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Food for thought…
  
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David




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PostPosted: Jan 09, 2012 17:22    Post subject: Food for thought…  

Food for thought…

Should there be implemented the concept of fair trade for fine minerals trade? How much do you think a miner who extracts a fine mineral gets from what you’ve paid to acquire it? Take into account that most mining is being done in developing countries, where cheap labor is the tool of the trade. Moreover, often those miners work in very poor conditions. For example, Chinese mines (the source of impressive specimens in recent years) are also notorious for their high death toll among miners due to inadequate labor conditions which cause fatal accidents. Several publications debate about the number of lives lost in such accidents (the government is reluctant to release official figures) but that is in the range of thousands per year. Not to mention fatalities due to work related health complications (like prolonged exposure to toxic substances and dust). That is one example, but let’s also think that many beautiful Beryl peaces originate from Afghanistan, a war-torn country and one of the poorest in the world. Let’s also add African states and many others, where the blood diamond concept could well be applied to other rocks. The point is we could all finance wrongdoings without us even knowing. We don’t know because we usually care about the location only in order to write it on the label, especially if that is a type locality for a rare mineral. I came to this issue reading about fine minerals from Afghanistan and later a study about international tea trade (according to the study usually tea producers only gain 3% from the shelf value of the finished product. Where goes the other 97%? What about fine minerals trade?). In fact the fair trade concept was introduced for agricultural products originating from the developing world. It was suppose to increase the earnings of producers and thus improving working conditions. The system is not perfect, but it’s a starting point. I believe we could also apply it to fine minerals trade. I think most of the money is being absorbed through a very long chain of intermediaries so if that chain gets shorter, maybe mineral producing countries would get more even without a significant increase of market prices. I also believe there should be created by mineral collectors some sort of black list to include those localities characterized by inappropriate practices which lead to human casualties and poverty. Mineral dealers and collectors alike should be reluctant to purchase from such locations and thus, hopefully, determine those responsible to act. We love beautiful minerals, but beauty shouldn’t come at the cost of our humanity!

Thank you for reading this.

I’m looking forward to hear your comments,

David
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Riccardo Modanesi




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PostPosted: Jan 10, 2012 08:15    Post subject: Re: Food for thought…  

Hi David! What you wrote here is true and, quoting Bob Dylan, "How many times can aman turn his head pretending he just doesn't see?". But I can also quote an exception to you: a gemologist friend of mine who studied in Germany in my same course is from Zambia, and he is owner of some mines of corundum and diamonds both in Zambia and in Namibia, and of some petroil deposits in the two countries. He says: "true, a miner earns some 50 or 100 € per month, but life cost is very very cheap in these countries! And I give a job to some 100'000 workers and this income is sufficient for a whole family in the two countries!" I know this person very well, I think he takes care of his interests of course, but he wouldn't kill anybody for it!
Greetings from Italy by Riccardo.

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Hi! I'm a collector of minerals since 1973 and a gemmologist. On Summer I always visit mines and quarries all over Europe looking for minerals! Ok, there is time to tell you much much more! Greetings from Italy by Riccardo.
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Peter Megaw
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PostPosted: Jan 10, 2012 13:11    Post subject: Re: Food for thought…  

Just what we need...something else to feel guilty about!

I am being deliberately provocative here...not to be insensitive, but to make the point that I do not believe most mineral specimens are analogous to the agricultural fair trade products like tea and coffee you mention. Tea and coffee are the prime...actually only product of an agricultural operation and the sales price of the raw product is the only remuneration the fundamental producer gets. The "fair trade" movement has been successful in getting the primary producer more for their efforts, but even cutting out middlemen only modifies the cost impacts that transporting, refining and marketing have on the end cost of any product...it does not change the fact that percentagewise post-production costs are the lion's share of the end price. Across the board increases in what is paid at the producer level can make a huge impact on the lives of the producers (as the second writer noted, production often happens in economies where what seems a pittance to us is considered a living wage) and it is appropriate to apply "fair market" philosophy to those situations.

