Crystals are the new must-have accessory for those seeking "well-being" and “positive energies”. Off the back of big celebrity endorsements, these pretty (although ultimately useless) semiprecious gemstones have seen an unlikely comeback over the past few years.
Needless to say, any supposed health benefit from these stones is currently pure pseudoscience. However, even beyond their promises of “good vibes” straight from Mother Nature, these gemstones could be having a negative effect on the environment and local communities. As reported by The Guardian, many “healing crystals” – whether it's opals or quartz, tourmaline or amethyst – originate from a murky supply chain that starts in conflict-struck countries with lax labor laws and environmental regulations. The industry is largely unregulated in impoverished areas, riddled with violent military groups, and bolstered up by underpaid miners working in dangerous conditions.
Much like the blood diamonds of Africa, many of these stones are sometimes referred to as “genocide gems". Back in 2014, The New York Times ran an investigation into how the jade mines of Myanmar in Southeast Asia have become entangled with the drug trade, with many local miners turning to heroin to help cope with the harsh conditions of their work. Money for this industry has also been hijacked by local militia groups to finance the country’s ongoing ethnic conflicts. Similar problems with conflict and militias have also been noted with the mining of rubies and sapphires in the area.
Then comes the environmental impact. Many of the most harmful environmental impacts stem from “gem rushes”, when flocks of outsiders swarm to newly discovered gem mining deposits, creating large-scale pits that are associated with the destruction of animal habitats and the polluting of rivers. Especially in tropical parts of the world, abandoned pits can become filled with stagnant water that serve as the perfect habitat for malarial mosquitos.
However, there is growing momentum towards ethically sourced crystals and gemstones. Many campaigners argue there should be some kind of regulatory arrangement within the industry to ensure the materials are being ethically sourced, a bit like the “Fair Trade” logos you see on coffee or chocolate. The diamond trade, for example, has implemented the Kimberley Process in an attempt to ensure diamond purchases are not financing violence and armed rebel groups. However, with less-profitable semiprecious stones and crystals that make up the “healing crystal” industry, this level of regulation is current a pipe dream.
“All I can do is ensure that at least quality and genuine crystals are coming into the market. We’re buying from the best possible sources. But sometimes unethical mines are the only sources of the crystals people want,” Neil Ashcroft, director of whole supplier Crystal Geode, told The Guardian.
“I try to stay as aware of their origins as possible, but I can be concerned about it while also feeling… impotent? Most retailers feel they want to [be ethical], but can’t implement it.”
[H/T: The Guardian]