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Human Trafficking Center

“Gem Hunt” Ignores Human Trafficking for TV Ratings


Nov 2014



by Holly Redmond, HTC associate

From a human rights perspective, there are many concerns and controversial subjects covered in the Travel Channel’s show “Gem Hunt.” This show follows the exploits of Ron LeBlanc, Diane Robinson and Bernie Gaboury, experts in the fields of gemology and precious stone acquisition. These individuals frequently disregard the local laws of the countries they visit and display serious indifference to problems such as human trafficking and child labor.

The show provides everything you could hope for on TV – danger, adventure and exotic locations – all while the hosts search for exotic stones and then bargain and haggle their way to deals. While these adventures bolster ratings, they also promote low morals, greed and unethical business practices that perpetuate labor and human rights violations in the featured countries.

An example is LeBlanc’s reflection upon discovering bullet fragments alongside gems while visiting a mine in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.:

“It’s most curious and most ironic. The gods are always laughing. Where there’s blood, there’s rubies. Where there’s tears, there’s sapphires. It’s really curious. And blood and bones and bullets! Everything we expected and more! And not a bad yield.” (Season 1, Episode 7)

LeBlanc’s words depict the personal indifference he espouses on the show toward the plight of the people within the countries his team visits. His message — and subsequently that of the show — is clear: the quest for gems and satisfaction of the clients supersedes any rules that might exist to protect against exploitation of those mining the precious stones.

With the exception of Colombia, each of the countries the “Gem Hunt” team visits during the first season of the show are on the Tier 2 or Tier 2 Watch List in the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report. All have histories of forced labor within their mining industries, including child labor offenses.

This is apparent during an episode in Ethiopia. At one point the camera shows two children hauling packs of stones from the base of a canyon the gem hunters were too afraid to climb down into. While it’s not certain that the children are victims of forced labor, there is an evident violation of the Ethiopian law prohibiting children under the age of 18 from working in hazardous conditions. These boys are not only being exploited for the gems the Ethiopian mines produce, but they are also now being exploited for the television ratings and money “Gem Hunt” can produce.

“Gem Hunt” also visits Burma, one of the worst offenders in regard to forced labor and conflict gemstones. In 2011 the military stepped down and the country opened its borders to foreign investors for the first time in years. Since that time, the civilian and democratically elected government has taken steps to end the country’s extensive human rights violations, including rectifying the government sponsored forced labor that occurred during the military dictatorship.

Most of the stones in the market when LeBlanc’s team entered Burma were products of the mining operations under the military dictatorship’s rule, meaning most were mined by forced labor. Once again, this issue is not discussed on the show and LeBlanc seems more interested in setting a precedent of bully-like negotiations with the Burmese vendors, despite admitting the locals set fair prices.

In season one of “Gem Hunt,” human trafficking is never addressed and child labor is only mentioned once – when LeBlanc’s team looked for stones in Madagascar. While the immoral and unethical practices of LeBlanc and his team are glaring, their operation is only a small representation of a major problem within the gemological industry. Although there has been movement within the last decade against blood diamonds and conflict stones, it has not had a significant industry-wide effect. Eradicating human trafficking within the gem industry must start with both the buyers and the middlemen like LeBlanc and his team. Demanding that stones be conflict and slavery free is the first step in ending human trafficking and child labor in the mining of precious stones and metals.

If you do watch this show, please think critically and question the circumstances surrounding this and similar TV series. Consider whether viewers are receiving the entire story. Conduct your own research about where these shows are filmed and educate yourself on the issue of forced labor and child trafficking. Broaden your perspective and look past what are often sensationalized shows on your television screen.

(Photo: Children searching for gold in Southeast Asia. Via Creative Commons.)


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