Transparency: Qualities and Technologies of Global Gemstone Trading

Principal Investigator: Filipe Calvão

Principal Collaborators: Matthieu Bolay and Defne Gönenç 

Project Partners:

The project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) within its Division of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Project description:

In the first decade of this century, diamonds and other conflict-laden gemstones spearheaded a global trend toward transparency. Faced with increasingly knowledgeable consumers, widespread revelations about the social and ecological impact of mining extraction, and the negative reputation of “blood diamonds”, the mining industry adopted new labour and trading standards and imposed dramatic changes to its governing bodies. In the name of social responsibility and accountability, transparency entered the lexicon of the mining industry across the world. These foundational efforts of the extractive industry toward transparency and the growing demand for “ethical” gemstones constitute this project’s entryway to interrogate the construction and public perception of transparency. What makes a mineral transparent and ethical or, by the same token, opaque and unethical? What sustains, or undermines, transparency as a global social and economic value?

Despite the growing pervasiveness of transparency as global construct guiding political and economic life, transparency remains an elusive category that may occlude more than it purports to reveal. Rather than assuming that transparency is the apex of an ethical economy, “Transparency: Qualities and Technologies of the Global Gemstone Industry” interrogates the work played by discourses and practices in the production of transparency in extractive industries and regulatory agencies. Empirically, this study examines how transparency is assessed, enacted, and regimented across the mineral’s lifespan, as well as the regulatory and certification practices enabling the production and trade of gemstones on a global scale.

The project attends to four specific nodes in networks of valuation where technological laboratories, auditors, corporations, and sellers converge to promote and produce transparency:

1.    Certification, tracking, and grading technologies;
2.    Mineral supply chain standards and due diligence;
3.    Monitoring agencies and regulatory authorities;
4.    Commodity markets.

The three-year project is undertaken in collaboration with the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and will feature roundtable discussions in Geneva, an online database on transparency, and a series of academic publications.