In recent years, the popularity of crystals has grown exponentially. Many advocate the benefits that crystals have on individuals, from creating positive energy to achieving balance throughout your body. However, a recent article in the Guardian highlights the potentially damaging impact the crystal trend can have on the people who are sourcing them. “Five years ago, crystals were not a big deal. Now, powered by the lucrative combination of social media-friendly aesthetics, cosmic spirituality and the apparently unstoppable wellness juggernaut, they have gone from a niche oddity associated with patchouli and crushed velvet to a global consumer phenomenon,” argues Tess McClure.
The Guardian reports that in the US, the demand for crystals and ‘gemstones’ has doubled in three years. It explains that Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, is one of the largest exporters of these precious stones. “Rose quartz and amethyst, tourmaline and citrine, labradorite and carnelian: Madagascar has them all. Gems and precious metals were the country’s fastest-growing export in 2017 – up 170% from 2016, to $109m.”
The article also points out that there is little in the way of regulation when it comes to the crystal industry. The heavy mining of the crystals has led to an unstable landscape, prone to landslides, as well as other dangers associated with the individuals who carry out the mining – namely lung cancer. As many of the mines are makeshift, run by individuals or families, there are little security or safety measures put in place.
In an article for The New Republic, journalist Emily Atkin explored the ambiguous nature of crystals. “I found that some [crystals] were mined in countries with notoriously lax labor and environmental regulations, and some came from large-scale U.S. mines that have contaminated ecosystems and drinking water. The impacts of extracting crystals are admittedly low compared to those of industrial gold, copper, granite, or rare earth mining, but crystals have gone from a new-age fad to a multi-billion dollar industry. And given that crystals can be used to “make a promise to mama earth,” it would seem important to know how they were extracted from mama earth.”
The New York Times recently compared jade from Myanmar to blood diamonds, as its extraction has “helped finance a bloody ethnic conflict and unleashed an epidemic of heroin use and H.I.V. infection among the Kachin minority who work the mines.”
As consumers become more aware of the realities of crystal mining and extraction, one would hope that the realities of this industry would improve – particular for those in regions that do not have a strong history of protecting workers. There are resources available that encourage responsible sourcing of crystals, such as EthicalMaking.org. This website works with non-profit organizations and associations to ensure that gem suppliers work in the most sustainable way possible, and increase the transparency of the supply chain.
Further reading: Are crystals the new blood diamonds?