Not less than death-dealing: Myanmar’s toxic jade trade

Myanmar's jade trade 'worth $43b but locals are dirt poor', SE Asia News &  Top Stories - The Straits Times

by Shailee Mishra and Akanksh Deekonda     10 January 2021

Introduction: Nature is the most beautiful thing that God has ever created. It runs on the ecological balance to maintain its integrity and sustainability. Through time, development, resources, and technology, the activities of humans have constantly depleted Nature and have resulted in today what we call global warming, pollution, contamination, and scarcity of resources. The world experiences new encumbrances every year to expel or react to the massive depletion activities caused by humans. The current article deals with one such incident that has been so massive. On 2nd July 2020, one of the worst-ever accident, i.e., a landslide, occurred at the jade mining site in Myanmar. It took the lives of 160 people and made the lives of the people alive more deplorable and considered deadliest on record as these occur almost every year.

Jade Mining is a usual unregulated practice in Myanmar, which has been circumvented by controversies for ages. The controversies occur mainly because of the cronyism and corruption that prevail around the borders without considering Human Rights, even at its minimal level. The state and the corporation, though make their official records show that jade mining has the essential impact on GDP and is mostly regulated, it is the usual practice that they undervalue and under-report production level to fill their own pockets and reflect false records which may satisfy the tax concerns and distract the Human Rights Policies.

Jade mining and tax concerns:

The extraction of jade can boost the GDP of the country. However, very little jade is made used in the local economy. The extreme demand for the jade has caused the smuggles to make necessary arrangements to increase their production. It is also made to escape other impediments like tax concerns, legal impediments. Hand mining is usually preferred in those areas where the pickers starve for their living in search of jadeite, i.e., the blacked hilly regions. Heavy demand causes the smugglers to use unethical practices for mining like ignoring climatic and geological conditions, supplying drugs to the minors to work efficiently, etc. These unethical practices, in the long-run, have adverse consequences like that gliding.

The extracted jadeite (usually in Nephrite) is usually smuggled to other countries like China to avoid tariffs. The jade’s expensiveness and its ability to maintain as the best store of value attract the customs and invoke the tariffs to ensure the demand-supply equilibrium. There have been instances where the officials have collided with the business persons and have caused Misappropriation.  It was not until the last year that the customs levied duties on the transport of jade.

 Jade mining and human rights:

The mining-related activities primarily loot the ethnic minority areas. There have been many villages that are subjugated to extract the metal. As this process is illegal, the villagers couldn’t find proper places to reside upon migration. The jade industry is controlled on the militant expediency. The local villagers are usually drawn into the fields as hand-pickers by subjugating their rights and subjecting them to torture. They are given high doses of drugs to control them and make them work to the fullest extent. They live under no dignity, and their lives are being under constant fear of death.

The governments are also silent on the issue, as the smugglers and the private companies fill their pockets upon the profits earned by the sale of Jade. Therefore, it takes no action upon Human Rights abuses. Though in the present times, communities are being strived to stamp out corruption and abuse of Human rights in the Jade Industry, the progress remains a milestone to achieve.

States’ duty towards the protection of human rights has been brought into the limelight through various charters. The “International Bill of Human Rights” and  “The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” deals with the adverse impact on the workers in the businesses of mining and the regulations governing customers.  The declarations made by the “International Labour Organization” deal with Hand-pickers rights.

Jade mining and the environment:

The heavy work in the Jade Industry involves working with heavy machinery and continuous mining practices. This causes the mountains to loosen their high rock-end edges. It also causes a heavy release of smoke, debris, and gases, which are fatal for life. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 5th assessment report, concluded that climate change is real and human activities are the main cause of these omissions.  The government has the power to declare an environmental emergency where the emissions exceed the permissible levels to ensure sustainability. The companies should also ensure the foreseeable environmental, health, and safety-related impacts linked with their services and maintain the standards prescribed under various environmental laws.

Level of impact on international law:

Protection of Human Rights is the primary responsibility of a state under the principles of International law. We have already had discussed the abuse of Human Rights in the earlier aspects. Corporations also owe a duty to ensure ethical standards in the work culture.

The early scholars and researchers have already depicted the possibility of civil wars. This is primarily because the European Union (EU) laws and the United States regulating mineral commodities failed to regulate the jade, which makes the Chinese companies exercise their due-diligence over the broad range of these metals, thus violating the sovereign autonomy and other International Trade Law principles.


Natural Calamities in the present day are indeed not natural. The activities which used to be described as ‘Act of God’ are perhaps not the same in the present day. These occurrences are consequences of man’s actions. Nature thrives for its sustainability, so does man. But these actions of the man in consumer centrism and capitalism are always prejudicial to the survival instincts in the long run. The article established a clear example supporting the same by elucidating the Jade industry gliding, which often occurs at least once a year, had been taking out lives in the catastrophe.

Besides valuing out the lives, the militancy class in the Kenich regions of Myanmar often oppresses the local class and make them jade miners. The miners had lost their life, identity and are under constant torture to extract mines. They were also subjected to various abuse of rights. It is also seen that the modern-day practices include smuggling, corruption, and militancy in the areas of the Jade Industry. Therefore, the law needs to ensure a commitment to safeguarding the employees’ interests before the introduction of new mines.

It’s high time that the EU and US governments enact mineral legislation covering the vast geographical area to ensure proper implementation of provisions of International Law. The international war, peace, and security bodies should take immediate actions in those areas and implement proper regulation strictly and expediently. The actions must ultimately cause environmental and world peace. The Jade should be brought into the local markets in the country and have to be used to make a proper equilibrium in the domestic and international markets and make the country reach the best positions in the global economy.

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