However, the situation you describe...where specimens are the prime target of mining activity...is arguably rare. Even in the cases where the mines produce high-value tourmaline or beryl specimens, the prime focus is usually gem rough and the specimens are mostly a sweetener. In fact, from a market perspective the miners get more value from the specimens per unit volume than the gem rough because it is the value added to the gem rough...cutting and marketing...all done down-stream...where the majority of the mark-up/profit lies. Specimens sell "as-is" to entrepreneurs who typically have to pay top dollar for the specimens to save them from the cutters, so the producers get something much closer to finished goods prices for what would otherwise be considered raw materials. Further, the specimen market is much more limited than the gem market and they reach collectors through a greatly reduced chain of middlemen...so the producer is getting an overall higher percentage of the end-market value.

From what I've experienced, mineral specimens have a very positive economic impact that dramatically improves the lives of miners in most places. The fluorites etc. you mention coming from China and places where I work like Mexico, are mostly accidental by-products of industrial mining. In these places the mineral specimens are saved from the crushers, removed clandestinely from the mine by the miners and sold to augment thier income. In many cases these self-awarded "bonuses" make a major immediate improvement in their lifestyle and I see no reason to apologize for any part of that. Yes, there are places where the mine owners drive specimen salvage and exploit the miners involved, but they are no more or less exploited in this pursuit than they are in general mining and it is highly unlikely that we specimen collectors can do much to adjust the inequities of the world's economies through our highly limited hobby.

But this thread leads us back into the thorny world of "theft"...another source of guilt for mineral collectors that has been hashed out here off and on for years.

Personally, I am looking forward to Tucson coming up in a few weeks, where I will try to acquire specimens as close to the source as possible...simultaneously minimizing my cost and maximizing the percentage of what I pay that goes to the producer. My conscience can live with this...

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John S. White
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PostPosted: Jan 10, 2012 21:13    Post subject: Re: Food for thought…  

Well said, Peter, I am in complete agreement.
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David




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PostPosted: Jan 11, 2012 02:09    Post subject: Re: Food for thought…  

I'm sorry that what I wrote made you upset, that was not my intention. You are right, unfortunately we are to small to solve those problems, I must be a little stupid. Indeed you should enjoy the Tucson show.
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alfredo
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PostPosted: Jan 16, 2012 11:27    Post subject: Re: Food for thought…  

The situation David describes (poor specimen miners getting paid only a tiny fraction of a specimen's northern retail price) is getting a lot rarer than it used to be. When I first started working with minerals in the early 90s in Bolivia - the poorest country in South America - I was bothered seeing wealthy northern dealers buying specimens for 1% of their retail value, and then often squeezing the miners for further discounts to boot. One would also hear stories of specimens with 6-figure prices in Tucson having been traded at the mine for some domestic appliance or a few bottles of beer...

But a few years later that "neocolonialism" had all changed. What changed it was the Internet. Poor miners in Bolivia may not have enough money to buy their own computers, but there are now internet cafes on every corner, even in small mining towns, and the miners can afford to spend 30 or 40 cents an hour to use the internet, where they cruise the more famous websites gawking at the astronomical prices being asked for "their" rocks. Now, when I go to Bolivian mines, the starting point for negotiations is somewhere in the upper stratosphere and gradually comes down to a point where I can get enough margin to pay for my trip. The days when you could get a great phosphophyllite in Potosi for a refrigerator or a case of beer are loooong gone!

Our gracious host, Jordi, has previously told of similar changes in mineral buying in Rumania.

So, the best way to help poor miners is to help them get access to the internet - modern civilisation's great equaliser.

Cheers,
Alfredo
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Jordi Fabre
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PostPosted: Jan 16, 2012 14:59    Post subject: Re: Food for thought…  

Well said Alfredo.
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gpander




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PostPosted: Feb 28, 2012 23:44    Post subject: Re: Food for thought…  

Well, there is no actual price we can impose over those stuff so we pretty much decide on how much we went them to go for. And most of the time, the owner will first go as high as it could get.

It depends on the buyer if they will take interest or go without even noticing it. I don't think that is fair actually as you reach a certain agreement to have the item ranging anyway.
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