I told the conference organizer, “I’m realizing I have to take on a larger role.” She looked at me in confusion and said, “Aren’t you already doing that?" I laughed. Then she said, “There’s someone you need to talk to. Let me introduce you to Eric.”
Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference
I attended the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference in October. This was my second conference dedicated to ethical sourcing for precious metals and gems. Once again, I was the only person there from the healing crystal industry. All the rest were gem dealers, jewelry designers, and jewelry retailers large and small. The main focus is gold and diamonds for fine jewelry, but much of the information can be applied to the hundreds of healing crystals I sell in my own store. The conference lasted two full days and was information-dense to put it mildly.
For example, there was a talk by the US State Department which explained the legal obligations and ethical problems involved in exporting various gemstones. Did you know that Lapis Lazuli helped fund the Taliban? I suspected, but I didn’t know for sure. Now that I know more, I took down my listing for Lapis Lazuli. I won’t sell this gem again until I have a better source. Lapis Lazuli is found only in Afghanistan and Chile. Fortunately, I've got a lead on a source for Chilean Lapis Lazuli. Apparently the main mine closed down years ago, but there's a stockpile of rough and polished material sitting in a warehouse somewhere in Baltimore...
There was a talk by Occupational Knowledge International about public health impacts in the mining industry. Did you know that tuberculosis is the #1 occupational disease in the world and it mainly impacts miners? I didn’t know that. I’ve primarily concerned myself with silicosis among factory workers. Clearly I need to learn more about various lung diseases so I can better assess mining conditions.
We were asked by Swarvski who among us already has a science-based carbon target. Not one person raised their hand. I asked Swarvski, “What’s your goal? When do you expect to reach it? What resources are available so that I can catch up to you?” My business is tiny compared to Swarvski. But there are advantages to being tiny. It’s easy to pivot and the only person I need to ask for permission is myself. I hereby grant myself full permission to do anything and everything that sparks my interest. Go girl!
Two of the most interesting talks were about building mine-to-market strategies. One talk was a panel of women miners from Tanzania who have partnered with US gem dealers. They recently created an ethical mine-to-market supply chain. I want to buy from them and hope to do so early next year. The Tanzanian group was applauded and no one dared to ask the Tanzanian women if they were being exploited.
By contrast, there was a talk by two Indigenous Chiefs from the Amazon Rainforest, both of whom are seeking strategic partnerships to set up an ethical mine-to-market path. They were accused of not doing enough to protect their culture. It seemed odd to me that a group of rich white people were so quick to insist that indigenous chiefs don't care about their people or know what is best for their community. The Amazon Rainforest is already experiencing wide-spread illegal gold mining, which rapes the land and devastates the lives of animals and people alike. Conference attendees seemed angry and dismissive towards the Chiefs. I don’t understand the nuances. The energy in the room during and following that talk made me itch and squirm uncomfortably. I need to educate myself more. I need to study post-colonialism more deeply, particular as if affects Peru and Brazil, and various countries in sub-Sahara Africa. I can already see how easy it is to develop a White Savior Complex and believe I know better than someone else what’s right for them and their loved ones. I need to be careful to stay grounded, humble and curious.
What I'm Doing About It
At the first ethical sourcing conference I attended back in February, I started dreaming into a book. Something that can help other healing crystal sellers/buyers shop more consciously. My first step was to overhaul how I talk about sourcing on my own website. I’m a big believer in “practice what you preach”. I began by writing, What Make An Mine Ethical? and What Makes A Polishing Factory Ethical?
Next, I went through every individual product page to detail its unique sourcing to the best of my knowledge. That project took many months to accomplish. Sometimes I feel bad because I can’t say every single stone has perfect sourcing. Some are okay, some are good, and some are great. I remind myself that we can’t START at perfection, that it’s a lifelong quest and probably an impossible one. But I can try. I can dedicate myself to a lofty ideal and work towards it. Now that the website is updated, the structure of my book is starting to take form in my head. The actual writing will hopefully take place sometime in 2020.
But there’s another path I want to explore in tandem with my book. At the Chicago Conference I was introduced to Eric, the man who started the conversation about ethical jewelry 40 years ago. For many years, he was the only person talking ethics in the gem and mineral industry.
We quickly took each other’s measure. We both know what it's like to be the only person interested in something that our closest peers ignore and dismiss.
We discussed a possible collaboration to create an ethical supply chain that could directly benefit the healing crystal community. Our conversation lasted only a few minutes, but we said let’s keep in touch. After I got home, I wrote up a detailed proposal and sent it his way. I asked him what would make the project worthwhile for him? He was still traveling, so he asked for time to mull it over and consider it. He’s interested in continuing our conversation.
What happens next? Maybe nothing.
But maybe something...
Either way, I’m clearly seeing a problem and determining what I can do to make a meaningful difference. Let's see what I can accomplish between now and the next conference!