Ethically Sourced Crystals- The truth behind the unsubstantiated claims by Qi Cargill.

Recognised as one of Australia’s experts on all things ‘crystals’, I hope my insight can offer you a glimpse into the complicated issue that is ethically sourced crystals. 

I feel lucky to have been born into one of the most ancient trades, like countless generations before me spanning back some seven thousand years. The rich history and mystique surrounding many gemstones has always fascinated me. 

Having been in the business for over thirty years, the sheer scale of the world trade in gems and crystals still overwhelms me. Over this time I have seen many trends, but in the past few years there is one trend that I find particularly disturbing- The often baseless claim many in the industry make of only stocking ‘ethically sourced’ crystals.

Because of their unique ability to store, transmit, and in some cases amplify energy, crystals are employed in almost every piece of technology you can think of. Including computers, TVs and satellites. 

This is therefore a question that should be of concern to everyone, not just those who buy and sell crystals. 

I would be sceptical of any company claiming to sell ethically sourced crystals. The industry is completely unregulated and therefore such claims, whilst fashionable, are very rarely substantiated. 

I could see that it would be possible to make such claims if you specialised in one or two types of stones, and bought only from specific mines. Serious gem collectors often want to know a specific locality for each specimen. Whilst this is possible with some natural/rough crystal specimens, most stones rough or polished are bought and sold in the three big gem cutting centres of the world.

Thailand, India and China have been the powerhouses of the gem trade for thousands of years. Once there, it is impossible to trace stones back to their source; understandably individuals and businesses are reluctant to give up their closely guarded business contacts, and even large companies lack the resources to investigate the circumstances that brought each stone to market. 

Crystals are often a by-product of metal mining, and just like precious metals they are also a finite resource. Like so much of our human activity, are any of these practices truly environmentally friendly or sustainable? Or conducted in a manner that is good for local communities?

Unfortunately, at times, these precious resources are found only in areas that are politically unstable or impoverished. For example, the Congo contains 80% of the world’s Columbite-tantalite, a mineral integral in the manufacture of mobile phones. Do we impoverish individuals on the ground further, by withdrawing trade because of political unrest of unsavoury practices in the region?

When sourcing stones overseas, both rough and polished, we are often dealing with individual families who just like my own, have been in the trade for generations. In many cases we become friends with those we choose to build business relationships with. We are invited into their homes, and get to see first-hand their living and working conditions.

We prefer this to dealing with large corporations, as it allows us to establish first hand that we have ethical business relationships. We work with artisans to improve their quality of work and life in several ways. We will often offer to pay more than the local asking price for products, and where needed, we will educate small family businesses about concerns over ventilation, and offer to buy them better equipment, or a computer to help them grow their business, or suggest ways to improve their working conditions. For more than 20 years, our business has supported two charities overseas so that their communities also benefit.

I once asked one of my local suppliers how they ensure the high quality of their work. He told me that when overseas, he threatened recalcitrant workers’ families with physical harm, or threatened to burn their houses down. Needless to say, I no longer do business with this person! 

Having been in the business for over 30 years, I feel it is often about establishing trust with both suppliers and clients alike. I have come to know that given time and dealings, people and businesses tend to attract a certain reputation, good or bad. More often than not, it is a matter of choosing the type of people or businesses you align yourself with. 

I wish I could offer a fashionable catch cry or simple answer, but this is the most honest and succinct answer I have to a complex question to which I can see no easy answer.