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If you own jade, there’s a very good chance it is from Myanmar. Now that we are accepting Myanamr into the family of nations, tourists are visiting and business is booming. The problem is that the conditions of work in the jade mines are utterly abysmal and the generals ruling the nation don’t care. Neither do other nations.

In Myanmar’s far north, more than 100 people were killed on Nov. 21 in a jade mine landslide. The next morning, bodies were still being pulled from beneath the rocks.

On Dec. 26, another large landslide was feared to have killed dozens in Kachin state.

The catastrophes have drawn attention to Myanmar’s brutal and corrupt jade industry.

Myanmar’s jade mines are among the bleakest places in all of Asia. In these zones, death is so common and lawlessness so obscene that the government forbids almost all outsiders from coming to take a look.

The landslide happened in a dusty and isolated outpost called Hpakant, in Kachin state. Its once-green hills have been ground down into yawning pits — big as football stadiums — that resemble craters on the moon. Each day, men descend in hopes of digging out a chunk of quality jade.

This jade extraction industry is dominated by Myanmar’s military figures and their associates, whose firms plunder jade with heavy machinery.

Their profits are staggering. The jade industry was worth up to $31 billion in 2014 alone, according to the investigative non-profit Global Witness — which calls Hpakant a “dystopian wasteland.”

Here’s the thing–we are critical of a nation’s human rights abuses to a certain extent. Primarily, it’s about jailing political leaders or openly murdering political opponents. But once that ends, rulers can be as undemocratic as they want to be, especially to workers. You can have a nation that treats workers like garbage and is technically democratic to a degree, but whose parliament is dominated by the factory owners that kill workers with impunity. I am of course describing Bangladesh here. U.S. companies are flocking to outsource production here precisely to take advantage of these conditions. Democracy is certainly not necessary either–look at Vietnam. Or Qatar. President Obama had the government scrub Malaysia’s horrifying record on human trafficking so that the nation could be included in the TPP. So a bunch of jade workers dying simply is not of interest to the international community. So long as Aung San Suu Kyi is not under house arrest, the Myanmar generals can basically do whatever they want. They are smart enough to realize this and are acting accordingly. Any number of workers can die and the international community won’t blink an eye.

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  • ael

    Umm, three quarters of the world’s jade comes from British Columbia.

    • Maybe you are right about this–but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to find any information on this. Moreover, when I typed in “jade production by nation” into Google, everything that came up was about Myanmar and China.

      • Justaguy

        Here’s where the confusion comes from. Jade encompasses two different minerals – jadeite and nephrite.

        Jadeite is the brilliantly colored green, blue, pink and black form of jade that is predominantly found in Myanmar. High quality jadeite is the most expensive form of jade.

        Nephrite is white, gray, green, etc. and isn’t nearly as brightly colored as jadeite. The largest stocks of it are found in Canada and China.

        British columbia is where you get ginormous boulders of nephrite. If you ever see a big jade statue of a Buddha, or jade used in countertops, chances are it’s from Canada.

        • Very interesting.

          Also, this is the first thing I have learned in 2016.

        • The Dark God of Time

          What Chinese call Imperial Jade, which is green but not in a brilliant way, is from Myanmar. My grandfather used to collect the nephrite variety of jade from around the country, including Calfornia. My mother had a piece of Imperial Jade from his collection that was made into a ring for me.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    As long as you’re not recommending the movie, I’m onboard.

    • Are you not attending my Chazz Palminteri film festival?

      • Hogan

        If it’s Linda Fiorentino, I’m there.

        • N__B

          Are you a weergin?

  • Nobdy

    So long as Aung San Suu Kyi is not under house arrest, the Myanmar generals can basically do whatever they want. They are not smart enough to realize this and are acting accordingly.

    There’s a typo. I know you don’t care about typos but fortunately for me none of my New Year’s resolutions relate to not being pedantic or annoying.

    It should be “They are [] smart enough to realize this” with the “not” removed.

    • Who said I didn’t care about typos?

      Christ, why can’t people at least describe my arguments about writing correctly?

      • njorl

        I distinctly remember you saying, “If someone can’t be bothered to have any antigen in their blood, to hell with them!”

      • Pseudonym

        Do you want commenters to bring up typos in the comments? It’s easy for us to come off as complete assholes by doing that even if it’s not what we intended. I think the teasing is mostly in jest.

        • So long as people aren’t being jerks, yes.

  • joe from Lowell

    Do you think labor conditions in Malaysia’s fisheries will be subject to more, or to less, international oversight and pressure with them in the TPP?

    • I don’t think it will be less, because right now it is near zero. But I don’t think the TPP provides any meaningful incentive for Malaysia to improve those standards either. If I’m Malaysia, the lesson I learn is that our economy is big enough that the United States will overlook our violations in order to keep us in good standing.

      • joe from Lowell

        The claim that a nation entering into an international agreement which requires compliance with a set of labor standards will not increase pressure on that government to improve labor standards seems less than obvious.

        Not acknowledging this point does not fill me with a high level of confidence about your opinion on other aspects of the deal.

        • When the United States reclassifies Malaysia’s human rights record shortly after mass graves of human trafficking victims are found in order that Malaysia can join the TPP, I’d say that’s some strong evidence.

          • joe from Lowell

            I’d say you’re defining your way to your conclusion.

            If you assume that being in an international agreement that requires labor standards isn’t a way to improve labor standards, then bringing a country with a bad labor record into the agreement would look like that, I suppose.

            On the other hand, if you think that international agreements about labor conditions are a way to improve labor conditions, then bringing a country with a bad record into an agreement looks like just the opposite.

            I think countries with bad labor records – especially countries with bad labor records – should be brought into agreements setting labor standards.

            I think arguing the opposite is like saying we shouldn’t enter into peace or arms control deals with countries that are hostile and have been pursuing weapons programs. No, those are exactly the countries we should be entering into such deals with.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              How far does this extend? I mean at a certain point constructive engagement gives way to sanctions in US policy. Should the DPRK be brought into the TPP in order to improve its human rights policies?

          • joe from Lowell

            When the Obama White House was negotiating the normalization of relations with Cuba, they reclassified Cuba by taking them off the list of nations that sponsor international terrorism. Was this a “clear evidence” of the United States not being interested in Cuba’s international bad acts, or was it a sign that the United States thought closer relations would be a good way to get Cuba to improve its behavior?

            Please note that the answer to this question doesn’t really depend on what one thinks about the merits of Cuba’s foreign policy behavior.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Or it could be that most of the organizations the US considered terrorist that had Cuban backing are no longer viewed that way. It was support of organizations like SWAPO, the ANC, FMLN, and PLO that got Cuba put on the list in the first place.

              • joe from Lowell

                While true, again, this doesn’t really answer the question, which was about the use of the declassification to grease the way for the deal, and what it said about the American position.

        • Linnaeus

          The claim that a nation entering into an international agreement which requires compliance with a set of labor standards will not increase pressure on that government to improve labor standards seems less than obvious.

          Obvious? No. But impossible? Also no. The standards aren’t meaningful if the parties to the agreement aren’t willing to enforce them.

  • Pseudonym

    I blame Obama and the helm he used to conquer Texas.

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