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.