Dear Eva,

I was dismayed to read your recent article in The Observer “Are crystals the new blood diamonds?”

It is perfectly understandable to want to attract attention with a catchy headline but emotive labels like this have real world consequences for people less fortunate than ourselves.

I am not sure how much of our industry hangs on the metaphysical market but from within the market it looks like a fringe interest. As you belatedly point out there is no basis in science for these beliefs. I read very quickly from that point looking for the darker truth. Are celebrity anecdotes the darker truth? While these beliefs are not based on verifiable facts they do no harm so long as people do not claim magical cures for serious illnesses. The placebo effect is very powerful.

The Emily Atkin article you reference is I feel more balanced although her quote about 7 year old children in Congo is taken from an earlier Guardian article. Its easy to see how “facts” can take on a life of their own.

There are sure to be abuses at some sources, perhaps in Afghanistan or D R Congo or Myanmar and a well researched report on any such place would be most welcome and likely to have a more positive impact than a general besmirching. Any call to boycott should be paired with serious alternatives for the people being exploited. It’s rather like making people feel guilty about eating fruit because Mexican avocado growers are damaging the environment. Should people avoid soup because of the vile shark’s fin variety?

Amethyst mines in Brazil contain basalt dust not much silcon dioxide which is the amethyst that they are trying to extract not pulverise. In all my trips to Brazil I have never heard of anyone suffering from silicosis. A mine owner in Uruguay told me there have been no cases there for 30 years , maybe you can find some statistics on this. All mines in Brazil must have a qualified mine engineer on site whenever work is taking place and the amethyst mines have huge ventilation systems. Environmental standards are quite strict and well applied to small companies and in the south where the amethyst is mined. The two recent disasters caused by damns breaking in Minas Gerais are examples of what happens when large industrial companies are able to ignore the rules.

There are really four sources of crystals on the market:

  1. Recycled pieces from previous owners. Like all collectibles the provenance can significantly enhance the value.
  2. Small scale independent operators. Perhaps unregulated but it is not sure that they would have any other means of support if they were unable to sell what they produce. Regulation would eliminate this source.
  3. Commercial mining for the collector and metaphysical market. There are relatively few of these mines in the world . They are usually run by knowledgeable enthusiasts and profit is far from guaranteed. See “Hard Labour” below.
  4. Byproducts from industrial metal mining. The byproducts listed in company reports likely refer to secondary metals (palladium in a gold mine etc) rather than crystals for collectors or magic. These pieces are usually stolen ( this may be problematic for some people) from large mines by the miners. One of the great crimes of industrial mining is the unseen crystal treasures that are destroyed, either in the mining process or deliberately by mine owners to prevent delay while they are extracted. Regulation would eliminate this source.

“Hard Labour” is a cheap shot. Mr Sergio Camacho (I can send you his phone number if you would like to talk to him, you will need a Spanish interpreter) has a good job as a mid level manager at Le Stage in Artigas, Uruguay. He says nobody asked permission to use his picture. He is a real person and supports two children on his salary. His wife does not earn enough to support the family if he loses his job. The owner of the company has sold all of his family‚Äôs assets to keep the business afloat. They are one of the largest producers of Uruguayan amethyst. If 100,000 crystal buyers close their purses Sergio and more than a hundred of his co-workers will lose their jobs. (Exploited labour in unregulated copper mines will not, and neither will you, which seems grotesquely unfair). Alternative employment in rural Uruguay is mostly farm labour and it is hard to come by. Maybe the Observer should send him £100 for disrespecting his image and his profession.

The story of crystals is not in any way similar to cocaine or blood diamonds and it is lazy and dangerous to suggest otherwise. Cocaine and diamonds are valuable enough, and easy enough to transport, to attract the attention of organised crime. Crystals for the most part are not so valuable and when they are they need to be treated with great care not manhandled by gangsters. While conditions vary throughout the world there are very few instances of crystals being mined in lethal conditions. I have not heard rumour of a single crystal inspired beheading. It is easy to try to create a moral panic but from the point of view of hard working producers in developing countries it looks like more neo-colonialism. False equivalence with the serious atrocities which led to The Kimberley Process trivialises those atrocities. Humanity faces an existential threat from climate change and depletion of resources. This is the wrong battle. How many people can name all the metals in their phone, let alone identify their sources?

I do not envy the enormous burden of responsibility that comes with a platform as powerful as yours. When people read an ill researched and unbalanced article on a subject on which they have some knowledge it makes them doubt the validity of articles on subjects on which they know little. This is dangerous for journalism as a whole, especially in our era of “fake news”. The Observer needs a higher bar.

For future reference crystals were not formed at the centre of the earth and absolutely nothing twinkles down there! Diamonds were probably formed at the greatest depth of any crystal but at a maximum depth of 200km in the upper part of the earth’s mantle. Crystals also do not survive forever underground, they can be eroded by water, volcanic activity, tectonic movement or human pollution. There is a very informative video on how crystals form and their interconnection with life on earth here: href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVW9CBI52nU

If you would like to visit Brazil or Uruguay to see conditions for yourself I would be happy to supply you with ample contacts. You will find the people whose livelihoods you have endangered to be warm and engaging.

With best regards,

Robert McLeod