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Ethically and Sustainbly Sourced Crystals

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 its crystals have been 'ethically and sustainably sourced', it leads you to believe its 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 products 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 material owned the mine.  Having written about lapis lazuli for over twenty years, I know that's impossible. The only place in Afghanistan 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 so sent her a message.  I initially asked whether the stones had been bought 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 was talking about.  Her response was quite ridiculous. 

There is no “old mine”. Lapis lazuli is known to have been mined at Sar-e Sang for at least 6,500 years.

Malachite is not a conflict mineral, but lapis lazuli is.

The “big ethical sellers" she refers to do not exist. There are no big ethical sellers because most reputable businesses that buy and sell rocks and minerals are fully aware of how difficult it is to find materials that have been mined in this way.

Many of the 'crystals' being sold have been produced from materials mined in some of the world's poorest and least developed countries. In 2021, 85,000 children which is just over 29% of the population were working in mines in Madagascar.

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

Mining practices in many 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 there and the country is renowned for its poor safety record in 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 more than 20 million dollars.

Although it can also be found in a few other countries around the world, most and certainly the finest grade stone 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 happening in Afghanistan regarding lapis lazuli, it’s really quite easy to educate yourself.

Furthermore, if you “just don’t know”, you can't state 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, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Suppliers of crystals 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 who sell 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's classification as a conflict mineral.

'Conflict minerals' fund terrorism and oppression around the world.  They're often mined using forced labour and involve other human rights abuses.  They also support corruption and money laundering.

Many people love lapis lazuli 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 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 fantastic pieces in my personal collection. The last time I bought it for my business was in 2011.

Afghanistan is no longer a war zone. The war ended when the British and Americans pulled out in 2021. 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 owner because there's so much ignorance and misinformation regarding 'ethically and sustainably sourced crystals'.

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

The largest distributor of crystals from Madagascar has been trading in Tucson for many years. During a recent interview, the owner said he was aware of the problem of child labour in his country but could do little about it.

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

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

Some business owners are now beginning to realise just how difficult it is to source materials that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. So instead of using this misleading phrase, many are 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 someone in Afghanistan. I know from experience that doing business directly with anyone there is incredibly difficult.  It's not easy to transfer money without it being investigated, and shipping is expensive and unreliable. 

Most minerals mined in Afghanistan go to wholesalers in India, Pakistan and China.  

Another UK business I recently found also states its crystals are "ethically and consciously sourced".  On their website, they write extensively on this subject and state that ethically sourced crystals are fundamental to the existence of their business.

They also say everything can be traced, which I assume means they know where the raw stone was mined.

Regarding sustainability, they say they only use "ethical suppliers who contribute back to world life".

They too sell lapis lazuli which I believe is from Afghanistan.

The listings for their carvings do not say where the raw material was mined.  I emailed them as a potential customer and received a pretty shocking response. 

I've written an article about my encounter with them because the "ethically and sustainably sourced" claim needs to be debunked once and for all.

You can read that article here.

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

I was prompted to write again on this topic because I saw a post today advertising a crystal shop in London. They also state “All of our crystals are ethically and sustainably sourced”.

Needless to say, after looking at their products I found lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and crystals from Madagascar and Myanmar.  They also have mica from India.

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

What does 'ethically and sustainably sourced' really mean?

Environmental Impact
Ethical and sustainable sourcing involves minimising the ecological footprint of 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, having 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 material has been ethically and sustainably sourced.

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

To say these products have been ethically and sustainably sourced you need to establish where the raw material was mined and by whom. In most cases, that's virtually impossible to establish in less developed countries.

Many crystal sellers in the UK now also buy from Brazil.  Although it's not as common for children here 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.  Serious accidents and deaths are relatively common. 

The environmental impact of mining 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 that their materials are all ethically and sustainably sourced.

Let's not forget many of the materials used in the tech we use every day are mined by very young children.  Cobalt is needed to power the rechargeable lithium batteries in millions of products sold by Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla. 

Does this put anyone off from buying them? 

Do these companies 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 of crystals has arisen 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 the entire 'wellness industry' is unregulated.    

I've been in this business since 2002 and for most of that time have been writing factual articles about rocks and minerals.

I first saw the phrase 'ethically and sustainably sourced' in 2017.  Just a few years later 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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