Ethically Sourced Crystals
Ethical and Sustainable Crystals The FactsThe subject of ethical and sustainable crystals is a subject I've wanted to write about for some time.
As someone who's travelled extensively for more than twenty years across Africa and Asia primarily to buy crystals for my business, I have seen firsthand how these materials are mined and processed.
In the last few years the interest in using crystals for their healing properties has exploded. With that has come huge demand for cheap stones.
Although it's encouraging that so many businesses understand the importance of "ethical and sustainable" mining, the term is now so overused that in many cases it's little more than a meaningless buzzword.
Many of the crystals being bought around the world today are 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 country's entire population.
Vast quantities of rose quartz, amethyst, tourmaline, citrine, labradorite and carnelian come from here. Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries.
Material mined in Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo is also known to be associated with significant human rights violations as well as environmental damage. Very young children are known to work in mines.
In Afghanistan the Taliban earn millions of dollars a year from stones mined in this mineral-rich country.
The Tucson Show in Arizona is one of the worlds largest rock and mineral fairs. Thousands of visitors from around the world arrive in droves to visit what is quite a spectacle.
The largest distributor from Madagascar has been trading in Tucson for many years. The owner is aware of the problem of child labour in his country but knows little can be done about it.
Ethically and Sustainably Mined Great Buzzwords
Many businesses who sell crystals claim their products come from materials that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. Would any business admit it if they had been sourced any other way?
In the vast majority of cases it's just not possible to prove without doubt that crystals have been mined and processed in this way.
For the most part I don't believe it's the retailer who's being dishonest. I think it's about a lack of understanding of the industry we're in.
Some have begun to realise that it's impossible to control or change how crystals are being mined. So instead of saying they've been "ethically and sustainably" sourced, words like "responsibly" and "conscientiously" sourced are being used instead.
It's important to understand just how many people are involved in the supply chain. From the moment a stone is mined until it arrives at the retailer it passes through countless intermediaries.
Each step along the way is an opportunity for where and how it has been sourced and processed to be disguised. Although in some cases this may be due to lack of knowledge, in others it's likely to be deliberate.
Whilst doing some research online for an article I was writing about citrine I landed on this website.
I've obscured some detail to protect the identity of the business.
These stones are a perfect example of what amethyst looks like when it's heated to produce fake citrine.
I am certain this retailer believes what they are selling is natural citrine. They have obviously been told by their supplier the stones are not heated amethyst. The same supplier who also told them the stones had been ethically and sustainably sourced.
This business states they only sell crystals that have been mined and manufactured in this way.
My reason for using this as an example is because many businesses who sell crystals are small, independent retailers. Many buy from overseas suppliers who they connect with online, often through social media.
When asking whether materials have been ethically and sustainably mined they're putting their trust in a total stranger. That person is likely to be in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru or China.
Although the problem is not as widespread in South America, there are many reports of child labor within the industry.
Children are known to work in dangerous conditions including in underground mines with little to no protective equipment or safety training.
I recently found another business in the U.S who states they only sell crystals that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. They say they can provide details of the deposit where the stone was mined and where it was processed. I was really impressed by this and was keen to learn more.
Through email correspondence I asked about some of their crystals from India. They told me the location where the stone was mined which I know to be correct because I have been there.
They went on to say it was cut and polished by a small business who they've been working with for many many years.
I asked if they had ever been to India. They said they hadn't.
I have travelled extensively around India and have been doing business there since 2002. I have worked with different suppliers and have seen many workshops where stones are cut and polished. I have seen for myself some of the conditions in which men, women and children work.
Those who are really familiar with these countries will know it's just not possible to say for certain that crystals are being ethically and sustainably mined. Nor is it possible to know in what conditions they're being processed.
Customs and attitudes are very different to those in the Western world. In many cases children have to work because the family are too poor to send them to school. In India this often affects children in a lower caste.
Feeling Good About What We Buy
Buzzwords like "ethically and sustainably sourced" only serve to make the retailer feel better about selling the product and the consumer better about buying it.
In the vast majority of cases these terms will not be an accurate representation of the way in which these materials are being mined and produced.
For retailers who buy their crystals from wholesalers in the UK, USA or elsewhere in the Western world, the wholesaler will be buying their products in huge quantities from distributors around the world.
I know from personal experience that it can be incredibly difficult and in most cases impossible to follow the supply chain back to the person who mined the stone.
Even where it is possible there's no way of knowing for certain whether children have been involved at any stage.
More than 60% of the world's cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most mines are operated by Chinese companies.
Cobalt is mainly used for lithium ion batteries but also for many other industrial applications.
Most of the world's mica comes from Madagascar and India. More than 20,000 children in India are known to be involved in the mining process.
This mineral is used in almost all cosmetics. Mica flakes add shimmer, lustre and sparkle and are also used where brightening or glow is required. It's used in skin care products, body lotions, paints, cement, asphalt and for insulation in electric cables.
I recently received an email from another crystal retailer here in the UK. They said they were closing down so were selling off their merchandise. They asked if I would be interested in buying anything from them.
In my reply I said I would be happy to help them out but would need more detail about the stones. I explained that I want to know which country they have come from and if possible more detail about where they were mined and processed.
Throughout their website they state they only buy crystals that have been ethically and sustainably sourced.
I didn't receive a reply.
A Final Thought
My purpose for writing this article is emphasise the importance as a retailer of being open and honest.
As times change and we become more aware of unethical and unsustainable mining practices used for the extraction of crystals and minerals, it's crucial that we remain informed about the practices being used.
The scale of this industry has become so vast that it's no longer possible for significant change to happen overnight. We must however hope that with pressure from retailers, wholesalers, distributors and stricter monitoring from governmental organisations that improvements will gradually happen.
I know that many businesses in this field are trying extremely hard to buy crystals that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. I also know that many who make this statement do so based purely on the fact that they "trust the word of their supplier".
Stones that are excessively cheap will almost certainly not have been mined and produced in this way.
With this industry growing at an exponential rate many wholesalers are struggling to remain competitive. This is putting considerable pressure on the rest of the supply chain.
The mining and manufacture of crystals and minerals in an ethical and sustainable way is a complex issue. In order for improvements to be made attention is required from all involved in the industry.
The truth of the matter is that it's often very difficult to trace the origins of these materials and to know for certain how they were mined and produced.
As such it's important that wholesalers and retailers be transparent and honest.
It's encouraging to see the growing awareness and pressure being placed on the industry to improve its practices. Change is likely to be slow but if we all do our part it will happen eventually.