Miners in the rough: The hidden journey of your jewels

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Singapore

Publishing organisation: Kontinentalist

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-02-18

Language: English

Authors: Writer/ Zafirah Mohamed Zein
Design and visualisation / Munirah Mansoor
Data and visualisation / Bianchi Dy


Zafirah is a freelance writer, journalist, and co-editor of AKAR, an independent magazine. She writes data-driven stories with an Asian angle, along with client projects, for Kontinentalist.

Munirah is a designer who enjoys exploring and reading up areas of her cultural roots from a Malay-archipelago perspective. She does mostly editorial illustrations and helps in designing data-visualisations as well as client projects.

Bianchi is an urban scientist and artist trained in environmental engineering, with a passion for scientific communication and context-sensitive data storytelling. She collaborates with writers on research, data analysis, story angles and data visualisations and code implementation.

Project description:

This story aims to focus on miners, rather than the precious gems they dig from the earth – exploring the complexities and exploitation in the mining industry in parts of Asia.

We decided to tell this exploitation story through Myanmar and Afghanistan case studies, as these two Asian countries are commonly involved in complex state-conflicts. The conclusion hopes to call for an urgency for consumers, businesses and governments to enforce proper support and regulation for the mining community.

Impact reached:

Gem mining as a whole is an underreported issue in Asia, despite the region being a key node in the gem trade and Myanmar’s jade industry receiving considerable attention in the last decade. We wanted to highlight both the cultural significance of gems in Asian communities and the industry’s impact on supplier countries like Afghanistan and Myanmar. We published a sneak peek of this story during Valentine’s Day 2022 to inspire reflection on gemstone consumption. It received a considerable number of shares on social media, with 84 shares, 61 likes and 1,129 accounts reached. The story also received 1,975 unique page views with an average reading time of 2 minutes and 21 seconds.

Techniques/technologies used:

Using a combination of Flourish, Python, Matplotlib and Adobe Illustrator, we created data-visualisation to narrate the general history of humanity’s fascination with gemstones, global gem flows, gem trade from mine to market, Myanmar Jade licenses granted by the junta government as well as residential displacement due to gem conflicts in Afghanistan. The infographics string together a story of local communities and workers being exploited for global mineral exports.

Context about the project:

We felt it important to feature Afghanistan as a case study as the country was experiencing a difficult and tumultuous time in 2022. Many somewhat know about the conflict in Afghanistan but would not think of linking the profitable gem trade to the ongoing conflict and exploitation. Similarly, we wanted to shed light on military repression in Myanmar by highlighting the violent corruption at the hands of the junta, which controls the local gem industry.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

This story might inspire ideas on how we can better visualise the link between protracted conflict and a complex global supply chain like the gemstone trade.

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