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Ethically Sourced Crystals

text that reads ethically sourced. Image has a set of scales between the two lines of text

What Are Ethically and Sustainably Sourced Crystals?

When it comes to buying crystals the phrase "ethically and sustainably sourced" is widely misused.

When a business states their crystals have been "ethically and sustainably sourced" they’re leading you to believe their products have been produced from raw material that's been mined in a way that aligns with ethical and environmental principles.

That includes the impact the mining has on the environment, labour practices and the exploitation of natural resources.

Google "ethically sourced crystals" and you'll find endless businesses who claim their crystals have been sourced in this way.

The first thing I do when I see this is look at what they're selling.

I saw a post recently on social media from someone selling lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. Her profile stated all of her crystals were ethically and sustainably sourced.

The post said the family who excavated the stones owned the mine.  Having written about this material for more than twenty years I know that's impossible. The only place where lapis lazuli can be found is Sar-e Sang.

The deposit which has been worked for thousands of years lies high up in the Hindu Kush mountains in Badakhshan Province.  Lapis lazuli is not found anywhere else in the country.

I was intrigued by her claim and sent her a message.  I initially asked whether she had bought the stones from a supplier in Pakistan.  I assumed they had told her this story. 

This was her response;

“I can’t tell you who are (our) lapis suppliers are as they are PROTECTED. Most genuine lapis miners are in hiding!!!!! If you'd like more information on our ethical sourcing we do free talks and workshops.”

She went on to say;

“We do talks on conflict crystals including lapis and malachite. All of the BIG ethical sellers use our supplier too so yes I trust they are 100% ethical. Unless Any of us are on the ground we just don't know. We also need to consider the old mine. The stock I have now has been mined over 3 years ago.

We do not use dynamite which can dig crystals out in seconds. So our method takes years. So this stock now was mined a while ago. You also have to consider the unethical side of buying. This is their entire lively hood (livelihood) and by not buying lapis out of "principle" it's kind of unethical too. They are starving!!”

Despite stating everywhere she trades that her crystals have been “ethically and sustainably sourced” she had no idea what she’s talking about.  Her response was really quite ridiculous. 

There is no “old mine”. Lapis lazuli is known to have been mined at Sar-e Sang for at least 8,500 years.

Malachite is not a conflict mineral, lapis lazuli is.

The “big” ethical sellers she makes reference to do not exist. There are no big ethical sellers because most reputable businesses who buy and sell crystals are fully aware how few are mined in an ethical and sustainable manner.

Many crystals being sold have been produced from materials mined in some of the world's poorest countries. In 2021 85,000 children were working in mines in Madagascar. That's just over 29% of the entire population.  The materials they mine are sold around the world. 

Vast quantities of rose quartz, amethyst, tourmaline, citrine, labradorite and carnelian are mined in Madagascar.  Children also work in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and some regions in India.

Mining practices in several other countries are dangerous and workers earn a few dollars a day if they're lucky.

A significant amount of material also comes from China. Human rights are virtually non existent in China and they're renowned for their poor safety record in regards to mining.

Material from Myanmar is known to be associated with significant human rights violations as well as extensive environmental damage. Very young children work the mines.

The seller I communicated with on Instagram says her lapis lazuli was purchased over three years ago.  That means it was purchased in 2019/2020.

Lapis lazuli has been classed as a conflict mineral because it's used to fund Islamic extremism.  In 2013 the mining of lapis earned the Taliban and other armed groups $20 million dollars.

Although it can also be found in a few other countries around the world, most and certainly the finest material comes from Sar-e Sang.

Ironically she then says “unless any of us are on the ground we just don’t know”. If you read about what’s going on in Afghanistan with regards to lapis lazuli  it’s really quite easy to educate yourself.

Furthermore, if you “just don’t know” you shouldn't be telling potential customers that you only sell crystals that have been ethically and sustainably sourced.

Many retailers say this because it's what people want to hear.  In many cases they’re being told this by their suppliers.  In the vast majority of cases their suppliers are in China, India and Pakistan.

Crystal wholesalers in these countries always say their materials have been ethically and sustainably sourced.  What else do you expect them to say? 

More than 80% of retailers selling crystals in the UK claim their products have been sourced in this way.

In a subsequent message this seller said “as Afghanistan is a war zone I presume even taxing lapis lazuli makes it a conflict mineral?”

I replied;

“I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you say even taxing it. Taxes in Afghanistan have no bearing on lapis lazuli being a classified as a conflict mineral.

"Conflict minerals" finance terrorist organisations.  They're often mined using forced labour and involve other human rights abuses.  They also support corruption and money laundering.

Many countries around the world still love lapis so continue to buy it but prices have dropped significantly.  Some material is occasionally smuggled out of the country but if discovered the individual and their family would face dire consequences.

Some minerals (not lapis lazuli) can now be freely mined in Afghanistan but profits are small and working conditions incredibly dangerous.  The big money is made when materials reach neighbouring countries.

Lapis lazuli is one of my favourite stones and I have some amazing pieces in my collection. The last time I bought it for my business was 2011.

Afghanistan is no longer a warzone. The war ended when the British and Americans pulled out. It's now a country in crisis being run by extremists who put terrorism and fear at the heart of their reign.”

