Are Ethiopian Opals Ethical?

Are Ethiopian Opals EthicalEthiopian opals are some of the most precious and cherished gemstones on the planet. But do you know what can make even the most beautiful gemstones unattractive? Unethical practices. Which leads us right to the question of the hour: are Ethiopian opals ethical?

That depends. Ethiopian opals are ethical when certain guidelines are followed, but in order to understand why these regulations are in place, let’s broaden the subject. What are ethics and why are they important in the gemstone industry? Keep reading as we closely inspect everything there is to know about ethical Ethiopian opals.

What Does it Mean to Be Ethical?

Before we tackle the question at hand, it’s necessary to first understand what ethical means, especially in terms of opal mining. To start, how do we define something as ethical and translate that to a baseline for the ethics of opal mining? When something is ethical, it is deemed morally right on the scales of right vs. wrong.

In regards to opal mining, we break down morality into two parts:
  1. Are the opals sourced in a way that does not negatively affect the environment in Ethiopia?
  2. Are the conditions safe for miners to source the Ethiopian opals in the first place?

Answering these two questions will help us figure out if Ethiopian opals are ethical. Let’s start with the effects of opal mining on the environment.
Are Ethiopian Opals Ethical
For opal mining to be ethical, the sourcing rules and regulations must be followed. These are put in place to ensure that both the workers and the land are protected during the mining process.

Ethical Opal Sourcing Rules and Regulations

Ethiopia is one of seven countries in the world that source opals. In fact, the Ethiopian opal industry generates roughly $25 million US dollars. As you can gather, that’s a pretty large sum driving the economic climate in Ethiopia. As a result, the Ethiopian government provides opal miners with all of the tools they need to source opals as safely as possible. The physical health, well being, and overall safety of Ethiopian miners is a top priority for government officials.

But even so, the mining industry as a whole still has a lot of work to do when it comes to upholding ethics, both for the environment and for the miners. As of 2018, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) enforced requirements that prospective miners must meet prior to getting started in the mining industry.
Are Ethiopian Opals Ethical
As an international council, the ICMM works to improve and uphold the ethics of mining. Focusing on improving the sustainability of mining helps keep the environment intact while enabling members to internationally source opals.

Required Documents for Mining Ethiopian Opals

As of 2010, miners are required to obtain at least one of four licenses to mine for opals in Ethiopia. This law was created to ensure miners operate legally, and that workers are equipped with necessary prior to entering Ethiopian mines. In a well-executed move by the Ethiopian government, the intent was to improve and uphold the ethics of mining practices.

The four different licenses valid for Ethiopian opal mining are:
  • A retention license
  • An exploration license
  • A reconnaissance license
  • Scaled mining licenses for use by mining operations teams

While these regulations might seem like a positive, they also have a downside. Intense government interference has made exporting opals extremely difficult and the result is a massive influx in smuggling.

Who Benefits the Most from Opals Sourced in Ethiopia?

Ethiopian opals are highly sought after because they are high-quality yet significantly less expensive than Australian opals. Also called Welo Opals, they match the luminescence, play of color and body tone as other opal sources while falling into a more budget-friendly price bracket.

Because they have a lower price point, they’ve become a hot commodity since the mid 90's. However, with every influx in demand, there are consequences. When items are in high demand, lines are often crossed and ethics become blurred. There is often a high demand for Ethiopian opals because of their origin and cost.
Are Ethiopian Opals Ethical
Which begs the question: Why are Ethiopian opals are so inexpensive in the first place? Does the price gap negatively impact Ethiopian miners? Are workers being paid less so that the opal sellers make more and the customers are happy about the price? It’s natural to ask questions, especially when buying a product from another country. The great thing about asking questions is that it leads to the circulation of awareness and ultimately, positive change. Still, as a buyer you might feel reticent to purchase something if you don’t know the full story. Rightfully so! Here’s what you need to know when buying Ethiopian opals:

How to Know If Ethiopian Opals Are Ethical

All in all, Ethiopian opals are ethical when mining companies meet the requirements enforced by the government. Even if a mining company claims to be ethical, how can you be sure of the practices that affect the local miners, workers, and the environment? The best thing you can do as a buyer is to vote with your dollars. To support ethical mining in Ethiopia, buy ethical opals from sellers who can provide detailed information about the opal mining process. Research is of utmost importance when it comes to ethics.
Are Ethiopian Opals Ethical
If you come across an exceptional gemstone that seems to be priced far too low, you might want to question the ethics behind it. Conversely, supporting mining companies that treat their workers well sends a message that you care about ethics. All in all, what you spend your money on has a significant impact on the gemstone market.

Fact check the companies you buy gemstones from and look into the mines that they go into when sourcing opals. Ask the hard questions like:

  • Do miners and workers receive a fair wage?
  • What are the working conditions like?
  • How is the local wildlife and habitat affected?
  • What are the regulations on local mining?

Answering the question, “are Ethiopian opals ethical” isn’t simple. However, morals and convictions are often rooted in difficult questions and sometimes, even more difficult answers. In a perfect world, all mining operations would be undoubtedly and wholeheartedly ethical!

The fact is that it’s completely possible to source opals without harming the local environment, communities, and miners. And the best way to do that is to buy ethical Ethiopian opals from reputable sellers you trust.


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