Coloured gemstones in eastern DRC: Tourmaline exploitation and trade in the Kivus

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Responsible sourcing efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to date have focused predominantly on the so-called 3TG (tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold) sector. Nevertheless, the artisanal exploitation of other minerals including semi-precious gemstones, such as tourmaline, can also make notable contributions to local livelihoods.

At the 9th OECD Forum in May 2015, rising tourmaline exploitation and trade in eastern DRC saw Congolese stakeholders, including SaveActMine (SAM), highlight the relevance of the DRC’s coloured gemstone sector to responsible sourcing within the context of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. Following up on these observations, IPIS and SAM undertook a joint research mission in September 2015 to look into tourmaline exploitation and trade in the Kivus. This research confirmed that eastern DRC’s tourmaline sector appears to be experiencing notable growth. Since 2012, a rise in gemstone prices has reportedly seen the sector attracting thousands of artisanal miners during boom periods in the Kivus alone. Tourmaline sites visited in the context of the present research in the south of Masisi territory (North Kivu) and around Numbi (Kalehe territory, South Kivu) experienced sizeable spikes in artisanal worker numbers in 2014 and 2015, with four out of five miners in the Numbi area reportedly engaged in tourmaline extraction. This has seen Numbi develop into a notable market for gemstone (specifically tourmaline) trading. Local authorities say that most locally registered traders deal in tourmaline. Here, stakeholders reported the potential for making considerable profits from high quality stones.

Until recently, regulatory neglect and a lack of official trading counters for the purchase and export of gemstones from the DRC, had seen the Congolese coloured gemstone trade develop almost exclusively in the informal sector. As such, exploitation to date has overwhelmingly taken place illegally, with stones leaving the country illicitly for sale in neighbouring countries, such as Rwanda and Tanzania. Rising interest in the sector has now seen the licensing of exporters in coloured gemstones in both North and South Kivu. Growing interest in tourmaline indicates that the coloured gemstone sector may have the potential to contribute to job creation and economic development in eastern DRC. However, a burgeoning trade in lightweight, high value gemstones among artisanal miners and informal traders can also pose potential risks concerning conflict financing and human rights abuse. Research for this report came across accounts of predation by security actors occasioning forced labour, night exploitation and illegal taxation during at least one artisanal tourmaline mining spike, as well as claims of involvement of undisciplined public security forces in tourmaline exploitation and trade. Moreover, whilst much tourmaline mining in the Kivus is currently taking place in areas benefiting from improved general security, banditry remains problematic and non-state armed groups continue to operate in adjacent localities.

The above factors suggest that tourmaline may no longer be a marginal issue when it comes to responsible mineral sourcing from eastern DRC. Indeed, research for this report also encountered claims that some mineral traders can declare minerals like cassiterite as low value tourmaline to evade tagging requirements and reduce tax payments. This raises questions about tourmaline’s significance to ensuring the robust implementation of responsible sourcing for other minerals.

IPIS/SAM research also highlighted a number of conditions potentially favourable to responsible souring from certain areas visited in the context of this study. These included improved local security conditions, the existence of validated and iTSCi monitored sites in the vicinity, and increased awareness of OECD due diligence requirements among stakeholders, including efforts to engage on issues of OECD compliance, amongst others.


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