The demand for so-called healing health crystals in the Global North continues to soar. Yet consumers are unaware of the bloody, dangerous, and environmentally destructive production methods behind them in the Global South, says Joseph Brammer.
I remember seeing the light pink of rose quartz shining bright in the summer sun. They were tiny stones spread out on a blanket by the campus green. Beside them, the pitch-black hue of tourmaline glittered against that of the rich, shimmering lavender of amethyst.
The man picked up a piece of rose quartz and said “This is the stone of love and healing.” He held it up to the sun and smiled. In front of him, a price tag: “All Health Crystals £15”. This was in 2019. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by these curious stones and how they have ended up on so many of our shelves.
It’s not only me, though. In recent years, the world has witnessed an unprecedented demand for so-called healing crystals. These are an array of stones which allegedly possess mystical properties based upon at best tenuous, and at worst non-existent or unfalsifiable, scientific claims.
As the demand increased, so too has the market. Presently, healing crystals represent a billion-dollar-plus industry with forecasts it will continue to grow. It is an industry of extremes that ranges from smaller, low-end crystals retailing for less than a US dollar, to large, highly coveted showpieces selling for in excess of $40,000, and further still to prized collections auctioning for over $925,000.
Nevertheless, the most commonly sold health crystals tend to be low to mid-value, such as quartz, amethyst, black tourmaline, and jade which you might find at a wellness store. These crystals are bought for – quite literally – rock-bottom prices from predominantly low-income countries and sold at an excessive profit for consumption in high-income states.
As the healing crystal industry soars, there has been growing intrigue over the disparity between the supply chain involved in the production of these stones and the progressive, healing premise upon which they are sold. At its centre, the healing crystal industry pivots on a paradox. On the one hand, healing crystals are sold under the pretence of positive energy, wellness, and New Age spirituality. On the other hand, the methods used in the production of these crystals are extremely dangerous, unregulated, heavily dependent upon child labour, environmentally destructive, and predominantly take place in low-income countries
A Closer Look: Madagascar.
Take, for instance, Madagascar. It is one of the world’s poorest countries with 81% of the population living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per capita/day. Though poverty is rampant, so too are bountifully lucrative crystal deposits across the country. As such, crystal mining represents an economic lifeline and a strategy for poverty alleviation for many Malagasy people. Yet, the mining itself is dangerous, illegal, and destroys much of Madagascar’s precious biodiversity.
Policy interventions are needed now to address these issues.
Similar interventions have been implemented in the diamond sector such as The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which was introduced by the UN in 2003 to negate the trade of conflict diamonds and produce ethical supply chains. Whilst not perfect, KPCS was an instrumental piece of legislation that had made significant strides in reducing the circulation of conflict diamonds and improving the working conditions of miners. A similar ethical certification scheme is desperately needed for the crystal industry to ensure safe working conditions, a fair wage for miners, and environmental sustainability.
Joseph Brammer is a 25-year-old British climate activist, volunteer, and international development professional. He currently works as the Programmes & Partnerships Manager at ARK Group International, a UK based organization focussed on supporting investment and fundraising efforts on behalf of small growing businesses that are advancing sustainable development goals across Africa. Joseph works with an array of organisations across the continent that specialize in off-grid energy access, waste management, clean cooking, health, and education. He holds a masters in Development Studies from SOAS University and seeks to mobilize his postgraduate research into the global value chains of so-called health crystals to advocate for policy improvements in the artisanal mining sector.