The world of crystals has grown into a real phenomenon over the last two decades with more and more people turning to crystals for healing and also their stunning beauty. With the rich and famous using crystals in their every day life (the Kardashians, Robbie Williams, the Beckhams, Adele, Madonna to name a few) more and more people are starting to want crystals in their lives and homes.
This has paved the way for crystal mania to become one of the fastest growing trends this decade.
I’ve been personally working, healing and playing in the crystal world for many, many years. I have also started studying gemmology and am a member of the National Association of Jewellers and yet – despite all of that I am still learning what the word ‘ethical mining’ means when associated with crystals...
In Elements of Avebury we pride ourselves on the fact that many of our crystals are ethically mined – but why can they not ALL be ethically mined and what does that even mean?
I have tried to put my thoughts into some sort of order but to be honest – ethical mining is an extremely deep subject once you start investigating it.
Firstly, there are no governing or official bodies or international requirements to track or monitor crystal mining anywhere in the world.
Therefore, (and very unfortunately) crystal mining can be open to a myriad of issues and problems leaving shop owners often having to trust their suppliers and then in turn the consumers who purchase their healing crystals hope to trust the shopkeeper’s words. I will come back to this point later in my blog….
A little bit about mining….
It is fair to say that the worst mining conditions seem to be found in the gold and copper mines throughout the US and Mexico… that doesn’t let crystal mines off the hook but those are the facts!
Mines are either hand chiseled or explosives are used to expose the crystals or both… There are huge price differences between the two and unfortunately many crystal sellers, myself included, would be foolish to think that it is easy to ensure that every single crystal sourced has been hand chiseled.
I would go as far as to say it would be almost (almost) impossible to locate and source the large variety of crystals that are available on the market today without selecting some that have been exposed using explosive techniques.
That said there are some mine owners who have invested time and money into returning the landscape back to its original form by re-planting trees and literally ‘filling in the gaps’ that have been made by the extraction of the crystals from the mines.
Manual labour within the mines has always been a huge consideration for me when purchasing crystals for Elements of Avebury and I considered this when carrying out my research for this blog.
Who is collecting up the crystals? What are their working conditions like? How are they treated and what are they paid were all questions that are dear to my heart.
There are a couple of countries that have huge mines and dreadful working conditions where the workers are badly paid, badly treated and working in terrible conditions. In fairness I believe that these are now few and far between BUT they do still exist.
There is a copper mine called the Chino Copper Mine in Mexico and according to the environmental group Earthworks they will seep an estimated 2 billion gallons of acid and metals into the earth every year! This estimation is so bad that the State of New Mexico and the US Department of Justice have recently filed for damages to water and wildlife…
This particular copper mine is subject to some regulations which is good – there are many mines in other countries that are not.
Children as young as seven can be found working in the industrial mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo seeking cobalt and copper. Mines in the Katanga region can also contain tourmaline, amethyst, citrine and blue and smoky quartz and as we know, all of these are highly prized crystals by the consumer and therefore the retail outlets.
Of course, there are different countries that these crystals can also come from that will have better standards for the people working there and are not reliant on a child labour force. It’s also fair to suggest that not ALL the mines within the Katanga region will use a child labour force – and this statement rather deepens the very issue I am researching – there is no way to be completely sure!
In Montana there is a mine called The Berkeley Pit, a mine with an infamous and horrific environmental track record due to its highly toxic water. A complete lack of care was given when mining in previous years for iron ore, this has led to water so poisonous that several hundred geese died in the mid 90’s when they stopped to rest on the water. Authorities still fire guns to scare off birds some 25 years later!
I have not covered in any detail within my research on using various acidic techniques to polish crystals… this will be in another blog as again, it feels like there is a lot to learn.
Most shop purchasers will buy in bulk at some of the many huge crystal and gem shows that happen around the world, the largest of which is the famous annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show in Tuscon, Arizona. This is a spectacular two-week event where people from around the world gather to trade, collect and treasure hunt the best crystals and fossils they can find.
The positive in this is that people are making their purchases face to face. The downside is that the crystals being sold at shows have normally passed through a number of hands before they get to the show and then onto their final destination so the lineage is often lost – and with it, whether they have been mined ethically!
Adding a little more pressure to the situation is buying online. This has made purchasing crystals very easy with Etsy, Ebay, Amazon and the many different retail websites available, I personally feel it’s far harder when buying online to ensure the quality and source of crystals. I am also a ‘feel’ person, crystals talk to me…. Therefore, I need to see and feel them before buying them.
One of my USP’s for Elements of Avebury is we NEVER EVER buy online, and we never will. It doesn’t completely prevent the issue BUT it offers my customers some reassurance that everything within my store has been completely hand selected.
It’s an interesting point, because Elements of Avebury are working towards selling crystals online! Is it enough for customers and clients to know what I do behind the scenes?
Online shops and physical crystal shops do not intentionally withhold information on the source of crystals, they simply don’t always know and if they are like us – we don’t want to tell our customers anything that isn’t true.
Ultimately, my research has shown me that crystals pass through many hands during their lifetime before coming to me. This can lead to there being no real way to truly know where ALL crystals come from. Shop owners like me are very careful about disclosing particular people or mines we may be purchasing from in order to preserve our uniqueness – so how can customers really know that they are buying ‘ethical crystals’?
I personally feel that a governing body or something similar could get involved to shift the responsibility of ethics from the shop owner. They are already doing this with diamonds through the World Diamond Council and it has made such a difference to the mining and tracking of them all the way through to the sale.
Perhaps a simple change to implement global rules that would create sustainable mining regulations. There are several countries that do have some mining regulations in place such as Argentina, Spain, Canada, Finland, the Philippines and Botswana.
Could there be something similar to Fair Trade but used in the crystal world – something that would create a process that supports the workers and the local villages to the mine, protects the environment even?
Time and money would need to be invested to create such a process. In my opinion, despite the current crystal craze, I am not sure the industry is ready for it, or big enough for it! Dare I say it…. My other concern is whether enough crystal and mineral people actually care?
The other interesting fact I found out during my research was that despite everything I have researched, crystal mining as we know it is still not the major earth crisis as we may be led to believe… whilst sometimes crystal mining may not be ideal – the minerals that are put into our computers and mobiles are actually the ones we need to be worried about…. Hibiscus Moon wrote a very interesting blog on exactly that!
Elements of Avebury is my store, and I work really hard to ensure that all the crystals for sale are happy crystals!
To ensure I am being as ethical as possible in an ungoverned industry I do the following:
I work with three main suppliers – all of which I meet face to face EVERY TIME. I have vetted all three and confirmed that there is NO child labour involved in any of the crystals that I purchase and then sell.
The workers within the mines I use are not subjected to dreadful working conditions.
Each and every crystal and bead that comes into the shop is hand selected by me – if the crystal doesn’t want to come into the shop then I don’t force it!
Purchasing the right crystals is so important therefore I travel all over the world to bring home the best crystals, from the best places.
I have personally met some of the miners from specific countries where crystals are popular, I have met their families and know they are not mistreated, they are well rewarded for their work and they are really happy to do it. (UK, Russia, Africa, Morocco, Afghanistan to name a few)
I try, where possible, to use small batch mines as they seem to be more friendly with hand chiseling and hand polishing. They also have a far smaller carbon footprint.
This has been one of the most interesting blogs I have ever written and I have really enjoyed researching it. I don’t think I have finished my research and plan on continuing to seek out ethical suppliers of crystals. In the meantime, I invite you all to come to my Crystal Cave within Elements of Avebury and have a look and feel yourself.
Always interested to hear your thoughts - please email me email@example.com or make a comment on the blog :)