Fair Trade Gems® Principles & Protocols
Fair Trade Gems® are closely tracked from Mine-to-Market™ to ensure every gem has been handled according to our principles and protocols. This stamp is our certification that the gems you purchase from Columbia Gem House are in fact Fair Trade & Responsibly sourced as a result of this process.
Our principles include environmental protection, cultural diversity, protecting worker's rights in the mining, cutting, and manufacturing processes, education, product integrity, and a fully transparent supply chain.
Our protocols are broken down into levels so consumers are able to get the whole story behind the gems they are buying.
One of the main principles our Fair Trade Gem Protocols is protecting the environments we work within during mining, cutting or manufacturing jewelry. We fully evaluate any potential partners and regularly check in to ensure day-to-day operations meet our standards. We never invest in any projects or mines in protected or environmentally sensitive areas.
Unlike mining for many other commodities and minerals, gems are usually mined by hand with small hand-held tools, minimizing the lasting impact on the surrounding environment. One great example of this would be the Anthill Garnet from the Navaho Reservation. These gems are ‘mined’ by locals who wait for rain, perform a spiritual ceremony, and allow the ants to naturally burrow these gems out and discard them to the earth’s surface as they build their hills. Once this happens, the gems are gathered by hand or with a rake (no digging involved) as to not disturb the earth. While this is not always the case, it is an example of the varying mining methods we support.
Partnering closely with mine workers who generally live near the gem deposits, we are able to plan mining operations to safeguard the natural setting of the mine. This means leaving as much untouched vegetation as possible to reduce the impact on wildlife habitats. We also take careful attention to protect streams and watersheds from natural sediment and pollutants. Mining operations move a lot of earth and rock, but with proper planning, we can ensure no sediment blocks or diverts streams or runoff channels, so no fish or other wildlife that rely on those water sources are harmed.
After mining is complete, it is our policy to restore and replant mine sites to as close to the original condition as possible.
Preserving the integrity of the link to the place where the gem is found is particularly important to us at Columbia Gem House. With gems being an international business, large parcels are traded at every step of the distribution system, and it is common for the link to the mine to be lost in the shuffle. When this happens, it is possible for skilled gemologists to examine microscopic clues to trace a gem's country of birth, but sometimes no such clue exists. This means if the story is lost, there are some gems that lose all connection to their origin forever.
Protecting the integrity of origin is important not only for traceability but also to keep the story of the gem with the piece itself. This in turn, allows for the stories of the cultures or people behind it to shine through. In our eyes, keeping the story with the gem completes the piece and allows consumers to connect on a deeper level and part of its beauty.
For every gem we sell, we have built personal relationships with our suppliers to ensure these stories are not lost. We have the privilege of trust and openness to share with one another so we can learn more than just the name of the source location. At Columbia Gem House, we believe the gemstone is only as beautiful as the story behind it, so our goal is to preserve and promote the source as well as provide as much information as possible about the culture and people involved in the process.
Protecting Worker’s Rights
When it comes to worker’s rights and fair labor, it is our mission to provide a safe and comfortable working environment where all employees are treated fairly and given equal opportunity for growth within the company. Our cutting workshop in China, as well as our jewelry workshop in the United States both operate under very strict guidelines to meet our standards. We operate under a zero-tolerance policy for child labor, slave labor or any unfair labor policies. We are able to assure none of these practices ever used to produce the gemstones we sell. Further, we assure all labor also conforms to the laws and requirements in the country the rough is produced.
Our cutting workshop is one example of how we implement these guidelines. We began working with our partners in Shenzhen in the mid-80’s where all protocols and guidelines were developed and agreed upon together. This partnership has continued to grow over the years, to a point that this team is now part of our family. With government inspections for labor and safety on a regular basis, this cutting workshop has even been used as an example of how factories should be managed in China. Key benefits cutting workshop employees receive include:
- Average wages paid over 2x above local minimum wage
- Room & Board
- Food Allowance
- Paid Vacation time
- Overtime pay (from 1.5 to triple pay for hours over 48 hours per week) : weekday overtime 1.5 pay; Sunday overtime: double pay; Public holidays overtime: triple pay
- Medical Insurance
- Retirement/Disability insurance
- Unemployment insurance
- Annual Home leave travel expense subsidy
- Annual Bonus (depended on the financial affordability of the factory)
- Available time off for cultural traditions and locally observed holidays
We take the same wholistic approach and hold the same expectations for our mining partners. True to our mission, we are committed to not just following the laws but going above and beyond to ensure all workers are given the same rights and opportunities that we would offer to our team working out of our Headquarters in Vancouver, Washington.