I wanted to share my exchange with this business because there's so much ignorance and misinformation regarding "ethically and sustainably sourced crystals".

When you ask any wholesaler whether their products have been ethically and sustainably sourced what response do you really expect?

The largest distributor of crystals from Madagascar has been trading in Tucson for many years. During a recent interview the owner admitted he is aware of the problem of child labour in his country but says little can be done about it.

The Tucson Mineral Show is the largest rock and mineral fair in the world.

text about illegal mining of gemstones in MadagascarClick to read the full article

Some business owners are now starting to realise just how difficult it is to buy materials that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. So instead of using this misleading phrase they're now saying their crystals have been "conscientiously sourced” or “lovingly chosen”.

The business owner I spoke to on Instagram said she was buying directly from Afghanistan. I know from personal experience that it's incredibly difficult to do business directly with anyone in this country.  It's not easy to transfer money there without the transaction being investigated and shipping is also expensive and unreliable. 

The vast majority of minerals mined in Afghanistan go to wholesalers in India, Pakistan and China.  

Another UK business who posts regularly on social media states all of their crystals are "ethically and consciously sourced".  On their website they write extensively on this subject and state ethically sourced crystals are fundamental to the existence of their business.  They also say all of their materials can be sourced back to where they were mined.

In regards to sustainability they say they only use "ethical suppliers who contribute back to world life".

Yet they sell lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.

Needless to say on the listing for these pieces they do not say where the lapis was mined.  I have emailed them asking where it's from and will update this article once I receive a response.
I was prompted to write this article because on my Instagram feed today a post appeared for a crystal shop in London. They announced their new signage above the shop has just been put up.

Beneath the business name it said “All of our crystals are ethically and sustainably sourced”.

Needless to say after looking at their products I found lapis lazuli from Sar-e Sang as well as materials from Madagascar and Myanmar.  The even had mica from India.

More than 20,000 children in India are known to be involved in the mining of mica. Many businesses including mine only buy this material from Brazil.

woman in Madagascar with a child strapped to her back climbing into a hole in the ground to mine micaThis woman in Madagascar earns a living from mining mica.
Clickable image. 
Photo; Christine Romo - NBC News

What does “ethically and sustainably sourced” really mean?

Environmental Impact
Ethical and sustainable sourcing involves minimising the ecological footprint associated with extracting rocks and minerals.
This includes using environmentally friendly mining practices, avoiding damage to ecosystems and implementing measures to restore the environment affected by mining activities.

Fair Labour Practices
This focuses on ensuring the individuals involved in the extraction and processing are treated fairly and ethically. This includes paying a fair wage, safe working conditions and respecting the rights and well-being of workers.

Community Involvement
Ethical sourcing often involves engaging with local communities in a transparent and respectful manner. This includes obtaining informed consent from communities before conducting mining activities on their land and contributing to community development in positive ways.

Legal Compliance
Ethical sourcing requires adherence to local and international laws governing mineral extraction. This helps prevent illegal mining which can lead to environmental degradation, human rights abuses and other negative consequences.

Companies that prioritise ethical and sustainable sourcing are often transparent about their supply chains. This means providing information about the origins of the rocks and minerals, the methods used in extraction and steps taken to minimise environmental and social impacts.

These are the reasons why it’s so difficult to say for certain that something has been ethically and sustainably sourced.

Bear in mind many of the "crystals" being sold around the world have been processed.  By that I mean tumbled stones, crystal spheres, palm stones, crystal wands and endless polished carvings.

To say these products have been ethically and sustainably sourced you need to establish where the raw material from which they were produced was mined and by whom. In the vast majority of cases that's virtually impossible to find out.  

When you ask a wholesaler anywhere in the world whether their products have been ethically and sustainably sourced, what do you really expect them to say?

Many sellers in the UK are now also buying from suppliers in Brazil.  Although it's not as common for children in Brazil to work in mines, the conditions in which miners work are generally very poor.

Risks that have been well documented include lack of ventilation, extreme temperatures, long working hours and inadequate safety procedures.

The environmental impact includes widespread deforestation, erosion of old mines and pollution in soil, rivers and streams.  Yet every wholesaler I have dealt with in Brazil has told me categorically their crystals have been ethically and sustainably sourced.

Let's not forget that many of the materials used in the tech we use everyday are classed as conflict minerals because of where and how they're mined.  Does this put anyone off from using these products? 

Do the companies selling them state "our materials are ethically and sustainably" sourced? 

The mining of gold is one of the most socially destructive processes on the planet.  Gold is classed as a conflict mineral.  Does anyone refuse to wear it because it's not ethically and sustainably sourced? 

The whole "ethical and sustainable" discussion in relation to crystals has come about purely because these materials are widely used for their healing properties.

Therefore it makes those who use them feel better about themselves if they believe they've been ethically and sustainably sourced. 

It's worth noting this entire industry is completely unregulated.    

I've been in this business for more than twenty years.  I've been writing about rocks and minerals for most of that time.

The first time I saw the phrase "ethically and sustainably sourced" was in 2017.  Just six years later and the vast majority of businesses in the United Kingdom who sell crystals claim their products have been sourced in this way.
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