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Ethically Sourced Crystals Explained

The Truth About Ethically Sourced Crystals

Ethically and sustainably sourced crystals is a subject I've wanted to write about for some time.

As someone who's travelled extensively for over twenty years across Africa and Asia primarily to buy crystals for Stone Mania, I have seen firsthand how these materials are mined and processed.

The interest in using crystals for their healing properties has exploded in the last few years. With that has come a 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 it's little more than a meaningless buzzword.

Many crystals sold today have been 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.

Madagascar is home to vast quantities of rose quartz, amethyst, tourmaline, citrine, labradorite and carnelian. Despite its rich natural resources, it's 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 largest rock and mineral fairs. Thousands of visitors from around the world travel to visit what is quite a spectacle.

The largest distributor from Madagascar has been trading there for many years. The owner is aware of the problem of child labour in his country but says little can be done about it.

'Ethically and Sustainably Mined' Great Buzzwords

Many businesses that sell crystals claim their products come from materials that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. Would any business admit to selling crystals not been mined in this way?

In the vast majority of cases, it's impossible to prove for certain that materials have been ethically mined and processed. For the most part, I don't believe the retailer is being dishonest, I think it's a lack of understanding of the industry we're in.

Some have now realised it's impossible to control or change how crystals are mined. So, instead of stating their crystals have been 'ethically and sustainably' sourced, words like 'responsibly' and 'conscientiously' are being used.

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.

Every stage of the material's journey is an opportunity for detail about how and where it was mined and processed to be lost. In some cases, this may be due to a lack of awareness, but in many, it's intentional.

While researching online for an article about the mineral citrine, I landed on this website. I've obscured some detail to protect the business owner's identity.
heated amethyst tumbled stones text saying these are natural citrine tumbled stones from Brazil, not heated amethystThese tumbled stones are a perfect example of what amethyst looks like when heated to produce fake citrine.  I'm fairly 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.

This supplier would also have told them the stones had been ethically and sustainably sourced. On their website this business states they only sell crystals that have been mined and processed in this way.

I've used this as an example because many businesses that sell crystals are small, independent retailers. Many buy from overseas suppliers whom they connect with online, often through social media.

When asking whether materials have been ethically and sustainably mined, they put their trust in a total stranger. That person will likely 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 labour 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. that states it only sells crystals that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. It says it can provide details of the deposit where the stone was mined and 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 where they were mined and I know that to be correct because I have been there.

They went on to say the stones were cut and polished by a small business they've been working with for many years. I asked if they had ever been to India, and they said they hadn't.

I have travelled around this country extensively and have been doing business there since 2002. I have worked with different suppliers and have visited many workshops where rocks and minerals are cut and polished. I have seen for myself some of the conditions in which men, women and children work.

Those familiar with the countries I've mentioned will know it's impossible to say for certain whether crystals have been ethically and sustainably mined, or in what conditions they were processed.

Customs and attitudes in Asian countries are totally different from those in the Western world. Children often have to work because families are too poor to send them to school. In India, this often affects those from a lower caste.

Feeling Good About What We Buy

Buzzwords like 'ethically and sustainably sourced' only make the retailer feel better about selling the product and the consumer better about buying it.

In most cases, these terms do not accurately represent how materials have been mined or processed.

For retailers who buy their crystals in the UK, U.S.A., or similar countries, their wholesaler will buy their products in huge quantities from distributors around the world.

From experience, I know it can be incredibly difficult and often impossible to trace the supply chain back to where a stone was mined, let alone by whom. Even where it is possible, it's not possible to know 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 widely used for lithium-ion batteries and in 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.

Mica is used in almost all cosmetics. Mica flakes add shimmer, lustre and sparkle and are also used when brightening or glow is needed. It's used in skin care products, body lotions, paints, cement, asphalt and insulation for electric cables.

I recently received an email from a crystal retailer in the UK. They told me they were closing down and asked if I would like to buy any of their stock. I said I may be interested, but I need to know which countries the stone comes from and if possible, more about where it was processed.

Throughout their website they state that they only buy crystals that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. I never heard from them again.

A Final Thought

My purpose for writing this article is to highlight the importance of a retailer being open and honest.

As times change and we become more aware of unethical and unsustainable mining practices, it's crucial that we remain well-informed.

The scale of the wellness industry is now so vast that significant change can no longer happen overnight. However, we must hope that with pressure from retailers, wholesalers and distributors and stricter monitoring from governmental organisations, improvements will gradually happen.

I know many businesses in this field try hard to buy crystals that have been ethically and sustainably sourced. I also know that many who make this statement, do so purely because they trust the word of their supplier.

In another of my blogs written sometime after this one, I discuss a UK crystal retailer who not only claims its crystals have been ethically and sustainably sourced, but also says they have been "vetted, tracked and traced." It makes a very interesting read. The article is here.

When shopping for crystals online, it's worth remembering that excessively cheap stones will almost certainly not have been ethically mined.

With this industry growing exponentially, many wholesalers are struggling to remain competitive, which 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've been mined and processed.

As such, it's important that wholesalers and retailers be transparent and honest.

It's encouraging to see the growing awareness and pressure on the industry to improve its practices. Change will likely be slow, but if we all do our part, it will happen eventually.

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