Myanmar is one of the main producers of jade in the world. It is estimated that around 70 percent of the world’s jadeite, a variety of jade, comes from Myanmar . One of the main production sites is located in Hpakan, in Kachin state, an area where an ethnic conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar army has been running for decades.
The business has been buoyant since 2007 fueled mainly by Chinese demand, a country where jade has mystical meanings . In 2016, United States lifted a ban on the jade imports that was in place since 2008 after the military junta that ruled the country for almost 5 decades stepped down, but it reimposed it one year later  due to the abuses against Muslim rohingyas in the country.
According to a report released by Global Witness in 2015 , the industry is controlled by “[old junta] military elite, US-sanctioned drug lords and crony companies” while “very few revenues reach the people of Kachin State [...] or the population of Myanmar as a whole”. Thus Global Witness pointed at the families of former dictator Than Shwe and generals Maung Maung Thein and Ohn Myint as some of the key actors in the industry.
The organization estimates that the value of the industry was about USD31 billion in 2014. According to Global Witness, this figure equates to 48% of Myanmar’s official GDP and 46 times government expenditure on health. Only Chinese import data indicated a trade worth USD12 billion that year.
The jade industry has been linked to a number of social and environmental conflicts. Some of these impacts were summarized in a letter sent to then-President Thein Sein in October 2014 by almost 5,000 residents of Hpakant detailing the abuses of jade mining companies, such as diseases related to the use of dynamite or accidents in the mines . People also have lost their properties, and some of them their lives, due to the landslides provoked by the mining activities. One of these landslides killed 17 people in May 2018 in Wak Khar village . In November 2015, more than 100 miners - some figures raise the number to 200 - perished when 60-metre-high mountain of earth and waste collapsed, burying the huts where the workers slept . In July 2020, at least 162 people were killed by a landslide triggered by heavy rain in Hpakant . According to media reports, the miners were trying to find jade stones among the rubble discarded from lorries when the mudslide happened.
Working conditions in the mines are also dire. Miners are mostly daily labourers, many of them migrants . To endure the harsh conditions, miners use drugs, mainly heroin .
The trade is also driving ethnic tensions with the Kachin Independence Organization, and its army branch, the already mentioned KIA . “Jade is the main source of income for the KIA/KIO. This makes the battle for control of jade revenues a strategic priority for both sides in the conflict”, says Global Witness. Nevertheless, the KIO lost control of the Hpakant district in the 1990`s. After 17 years of ceasefire, fighting broke out in June 2011 between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar Army in the area displacing an estimated 90,000 people by September, 2012 and killing hundreds of people .
Other rebel groups are also involved. Thus, Global Witness also mentions Wei Hsueh Kang, a drug kingpin and long-time financier of the United Wa State Army / United Wa State Party (USWA/UWSP) .
In 2016, the government announced that new gem mining licenses and the renewal of those that expire would be suspended until a new law on gemstones is passed . In 2019, the parliament approved a new gemstone law that, according to Global Witness, it is not being implemented yet (as of July 2020).According to AP/Xinhua (4 July 2020), the latest landslide took 162 lives. The Myanmar Fire Service Department announced that 162 bodies had been recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. 2014. Hpakant is an area in Kachin state, 950 kilometers north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon. “The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” the Fire Service said. According to an earlier information a 304.8-meter high cliff wall collapsed onto a tailings pond at a suspended mining site. Meanwhile, the Myanmar Gems Enterprise issued a directive to jade mining companies to suspend operations at the sites for three months starting this month during the monsoon season. “It’s dangerous to carry out jade mining operations in the areas as there will be heavy rainfalls during the monsoon season,” U Min Thu, managing director of the enterprise under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, told Xinhua..