US retailers trading in Myanmar gems, despite sanctions
November 24, 2021
Major US online retailers are continuing to sell jewellery with rubies and jade sourced from Myanmar. The continued trade profits the Myanmar military junta, helping to finance its nationwide terror campaign against the Myanmar people. The US has sanctioned Myanma Gems Enterprise but has not banned the import of gems, allowing the trade to continue.
Justice For Myanmar found listings for jewellery with Myanmar gemstones produced by Indian publicly listed company Vaibhav Global Limited and sold through retailers Amazon, Walmart and Overstock. Vaibhav Global has actively traded in Myanmar gemstones since the February 1 attempted coup.
Shipping records since the attempted coup, found in the Panjiva trade database, show imports into India of jade from Vaibhav Global’s Hong Kong subsidiary and rubies from its Thai subsidiary. Some of the shipments originate in Myanmar, while others list precious stones with Myanmar as the country of origin.
Vaibhav Global did not respond to questions from Justice For Myanmar regarding its continued sourcing of jade and gems from Myanmar since the attempted coup.
Online retailers Amazon, Walmart and Overstock also did not respond to questions over the sale of Myanmar gemstones on their platforms and their human rights due diligence. Walmart has removed listings of Vaibhav Global jewellery with Myanmar gemstones, but continues to list Myanmar rubies and jade through other sellers.
Jade and gems are a lucrative source of revenue for the Myanmar military junta and its militias, financing the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes, particularly in ethnic areas.
The state-owned Myanma Gems Enterprise (MGE), under military control during past regimes, has again come under military control since the attempted coup and controls all aspects of the gemstone industry in Myanmar. Through MGE, the Myanmar military receives a share of revenue from all gemstones sold.
The Myanmar military also profits from mining through its conglomerate, Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). MEHL has its own jade and ruby businesses and controls the greatest number of licences. MEHL was sanctioned by the US and UK on March 25, and by the EU on April 19.
Vaibhav Global’s international network
Vaibhav Global is a major seller of discounted jewellery, listed on the National Stock Exchange of India and the BSE. According to filings, institutional shareholders include The Vanguard Group, Dimensional Fund Advisors, State Street Global Advisors, BlackRock and the Florida State Board of Administration, all based in the US. The USA is Vaibhav Global’s biggest market, with 2021 financial year revenue at US$234.9 million, according to its latest annual report.
Justice For Myanmar found at least 8 shipments of cut and polished rubies from Vaibhav Global in India to Shop LC Global Inc. in the USA since sanctions were imposed on MGE, based on data from the Panjiva database. These were shipped between May 15 and July 14, 2021.
Other Vaibhav shipments to the USA, as recently as September 19, list unspecified precious and semi-precious stones, as well as manufactured jewellery. Justice For Myanmar asked Vaibhav Global for details about the source of gemstones in these shipments but did not receive a response.
Shipping records from Panjiva show that Vaibhav Global has imported at least 8 shipments of Myanmar rubies to India, where its jewellery is manufactured for export, including since the Myanmar military’s attempted coup and the sanctioning of MGE in Vaibhav Global’s key foreign markets. These shipments were received between February 19 and June 9.
Vaibhav Global primarily sources Myanmar gems from its Thai subsidiary, STS Gems, which lists Myanmar as a key market and claims to procure gems “directly from the source”. Vaibhav Global imports rubies via STS in Bangkok.
Additionally, on April 7, Vaibhav Global received two shipments of jade from Myanmar, sent from STS Gems in Hong Kong.
Vaibhav Global is selling jade and gems from Myanmar through its own websites, its home shopping TV channels, through third-party sites and wholesale to other jewellery businesses.
Vaibhav Global’s main platform for consumer sales in the US is Shop LC, formerly called The Jewellery Channel and Liquidation Channel. Shop LC is headquartered in Austin, Texas.
A search of Shop LC’s website shows at least six items for sale made with Myanmar rubies, including rings, earrings and a pendant, and at least ten items made with Myanmar jade, including necklaces, bracelets and rings. Shop LC also has loose jade available for sale.
Shop LC additionally sells Myanmar jade and ruby jewellery and loose gemstones through major US corporations Amazon, Overstock and until recently, Walmart, who facilitate the transactions and receive a commission on goods sold.
Amazon currently lists a large range of Shop LC jewellery, including Burmese ruby rings, bracelets and pendants, and Burmese jade rings and earrings. Where country of origin is listed, the items specify India.
Amazon also lists loose rubies described as from “Mogok and Mong Shu, Myanmar”. However, the product description lists the country of origin as India.
Overstock lists jade and ruby jewellery manufactured by Vaibhav Global, including rings and loose rubies. Like Amazon, listings specify India as the country of origin, even when the product description describes the stone as “Burmese jade” or “Burmese ruby”.
Overstock states they “require that our suppliers maintain high moral and ethical standards in producing and transporting products offered for sale on our websites”.
Walmart listed a smaller range of Shop LC Myanmar jade and ruby jewellery but appears to have removed listings after being contacted by Justice For Myanmar in October.
Justice For Myanmar asked Amazon, Walmart and Overstock about their business with Shop LC jewellery, their sale of gemstones sourced from Myanmar and their human rights due diligence on third party sellers. None of the companies responded.
Vaibhav Global also sells jade and gems sources from Myanmar through Shop LC in Germany (Shop LC GmBH), and The Jewellery Channel (TJC) in the UK.
In 2018, following the Myanmar military’s campaign of genocide against the Rohingya and the threat of a ban on Myanmar gems, Shop LC launched the promotion “Burmese Ruby Smackdown” with a lighthearted video encouraging increased sales before a ban could be imposed.
Pass the Burma Act and ban Myanmar gemstones
In a press release announcing sanctions, Office of the Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Director Andrea Gacki stated a commitment to “denying the Burmese military sources of funding” through the designation of MGE.
However, Vaibhav Global’s continued trade in Myanmar gemstones shows that US sanctions will have limited impact as the chain of intermediaries between US retailers and MGE may extinguish the sanctions interest, allowing the trade to continue.
A ban on Myanmar origin gems is essential. Section 203 of the Burma Act of 2021, introduced in October and currently before Congress, authorises the prohibition of all US imports of Myanmar gemstones. Justice For Myanmar urges members of Congress to stand with the people of Myanmar by passing the Burma Act and prohibit imports of Myanmar gemstones.
Consumers have an important role to play. Ask retailers to disclose the country of origin of gems they sell and boycott all gems from Myanmar.
Vaibhav Global’s investors must uphold their human rights responsibilities and divest unless the company stops trading in Myanmar gemstones.
The military’s sources of revenue must be cut off to stop the violence and support the rebuilding of a federal democracy.