Although not traditionally perceived as a component of Fair Trade, we are committed to extensive education on mining, cutting, enhancements, jewelry craftsmanship, and industry trends to industry-members and consumers alike. Understanding what questions to ask, what the process looks like and how gemstones come to market, empowers anyone to make an educated choice on what gems they want to work with or purchase.
Through speaking engagements, one-on-one consulting, social media, email, blogs, and some printed materials, we are able to share information with anybody who is interested. We also currently host a reference library on more than 20 gem varieties here on our site – if you’re interested in learning more, you can visit our Gem Facts Page.
In addition, we make a variety of gemstone donations to educational programs/institutions that teach jewelry-making as well as design competitions to help bring the concept of responsibly sourced gems to light for viewers that may have never been exposed.
Finally, we find it important to reinvest in the mining communities we work in. We collaborate with local partners to find ways to support on-site needs. From trainings in the workplace to funding local school builds, we regularly manage projects focused on education because we believe everyone should have access to it.
One of the benefits of our Fair Trade Gems® policy is a mandated strict chain of custody for each gem we produce. We carefully control and document each link in the supply chain and examine our products at every step.
This means we can guarantee quality and integrity of every gem we sell. We know where it was mined, how it was cut, if it was enhanced in any way, and we can make sure that no synthetics or simulants have been mixed in.
Many gemstone varieties are routinely enhanced in ways that may not be detectable, which is why we decided to create one of the most advanced and ethical heat-treating systems in the world. We source completely natural, untreated materials, then cut and treated them ourselves. This allows us to offer a complete guarantee as to if the gem you are looking at is natural or heat-treated. You will never find Beryllium, Titanium, or Lithium diffusion, no synthetic fracture filling, and no glass composite stones with us.
Mine-to-MarketTM traceability is a promise that we guarantee full and complete information about each gem we sell is given directly to you.
Transparent Supply Chain
Maintaining a complete chain of custody with documentation on each and every gemstone is a critical part of our Fair Trade Gem Protocols to ensure our operations meet our ethics standards. This means that:
- All international transactions and transfer of all goods are handled in a legal and transparent manner.
- All import and exports are conducted in accordance with all local laws.
- We request all shipments into the United States include an official invoice that shows real and accurate values.
- The official invoice is used to remit payment by wire or bank check to an official bank account provided by the supplier.
Transparency throughout the supply chain and all transactions is important to prevent any possibility of money laundering, funds being transferred out of the producing country, or other substandard actions occur as a result.
Fair Trade Gems® Protocols
The Principles laid out above build the foundation for our Fair Trade Gems® Protocols.
A key part of our Fair Trade commitment is to share the whole story of every gem we sell. From the minute we mine or purchase rough gems, we track each parcel separately with information about its origin. While we’ve done this for 20 years, not all our gems can be identically traced.
This is why we created our Fair Trade Gems® Protocols with Levels One to Five: so you know exactly what we know. Our goal is to push all our gems into a Level One or Two, but as with all worthwhile things – it’s a process.
As a baseline, we only work with suppliers who believe in creating a traceable and supportive supply chain, even if they aren’t completely there yet. Once we know they are committed, we can work with them to improve, step by step. That being said, we never buy rough that is completely undocumented or untraceable. We improve every year by working with suppliers to document the process and make improvements, if needed. Though, many times the process aligns with our Principles & Protocols already, it is just not documented.
Each gemstone we sell is assigned a Fair Trade Gems® Level to communicate with our customers the level of information we know about it. So what does each 'level' mean exactly?
Fair Trade Gems® Level One
Can be traced to a specific mine, where we either mine ourselves or have formal agreements with the producer, in which all Fair Trade Gems® requirements for workers and environment have been met. We visit the mine regularly, legally export, and cut these gems ourselves.
Fair Trade Gems® Level Two
Can be traced to a specific rough broker or miner who guarantees the rough comes from a known region in the country of origin. The supplier understands and supports our Principles and Protocols, has conveyed them to the miners, and assures the supplied rough meets those standards. We legally export and cut these gems ourselves.
Fair Trade Gems® Level Three
Can be traced back to the legal documented export of the rough from the country of origin. At this level, we work with the broker or miner to continually improve traceability and then cut these gems ourselves.
Fair Trade Gems® Level Four
Can be traced back to the gems being cut in our workshop. We are able to confirm country of origin but is typically pre-2001 rough sourced prior to the development of our Principles and Protocols.
We do not cut these gems ourselves so we cannot document the supply chain, but we only buy gems from suppliers we know and trust. This material is typically pre-2001 rough sourced prior to the development of our Principles and Protocols.