The international trade in rubies is helping bankroll the military regime in Burma. According to the London Times, gemstones are Burma's third-biggest export after timber and natural gas. The Burmese junta forces workers to extract the precious stones under brutal conditions in its heavily guarded mines.
According to Der Spiegel:
Roughly 90 percent of the global supply of rubies comes from Burma. According to eyewitness accounts, mining bosses mix amphetamines into the workers' drinking water to boost productivity. Sometimes children also work in the muddy mines. "Alongside teak, gas and oil, gems are the fourth financial mainstay of the junta," says Ulrich Delius from the German-based Society for Threatened Peoples.
There are no exact figures for the junta's gem trade. Estimates of the amount of income generated by the business range as high as hundreds of millions of dollars per year. At the state-organized gem auction in Yangon, where only middling quality stones come under the hammer, the regime has taken in some $300 million so far in 2007.
Chinese, Thais and Indians are the main customers of the Burmese generals. These big buyers also control the trade with Europe and the US. They don't ask awkward questions.
According to Brian Leber, an American jeweller who campaigns against the trade in Burmese gems, "The military regime is receiving a great deal of benefit from the sale of rubies because not only do they control the licensing of all mining operations, but they also have a majority share in every mine in the country and run the auctions."