In another example of the first world sucking the life from the third world, the booming demand for so-called healing crystals is ravaging Madagascar’s landscape and putting its citizens — thousands of whom are children — at risk in unregulated mines. Crystal healing is a lucrative industry. Some stones have sold for millions of dollars apiece. But there’s nothing lucrative about it for the Malagasy people who mine them. As usual, this multibillion dollar industry is built on the cheap, expendable labor of many poor villagers, and the consumers who buy healing crystals seem more concerned with finding them at low prices than with child labor. As journalist Tess McClure points out in her in-depth investigation for The Guardian, crystals’ popularity, and their frequent appearance in the media, has not created much transparency in the supply chain. McClure does our dirty work for us: She follows the trail from shops and American mineral shows back to dangerous, dusty holes in the ground. McClure is an intrepid reporter with a nose for off-beat stories involving social justice and environmental issues. She starts this one at the rose quartz quarries near the villages of Anjoma Ramartina.
At other times, this crater would have been busy with the sound of men at work – his sons and nephews, who would come to dig and then split the cost of stone they sold – but today it was silent except for Rakotondrasolo’s careful footsteps. They had stopped work: rains had been heavy, and they worried that the water made the cavern less stable. “I was afraid, and was afraid for my children because of this soil. It can collapse on them. I asked them to stop working here,” Rakotondrasolo said.
He threw in a handful of gravel and it tumbled to the bottom. Of his 10 children, seven worked with him in the mine. The boys started at the age of about 14. When they find a thick seam of quartz they smash it out of the rock, then chain the pieces together. Some blocks are small, but others are 100kg or even 200kg. The miners drag the boulders out of the hole, sometimes five people hauling together, up on to the grass embankment and toward the hill where lorries come to load them.
I asked where the crystals went from there. “To the ports,” Rakotondrasolo shrugged. He did not know. Somewhere overseas. A long time ago a client brought him a rose orb, cut and polished into a sphere, to show him what eventually became of some of the stones he had mined. But the buyers mostly say little about what the crystals are used for or where they end up. They pay him and leave – about 800 ariary, or 23¢ a kilo, he said – 17¢ for lower quality. It is not much when the money is split between the men at work: 800 ariary buys a cup of rice at the village market.
As Rakotondrasolo stepped away from the crater, a low hiss sounded behind him. We turned back to see a thin layer of red gravel, loosened from the wall, slide down into the hole.