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Ethical Crystals Tracked and Traced

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Can Crystals Really be Tracked and Traced?

I want to share an experience that I had recently with a business who not only promotes their crystals as being ethically sourced but also claims they're "vetted, tracked and traced".

This business caught my attention because they call themselves an "International Ethical Crystal Retailer"

Whenever a business says their products have been ethically and sustainably sourced I'm immediately suspicious.  Whilst it is possible to find rocks and minerals that have been mined and processed in this way, it's extremely difficult especially when buying material that's been mined in developing countries.   

Many rocks and minerals are excavated in one country and processed in another. Materials tend to be mined in huge quantities and travel thousands of miles before reaching a wholesale outlet.  Therefore keeping track of their journey from mine to point of sale in most cases is virtually impossible. 

On the homepage of this business the owner states;

"We work with small independent communities that are looked after and mine consciously.  Ethical crystal sourcing is the fundamental pillar to the origins of our business.  Ethical crystals hold a higher vibrational energy that raises energy in your life and home."

Those who use crystals for their healing properties believe they vibrate at a specific frequency.  There's no scientific evidence to support this and scientists argue these vibrational frequencies do not exist.

The vibrations should not be confused for the electric charge known as piezoelectric in quartz and some other minerals. 

If these 'vibrational frequencies' do exist it's impossible for them to change irrespective of how a material has been mined.  The vibration is believed to come from the atomic arrangement within the crystal.

On another page they talk extensively about their ethical and sustainable business practices from sourcing to marketing. 

They state they aim to source 100% of their crystals from "cottage mines".  That's not a term that's used in geology but I suspect it means they only buy from small family owned mines. 

Other claims include only buying material that has been mined in a way that has minimal impact on the planet.  They say no explosives or heavy damaging machinery or tools are used and the processing of crystals is done safely and with appropriate safety equipment.

They even say "we ensure everyone in the journey of the crystal is well cared for."

At the bottom of this long and detailed page they say "we believe that to be ethical as a business you must be able to demonstrate ethical conduct in all aspects of your business which includes promoting ethical practices to customers."

After everything that I'd read I was really surprised to then discover they were selling lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.

Lapis lazuli has been mined at Sar-e Sang high up in the Hindu-Kush Mountains for more than six thousand years. It cannot be found anywhere else in the country.

This blue metamorphic rock has been classed as a 'conflict mineral' for many years.  This is because the mines are known to drive corruption, conflict and extremism in the country.

Having addressed a similar concern with another business some weeks earlier, they told me the mine where their material comes from is owned by a local family.  That's not possible because the only place in Afghanistan where lapis lazuli is found is Sar-e Sang and the mines are owned by the state.

You can read the business owner's response in an earlier article that I wrote about ethical and sustainably sourced crystals.  

The term 'tracked and traced' is a buzzword that has appeared quite recently. It's now being used by a number of small crystal retailers.

For a business to say their materials are 'tracked and traced' they must have an established and proven system in place whereby substantial and verifiable evidence can be provided that shows their products can be traced back to where they were mined.  

As well as knowing where they were mined they must also know by whom.  They should also be able to provide evidence to show every stage of its journey up until it arrives at a wholesale outlet.

Most rocks and minerals used for crystal healing purposes have been processed to some degree.  They may be cut into carvings, used to produce tumbled stones or at the bare minimum are cleaned and prepared for the commercial market.

Having done business locally for many years in Africa and Asia I know it's not uncommon for children to be involved in this work. I've also seen the conditions in which some of the work is carried out.

This photo was taken during a visit to a potential supplier in India in 2007.  I saw children far younger than the two boys in this photo working there. Children often start working at a young age because their families cannot afford to keep them in school.
Many of the rocks and minerals being sold around the world are mined in Brazil, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and several countries in Africa.

Unless mining practices and working conditions are monitored by an independent governing body, it's not possible to know for certain whether ethical practices are being adhered to.

The vast majority of retailers who say their materials have been ethically sourced are trusting what they've been told by their supplier.

Suppliers are mostly in China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Brazil.  Most crystal retailers find people to buy from online, often on social media.  Some also travel to industry trade fairs.

I can say with some degree of certainty that very few if any, will be travelling to these countries to buy locally.

On one website I visited the owner explained that her supplier regularly sends photos and videos of material being excavated.  The page also included photos of stone being cut and polished by craftsmen.

