RAYMOND, Maine — Myanmar’s gem mining industry is one of the best providers for jobs and income in Myanmar. However, in 2021, a coup d’etat began in Myanmar, which has thrown the poverty rates and job availability into disarray. In October 2021, the United States announced its latest efforts to tamp down the coup and its economic impact by sanctions on Myanmar’s gem mining industry.
Importance of the Gem Mining Industry to Myanmar
Myanmar is one of the gem mining centers of the world. The country is well-known for its ruby mines alone. Myanmar’s gem mining industry provides a minimum of 400,000 jobs in the jade industry. Between 2010 and 2016, the jade mining industry provided 300,000 more jobs and has since peaked at 400,000 in 2019. Myanmar’s gem mining industry earned at least $975 million in 2018. There has been a history of illegal sales in Myanmar’s gem industry, making it challenging to know the exact amount of revenue to accurately determine how low the workers’ wages are in correspondence to the revenue.
In 2021, one-quarter of Myanmar’s population lived in poverty. With the coup and the impending sanctions, the United Nations predicts that in 2022 half of Myanmar’s total population will fall into poverty. As 2021 progressed, the military took control of most mining companies and businesses involved in the industry.
Myanmar’s gem mining industry has been the target of criticism before for unenforced regulations and potentially placing profits over workers’ safety. Workers’ wages are low, as the median monthly income is around $266. This places many above the extreme poverty line but is not enough to be a truly livable wage.
With the military’s coup, the government has assumed control of most of the mining industry. Almost all the workers’ wages go directly to funding the military. As a result, more and more workers and their families are likely to fall beneath the poverty thresholds.
HR 5497, also titled The BURMA Act of 2021, which Rep. Gregory Meeks [D-NY-5] proposed, outlines economic sanctions and steps to defund the military’s efforts, bring the power back to Myanmar’s citizens and strengthen the economy after the collapse of the military. Section 3, subsection 16B of the bill clarifies the economic sanctions that the U.S. Treasury Department will implement, specifically against the state or military-owned mining businesses.
The businesses in Myanmar’s mining industry will lose a significant amount of profit at the hands of the sanctions unless the coup against the Myanmar government ends or a new “fair and free” election takes place. Until the coup ends and stops taking away the workers’ wages, the U.S. economic sanctions will remain in place.
The Impact of Sanctions On Myanmar’s Workforce
The sanctions are the U.S.’s attempts to save Myanmar’s economy. Since the beginning of the coup, Myanmar’s economy has fallen. Unfortunately, the U.S.’s sanctions pressures could cause more workers in Myanmar’s mining industry to lose their jobs. Many Myanmar citizens lost their jobs in the first half of 2021. More job loss could occur in the latter half of the year.
The U.S. has placed sanctions on Myanmar before, with minimal success. The previous sanctions, which restricted the use of U.S. visas by Myanmar citizens, did not accomplish much. Still, when the new sanctions pass, the economic impact on the individual will be immediate but will help Myanmar’s economy and citizens in the long run.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative
To show that the Myanmar economy and gem mining industry are on their paths to transparency, the U.S. will repeal the sanctions once the Myanmar gem mining industry undergoes readmission to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). EITI is based in Norway but organizes and publicizes the efforts of 55 countries to show their economic strength, upwards mobility and trustworthiness for future trade alliances as citizens can hold governments accountable for past failures and corruption.
Forcing Myanmar’s gem mining industry to be a part of EITI will cause Myanmar’s government to enforce workplace safety publicly and improve wages. Enforced regulation will build confidence in Myanmar’s gem mining industry, as lacking regulations have been a primary cause for concern for several decades. The enforced regulations can stabilize jobs in the gem mining industry and allow trade reopening. This should preserve Myanmar’s economy and lay the groundwork for future growth. The U.S. designed the sanctions to protect democracy in Myanmar. However, by defunding the military coup, Myanmar’s gem mining industry should strengthen in the future.
– Clara Mulvihill