Nature has given us endless wonders, and some of the most glittering spectacular examples are gemstones. Each is a one-of-a-kind beauty forged deep in the earth under enormous pressure and heat. Extracting them is no small feat, and there are still exploited workers and other abuses in the industry—it’s just not adequately regulated.
That’s why where you buy a gemstone is just as crucial as what you buy. For instance, we at Brazil Gems only work with mines that are officially authorized by Brazil’s environmental agencies. We try to educate consumers so they can be confident they’re making a responsible purchase. Here’s how to know if gems are ethically sourced and if it’s a business you want to support.
Healing or Harming?
Many people believe that crystals and gems have inherent healing properties. At the very least, these incredible stones are symbolic of certain qualities. Giving them to others is a time-honored good-luck gesture. You probably buy them yourself because you feel an affinity for one gem or another. Maybe it’s your birthstone, or maybe you just find it to be particularly gorgeous.
Over the centuries, stories have been passed down that tell of how people can be mesmerized by precious and rare gems beyond reason. Some stones are even said to be cursed. Possessing the infamous Hope Diamond, for instance, isn’t generally good for your health. Just ask Marie Antoinette, or even the unwitting postman who tried to deliver it to the Smithsonian Museum in 1958. Legend has it that he was hit by a truck.
The process of mining gems has an often-shameful history, especially where the rarest gems are concerned. 2006’s “Blood Diamond” opened many filmgoers’ eyes to the dangers of stones mined in war zones and sold to finance fighting, support warlords, and enrich companies. The stakes aren’t quite as high for semi-precious gems that aren’t destined for expensive jewelry, but the industry has a long way to go. If you’re reading this, it means that you’re part of the solution.
The Definition of “Ethical”
If you want to make sure that you’re looking at a “guilt-free” gem, there’s a lot to consider. There’s still no globally accepted way to certify that a stone has been ethically mined, so it’s up to each business and consumer to define it for themselves. Ideally, an ethically sourced gem has been:
- Mined with the least possible environmental impact.
- Extracted by fairly treated and paid adult workers.
- Conflict-free, meaning it hasn’t funded or fueled violence.
Human Rights Violations
Unfortunately, that definition is a lot to ask of an industry built on greed and corruption. It takes every one of us to investigate how gems are sourced, and to insist on buying only stones that don’t have a harmful background. If we don’t do our part, these conditions will continue:
Many mines are located in poorer countries, so the money to be raised is highly coveted. Sometimes different factions clash in their pursuit of resources.
Children are still considered a part of the workforce in some countries, with some estimates putting the number at more than 100 million workers under 17.
Both children and adults can be subject to hazardous working conditions that could lead to respiratory diseases, physical injuries, brain damage, and more.
You’ve probably guessed that many of these workers don’t earn anything approaching a living wage. The problem is complicated by the fact that if the mines are put out of business, families will be unable to feed themselves.
All of us have a carbon footprint, and there are very few products that don’t have some adverse impact on the earth. But unethical mining practices can have a profound effect on the environment. Let us count the ways: they release toxic chemicals into the soil and pollute waterways, lead to deforestation and erosion, emit dangerous gases, devastate wildlife, and so on.
Untraceable Supply Chains
Once gemstones are mined, they can pass through a lot of hands. They might be sent to another country for processing, and then make their way through various middle-men and traders who eventually negotiate with retailers. All along the way, these gems might be navigating tricky economic and political situations. Without documentation, buyers have to rely on a supplier’s word to find out where the gems came from.
What Businesses Can Do
We can promote responsible sourcing by taking a hard line against unethical mining. As conditions improve, it will become easier to find better alternatives to the “bad guys.” Businesses need to be unafraid to ask tough questions and be ready to walk away if the answers aren’t acceptable.
Even the right answers aren’t enough if we don’t keep the industry honest. It’s vital to develop a network of proven, trusted sources for gemstones and help them take care of their workers. Reputations matter when it comes to mining, and if sources can’t back up their claims, then we can’t just take their word for it.
There might not be adequate regulations overseeing the mining industry, but there are a few—particularly when it comes to environmental impact. Businesses can inspect worksites themselves to ensure that best practices are followed.
Simplify the Supply Chain
The fewer people involved in sourcing gemstones, the less chance for obfuscation. There are a number of ways to cut down on the links in the chain. At Brazil Gems, for instance, we make it a priority to work with smaller mines, support artisanal workers, and partner directly with our sources.
What You Can Do
If you’re wondering how to know if gems are ethically sourced, you’ve already taken the first step. Educate yourself on what the repercussions are if mining corporations aren’t held accountable for their abuses. Ask questions when you’re shopping for gems at any price point. Refuse to buy from anyone who can’t tell you specifically where they’re getting their gems. Spread the word about what you’ve learned. Get involved in pressuring governments to enforce mining regulations and stop abuses.
One day, we’ll be able to rely on official oversight and third-party auditors to keep the industry ethical. Until then, we can only do our best to encourage responsible sourcing and put guilty companies out of business. It will take due diligence, investigation, transparency—and finally, trust.
For our part, Brazil Gems takes its responsibility seriously and only offers top-quality gems with known origins. We’re based in California and family-owned. We work directly with our partners in Brazil who supply from their own mines and process our products in their own facilities. Whether you’re interested in a gemstone tree, an amethyst cathedral geode, or even a dramatic geode table, you’ll find that each product we offer is different and often handmade by artisans.
Do you have more questions? We’d be more than happy to answer them through our on-site chat function, and you can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking for customers who love gems and demand the highest standards—just like we do.