Ethical Sourcing during Covid-19

It’s been a strange year.  Back in January 2020, at the Tucson Gem Show, I made all sorts of interesting plans to travel the world and meet with my suppliers.  I wanted to see their mines and factories with my own eyes and better understand the realities of my industry.  I had also signed up for several conferences to further my knowledge of sustainability and ethics in the gemstone industry.

 

Then Covid-19 arrived in the US.

 

I am a historian by training, so it was easy for me to recognize it as a “100-year disease.”  Just like there’s 100-year-storms and 100-year-floods, so too do diseases come in cycles and we were due for one.  My great-grandfather was my favorite person and he told me stories about being a little boy during the Spanish Flu.  He told me everyone was scared and stayed home.  He also told me that his mother, my great-great grandmother, took care of the neighbors and made sure everyone was okay.  Grandpa always said his mother was an angel.

 

I think for many people it’s hard to wrap their minds around this kind of disruption.  They have no memory of a pandemic on the scale of Covid-19.  I don’t have my own memories, but I have Grandpa’s.  So I’ve resigned myself to 1-2 years of disrupted life.  I’ll stay home for the most part and try to take care of my neighbors.

 

I’ve been very lucky.  My business is all online so my life hasn’t been particularly disrupted.  There’s been the occasional inconvenience, but nothing more serious than that.  I’ve been exceptionally lucky.

 

One of the first things I did once the pandemic was in full swing was to reach out to my suppliers around the world.  I had just one question, “how are you?”  I asked about their businesses, family and friends.  I made sure that they knew I was thinking about them and was concerned.

This is the heart and soul of ethical sourcing.

Caring.

I spoke with suppliers in India, Madagascar, Peru, Mexico and the United States.  We all marveled at the craziness and asked each other to predict the future.  When will it pass?  What will happen next?  The men assumed that the pandemic would soon be over and business would return to normal.  By contrast, the women were more concerned and realistic.  We spoke not only of business, but also of schools, roads and whole cities being locked down.  We worried about the massive populations in the slums of India’s cities.  We worried about the rural people in Madagascar that have virtually no access to healthcare.

 

We also spoke about how important it is to protect our mental health in such a stressful time.  Our tool kits included meditation, yoga, gardening, playing with pets, being in nature, staying connected to loved ones, good food and good wine.  We asked each other to please take very good care.  I told them that in Hawaii, where I live, we are taking the pandemic very seriously.  These are small islands, so we can’t afford a major breakout.  Thankfully surfing is a social distancing activity.  As long as we can ride the waves, all is well.

 

Covid-19 has definitely disrupted all the normal supply chains.  Mines and factories have been shut down.  The gem shows have either been canceled or are much smaller than usual.  International businesses are unable to visit the USA.  There is no evidence to suggest that things will be normal by Tucson 2021.

 

I am making my plans accordingly.  Instead of buying in person, I’m making deals with each company.  I’ve got several lapidary factories polishing stones to my exact specifications.  I’ve had wholesalers take me on Zoom tours of their warehouses and pick out stones for me.  I’m calculating a year or more in advance.  How much do I think I will sell of each stone? How much can I afford to buy right now?  How long will it take each factory to process my order and send it to me?  How expensive will it be to ship kilos of rocks across the world?

 

In only one case have I met up with anyone in person.  For this supplier, I determined it would be worth it and took all the appropriate steps to protect us both.  I was invited to their home on the central coast of California and I shopped out of their garage.  For hours I hand-picked stones.  When it was all done and the money had changed hands, we settled down for a good, long chat.

 

I had brought them coffee from Hawaii as a gift of thanks for opening their home to me.  They had never had a customer travel so far to meet them.  They brought out a bottle of wine from the local vineyard and we got to know one another better.  We spoke about the industry, but also about religion, racism, protests and the direction our country is going.  I told them about my World Healing Index and how I want to push the healing crystal world to take their spiritual practices to the next level.  My supplier and I met to do business, but we parted as friends.  It’s the way it should be.

 

It has been an interesting 6 months.  It’s clear where my strongest business relationships are and which connections need more attention.  It’s forced me to ask myself new questions, so that I can grow my business and help other businesses ethically source stones.  My focus lately has been on making sure I have all my essentials in place.  But what comes after that?  I'm making new plans.

 

I hope that in 2021 I will be able to travel more.  If not, I'll adjust my plans and go in 2022.  Regardless of the timing, I want to visit my international suppliers and continue to deepen these relationships.  Ethical sourcing is not a one-time activity, it’s something that happens over time.  But the key to it is caring.  Just caring.

 

I care about YOU.

 

I hope you are well during this crazy time.  Please be safe.  Please take care of your family, friends and neighbors.  We will get though this together.  Sending lots of love, healing and good energy your way.