rule violations for this purpose. Furthermore, if they do not succeed in their tr​ial ​or become injured, the young boys are commonly abandoned or refuse to return home because of the shame to their families. This form of trafficking is a growing epidemic as the footballers are left homeless, poor and resorting to street trading or petty crime. The agents are exploiting  families by selling them false hope, because despite the world-class skill and potential of the players, the probability of their success through these illegitimate channels is highly unlikely.

Child Labour is Prominent in Tobacco Production Supply Chains

A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)
Photo Credit: A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Claiming to be ‘ethically sourced’, tobacco fields are one of the biggest cash crops in the developing world yet have one of the most corrupt supply chains. Tobacco farms are worked on by children labouring excessive hours for minimal or no pay, while tobacco companies reap the multi-billion dollar benefits of the industry.

Human Rights Watch conducted research in Zimbabwe in 2017, which revealed children aged 12 – 17 are employed for tobacco harvesting and processing. They reported negative health affects including nicotine poisoning, pesticide exposure, carcinogen exposure and associated immune defects, yet the workers and farmers themselves were ignorant as to the cause of their regular sickness. Despite the ongoing social consequences of child labour including exemption from education, tobacco farm labour is not regulated as ‘dangerous work for children’ in Zimbabwe.

On our analysis, this is problematic not only because of the short-term consequences on the health and social rights of the workers, but also as it fuels the longer-term demand for the toxic, pollutant and addictive recourse. This demand is rising in the vulnerable areas of Asia, Africa while decreasing in the West due to education, taxation and policy restrictions. Abolition of child agricultural labour is a high policy agenda for the new Zimbabwean government, and a fundamental step in promotion of a stable democracy throughout other developing states that are also the production sources of tobacco.

For the full report on A Bitter Harvest: Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe, read here. 

Human Trafficking Infiltration Success in L​atin America and the Caribbean​

​Image Credit: BBC - INTERPOL Operation Liber​a​tad saved victims in 13 different countries - all photos were taken on an operation in Guyana
​Image Credit: BBC – INTERPOL Operation Liber​a​tad saved victims in 13 different countries – all photos were taken on an operation in Guyana

With a history of engrained widespread criminality, gang culture and drug trafficking, Latin America and the Caribbean has the framework in place for serious human trafficking cases that feed into the wider crime networks.

A significant 2.5 year anti-human trafficking project comes to a conclusion with approximately 350 victims having been rescued. Funded by the Canadian Government to address crimes in the region, Interpol lead the operation in which lead to 22 arrests.

Modern slavery is perpetrated through a variety of instances in the​ region. Victims were rescued from work in inhumane conditions, from markets, mines, farms​, to night clubs. Reports suggest some cases of forced labour were of gruelling nature, particularly in the sex trade. For example in Guyana prostitutes are forced to work on isolated goldmines, completely vulnerable, no change to escape and difficult to track. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a hotspot for Asian trafficking victims working in factories having their passports held and forcing them into ‘complete dependence’.

On analysis of these cases, in th​e​se​ region victims are most commonly recruited when they are immigrating or moving out of economic necessity, both internationally and domestically. Some however remain ignorant to the fact they are being exploited, as they come from situations of desperation. Once they have been rescued, NGOs play a significant role in victim care, psychological rehabilitation, and ​assisting in ​cooperating  with  law enforcement​.​ This also illiterates how multi jurisdiction collaboration between law enforcement organisations is key to infiltrating criminal networks.

For the full report on 350 victims rescued in Caribbean and Latin America by the BBC, read here.

Tighter Laws Needed for Business Registration to Combat Human Trafficking

Photo credit: Polaris Project, Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses
Photo credit: Polaris Project, Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses

A Polaris Project report has highlighted the current systems of ‘corporate secrecy’ as an inhibitor to exposing human trafficking networks. As a primary example, cases of illicit massage parlour businesses ‘flourish in secrecy’ due to the laws surrounding business registration, and the legal obfuscation of names of owners associated with businesses.

9000 parlours were analysed by a 2018 Polaris study in the United States, of which 6000 had no business records at all. 21% of these had an associated name listed, with no legal requirements to prove the identity legitimate. Although the current system lends towards business ownership anonymity at both a state and federal level, it is evident that this provides the opportunity for trafficking ring leaders to shield their identity, significantly limiting the capacity for regulation, enforcement and prosecution of traffickers.

In particular, effective law enforcement requires tackling the ownership of front businesses, which feed into larger organised crime networks. Not having the sufficient information contributes to a pattern of victim arrests during police raids, where owners are rarely on premises and usually untraceable. In order for enforcement operations to be effective, there is a demand for a policy shift that tightens the means to start an ‘official’ business, and the legal identification of owners to be essential for corporate transparency.

For the full report on How Corporate Secrecy Facilitates Human Trafficking, read here.