Mining in MYANMAR

When researching the sustainability of the crystal and mining industry, one of the countries with the most ethicality issues is Myanmar.

The research below takes a look into the mining of popular gemstones such as Jade and Amber and the environmental, human and cultural impacts associated with the extraction of these resources.



Figure 1

The mining of Precious Stones in Myanmar makes up for 10% of the countries exports and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [Figure 1]. 


The billion dollar sector is dominated by military linked companies and organisations that have continued to operate without social and environmental controls for years. 

The Gem Mining industry has been the source of ethnic conflict for over 70 years. In Kachin State, the mining capital of Myanmar, there has been an ongoing conflict between Myanmar’s national armed forces and the armed group of Kachin people, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The national armed forces stand for the country’s unification, while the KIA seeks an independence for its ethnic group. A struggle over their interest in areas of mining for gemstones such as Amber and Jade, underlies the conflict.

"Both the army and the KIA are directly involved in mining business through companies related to them and are collecting unofficial transit duties during transportation [of the mined stones].”- Journalist living in Myitkyina [Source]

In June of 2017, the national armed forces regained control of Tanai and the surrounding areas. However, due to the conflict, internally displaced people were forced to migrate from their homes in the farmland, and are working in the gem mines. Many have lost their homes and lives due to landslides at these mining sites.


Landslides kill dozens of people in the Gemstone Mining capital of Hpakant, due to these mining companies abandoning unsafe and unstable mine sites after use. The people killed in these human induced natural disasters include independent miners, living and working without report in the abandoned mining sites, as well as locals in the area.

There is a huge call to action for the government to immediately suspend large-scale, dangerous and illegal mining in Hpakant, and insuring that  companies who engage in the unsustainable practices causing environmental destruction and loss of life, are no longer in operation.




In July of 2020, a major landslide event occurred  when the side of a mining site collapsed. This sent streams of rainwater and mud onto the mining valley below. The event left almost 200 fatalities, comprising of mostly freelance minders in search of Jade. Mining companies had ceased operations for the rainy season, leaving mines unmonitored and in dangerous state. This lack of environmental safety and restoration due to lack of policy in Myanmar, had allowed for mining companies to leave environmental sites in ruins with high risks of collapse and an increased risk of environmental disaster.

Due to Myanmars lack of policy around illegal, freelance mining, there is no way to protect people from dangerous sites and extreme human induced natural disasters like the many landslides Hpakant has seen. Locals of Hpakant, environmental and human rights advocates are pushing for Myanmars government to take urgent action to stop further destruction of the natural environment, also preventing future loss of life.


After the event in 2020, environmental group Global Witness issued a statement regarding the lack of conform with promises of environmental security and worker safety and practices. It revealed that after 5 years of pledging to reform the corruption within the Gemstone Mining Sector, the National League for Democracy (NLD), had failed to implement the promised reformation acts. This meant the continuation of unsafe and unsustainable mining practices, putting independent miners at risk as well as the lives of employees of mining companies. The promised Gemstone Law and gemstone Policy, supposedly passed by the parliment in 2019, has been in production for over seven years with no actual implementation.

“The government has turned a blind eye to continued illicit and rapacious mining practices in Hpakant despite vowing to reform the hazardous sector,” said Paul Donowitz, Campaign Leader at Global Witness.


“The longer the government waits to introduce rigorous reforms of the jade sector, the more lives will be lost. This was an entirely preventable tragedy that should serve as an urgent wake-up call for the government,” he added. [Source]


Child Labour

Figure 2

The International labour Association published an article in January of 2021, comprising of an interview with a 13-year-old boy named Min Min [Figure 2]. The interview outlines the lack of policy regarding the age of workmanship in Myanmar, as will as a lapse of monitoring of illegal, independent miners.


Here are some direct exerts from the article [Source]


Article Outline- “Min Min is a 13-year old boy who scavenges for scraps of jade stone in Hpakant in Kachin State, known as Myanmars ‘land of jade’”


“My name is Min Min. I left school when I was in the third grade. I dreamt about being a teacher. I'm now about 13 years old.

“I live with my uncle and aunt. I came here last summer. In the morning when I wake up, I go out to look for jade stones. In the evening I go out again around 10pm. Looking for the stones is very tiring. The ones I find are small.”

“It depends on the size of the stones we find, but if it’s very big the mining company takes half of what we earn from us. We risk our lives for those stones. A man died last night. I saw it with my own eyes.”

“My parents live elsewhere. My dad also scavenges for jade stones. My mum stays home cook and clean. I have six siblings. My young brother is at school. I don’t want him to quit. I want him to become an educated person.   

“I am saving my money. When I grow up I want to own a house and take care of my parents.”





Jade and Amber mined in Myanmar is one of the countries largest mineral and gemstone exports. It generates billions of dollars a year and is distributed around the world, with the largest trades in China, where it is seen as a highly valuable resource. 


However, for the people in Myanmar, the gemstone is a symbol, of environmental suffering and tragedy, especially in mines located Hpakant.


Aquatic Biodiversity


Locals of the area who have previously worked in the mines have described the ecosystem before mining commenced as clean and clear, with the Uru Stream, an area where people harvested freshwater oyster, as a home to a biodiverse system of organisms.

Lahtaw Kai Ring, a former jade miner, described Hpakant today as in a state of “environmental destruction. They don’t see oysters in the stream anymore. Mountains have become valleys, valleys have become mountains. Rivers, streams and creeks have shifted into chaos.”


Mining Waste


Another huge issue with the standards of policies for mining in Myanmar is mining waste. Mining waste comprises of discarded earth and stones removed during the gemstone extraction process. This waste is heaped into piles, called tailings. 

Figure 3

Mining organisations in Hpakant often exceed the government limits of tailing heights, and these  structures often reach heights of several hundred feet. [Figure 3] This poses a great threat to the safety of workers, as the limits of these tailings have been set to ensure that workers lives are not at risk during mining operations. 

These tailings also pose a huge threat in the event of natural disasters such as landslides, as the structural integrity of the discarded materials is often times unable to withstand the rainy season and are frequently the cause of falling debris and mudslides.


Land Loss

Companies also leave behind open pits where mining has taken place. These sites of excavation fill up with rainwater, which run up against mining waste heaps, including tailings, causing them to collapse and leading to severe environmental hazard events like landslides.


This lack of land restoration also heads to the habitat loss of flora and fauna previously presiding in the areas of mining construction. This means that any surviving animals are being forced to migrate to surrounding ecosystems, disturbing the natural balance and resources in those biomes.


Not to mention, the inappropriate use of the land and a lack of policy in restoration means that land is now unable to be used in any capacity. Nutrients and minerals in the soils have been depleted, meaning the land cannot be used for agriculture. And due to the sites risks for safety, it cannot be built and lived upon. 


The events of landslides have also caused residents of the Hpakant area to be forcefully removed from their homes due to risks of safety, making the land surrounding these sites, inhabitable.



Ethical minefields: the dirty business of doing deals with Myanmar’s military

How A Beloved Gemstone Became A Symbol Of Environmental Tragedy In Myanmar

Jade mining disaster should be wake-up call for Myanmar government

Many Myanmar Mining Firms Fail to Name Politically Connected Owners: Global Witness

Myanmar amber traps scientists in ethical dilemma over funding war

Child labour in Myanmar’s jade mines is a deadly gamble