She goes on to say; 

"Our crystals have been excavated from environments where preservation of the natural landscape and environment is of utmost importance. We ensure our suppliers comply with national environmental regulations and standards."

I find it incredibly difficult to believe that a small business who's buying a few kilos of stone from someone in Indonesia is able to ensure they're complying with national environmental regulations and standards.

In a recent interview the largest supplier of crystals from Madagascar who sells at all major trade fairs around the world said he was aware of the problem of child labour in his country but little can be done about it.

It's extremely difficult not to buy material that's been mined in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo because both have vast mineral reserves.

More than 60% of the world's cobalt comes from Congo.  Cobalt is essential for the production of computers and smartphones.  They also have one of the world's largest lithium deposits.  Lithium is needed for lithium-ion batteries and for batteries used to power electric cars.

Congo has been plagued by decades of conflict involving numerous armed groups which has resulted in widespread violence, displacement of people and human rights abuses. 

The mining of natural minerals has been a driving force behind many of the conflicts and has fuelled violence and instability.  There's extensive food insecurity, malnutrition and limited healthcare and education.

It's widely known that children in Congo are heavily involved in mining.

Minerals such as malachite, chrysocolla, cobaltian calcite, dioptase and kundalini quartz which is citrine all come from Congo.

The following image comes from an Instagram post of a business who states all of their materials have been ethically sourced.  Most cobaltoan calcite is mined in Congo.  

This business doesn't state where her pieces are from. 
cobaltoan calcite mineral with text relating to crystal healing to the right of the photoThe lapis lazuli products being sold by the company who refer to themselves as an "International Ethical Crystal Retailer" have almost certainly been produced from material mined in Afghanistan.

Within a year of the Taliban taking over in 2021 the country's economy collapsed.  Malnutrition is widespread, women's rights have disappeared and unemployment runs at around 15%.

This is a country where punishments include stoning, flogging and being buried alive.  Homosexuality is illegal and those found guilty are thrown off buildings.

Afghanistan has a mineral wealth estimated to run into trillions of dollars however due to corruption, minimal investment and lack of governmental expertise this valuable resource struggles to benefit the economy. 

Huge quantities of gemstones and minerals are illegally excavated and smuggled out the country.  Lapis lazuli is often sold to China and Pakistan at a pittance.  It's from here that it makes its way to the rest of the world. 

With the situation being as it currently is, it's impossible to "track and trace" lapis that has been mined here.  As a UK based business it's not been possible for many years to buy directly from anyone in Afghanistan.  

It takes more than twelve hours to drive up to the Kocha Valley.  There are no roads and access is by steep treacherous slopes.  A village has been built in recent years to house hundreds of miners to enable them to live close by.  The mine can only be worked for a few months each year.

To really understand just how remote and difficult it is to reach the lapis mine at Sar-e Sang, download the PDF file attached to this article written by the Gemological Institute of America (https://www.gia.edu/gems-gemology/winter-1981-lapis-afghanistan-wyart). 

Miners work using gas lamps and there's minimal ventilation.  New veins are exposed using dynamite.  Breathing and safety equipment is non-existent.

I know from personal experience of doing business particularly in Asia that suppliers are not always honest about where materials come from and how they've been processed.  Many will tell you whatever you want to hear to secure a sale. 

During my thirty years flying as cabin crew I travelled extensively.  Between 2003 and 2019 I bought rocks and minerals in countries including India, Pakistan, Madagascar, China, Africa, USA and Australia.    

It's important to remember that any business who claims their crystals have been 'ethically and sustainably sourced' are confirming their products have been mined and processed in a way that aligns with ethical and environmental principles. 

The limited company that I'm talking about in this article is just over two years old.  Most of their business is done online through Instagram live sales.  The following screenshots come from their website; 
""Having spent a considerable amount of time reading about their ethical business practices and exploring their collection, I decided to get in touch to ask where their lapis lazuli was from.

Lapis has long been one of my favourite materials and I have several beautiful pieces in my personal collection.  It's also a stone that I've written about extensively for many years.
   




Not having received a reply after almost two weeks I made contact again this time through the 'Contact' page of their website.  I received a reply the following day. 
With me not being a genuine customer a video call would have been a waste of their time and that's not something I wanted to do.  With that said, even if I was a genuine customer I would not have been interested in doing that.  I simply wanted to know where a particular material on their website had been mined.
""ethically mined text""

  
I'm not a geologist but am three years into a geology degree. Due to the nature of my business I often speak with geologists and rock and mineral experts around the world and have done so for more than twenty years.

One such person who I know very well worked in Afghanistan during the early part of his career.

The following day I received this reply;


"Thank you for your interest in..." was the last line of the email. 

To say I was shocked is an understatement.

As someone who's had my own business since 2002 and who always responds courteously and comprehensively to any customer enquiry, usually within minutes of it being received, I couldn't believe what I was reading.

I was so disgusted that I decided to leave a review on Trustpilot.

In an existing review that had already been left for this business a customer wrote;

"Communication was very poor.  The the business owner did refund me but this was then followed by blocking me and sending voice notes regarding how ‘upset’ she was that I was disappointed with her customer service. She also said she thinks I did receive the product implying I was lying. The seller is completely unprofessional."
  
Having left a review the owner posted a response.  It was just as shocking as her reply to my initial enquiry.  

Here's what she said;

"I've noticed you've edited your review 4 times within 12 hours of your submission, I hope my response reflects your latest updates.

Your shift from collector to claiming to be a geologist raised red flags. Doubts grew when your intent to leave a negative review coincided precisely with our Instagram post featuring authenticated 5-star reviews.

It was clear your aim was business espionage to extract trade sourcing information. Despite offering various avenues for discussion, you declined, solely interested in our business trading source and hiding behind email contact only.

'Company name' operates transparently, as you rightly point out. However, what I prioritise is safeguarding our business trading sources. This is not only to protect our own interests but also to safeguard the small communities, independent miners, and sources involved."

The response from the owner of this relatively new small business left me speechless.  I have no interest in who she buys her products from, I was just interested to know where her lapis lazuli was mined.  If she didn't state on her website that all of their crystals are 'vetted, tracked and traced' I may not have asked.  

With regards to offering "various avenues for discussion", she had said in her email they've "streamlined support through WhatsApp because it's proven effective for quick responses."  I find it strange that it's quicker for them to respond to an enquiry received on WhatsApp than it is through their business email address. 

It's really quite unbelievable for any business irrespective of size to say we refuse to deal with you because you're hiding behind email contact only.

As well as trading online this 'International Ethical Crystal Retailer' also has a 'studio' which I was invited to visit.  Had it not been more than one hundred miles from where I live I may well have gone along.

She goes on to make reference to small communities and independant miners.  It's important to remember the only mine where lapis lazuli can be found is owned and operated by the Taliban.  Any material being excavated by 'independent miners' will have been mined illegally in order to be smuggled out of the country.

The likelihood is that she's buying from a supplier in Pakistan or maybe China.

And then there's this;

"Your negative review coincided precisely with our Instagram post featuring authenticated 5-star reviews."

How does she know I use Instagram and if I do, does she think every user sees her posts?

Bear in mind I had contacted her using my personal email address so as far as she was aware I was a potential customer. 

Sadly this industry is entirely unregulated as she states in one of her emails.  Therefore retailers can say whatever they want without repercussions.

I subsequently deleted my negative review because I didn't feel it was fair considering I was only pretending to be a customer.

More than 80% of crystal retailers now claim they only buy materials that have been ethically sourced.

Whilst some like the one I've spoken about in this article are now going even further by claiming their crystals are 'tracked and traced', others are replacing the term 'ethically sourced' with 'conscientiously sourced'.

Although many retailers are now committed to sourcing ethically mined crystals, the reality remains that the extraction and processing of these materials often falls short of these promises.

Take a look at this next screenshot, it comes from the website of a U.S based crystal business.

She confirms what I've said regarding lapis lazuli being a conflict mineral.  This is the difference between a business who tells their customers that she tries to sell crystals that have been ethically sourced and one who's more interested in pulling the wool over your eyes.
""""Sadly there's plenty of businesses out there who have little understanding of the materials they're selling or the people from whom they're buying. 

Here's another UK business who believes it's important to buy "ethically sourced lapis lazuli from Afghanistan" because "it helps small family run businesses in conflict zones."

This comes from their Instagram page. 
""If you find a business who claims their materials have been ethically sourced, check whether they sell lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.  You'll be amazed how many do.

It's also highly likely they'll be selling malachite from Congo and almost certainly rose quartz from Madagascar.
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