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In search of amethyst

Classic violet: amethyst is a variety of quartz. In her Buch von den Steinen (EN: Book of Stones), healer Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) described how amethyst could be used as a healing stone to treat skin blemishes, among other things.
Photo: Jigal Fichtner

‘All around the world, the situation in the mineral extraction industry is horrendous,’ says Benjamin Wörz, who is responsible for purchasing raw materials for WALA’s subsidiary naturamus. ‘Problems include smuggling, crime and human rights abuses.’ This is no small issue for WALA, which has always been committed to values-based cooperation. ‘When it comes to procurement, we adhere to strict principles and quality standards,’ says Benjamin Wörz. ‘But how can we live up to our own expectations in an environment that is so unstable and non-transparent?’ Although we have allies in the area of minerals, gold and precious stones, including Fair Trade Minerals & Gems e. V., there is no supply of fairly produced and traded amethyst. The raw materials purchaser and his colleagues were forced to rethink their approach.

Amethyst as an ingredient in WALA medicines

To make its medicines, WALA uses various active ingredients from all three kingdoms of nature, i.e. plant, animal and mineral substances. The plant and animal substances usually come from established supply chains involving, for example, our own medicinal herb garden or biodynamic farms. This is not the case with minerals, however – procuring them is a real challenge. Amethyst is part of a composition used to treat various skin conditions, including acne. 

How we define quality

‘We can test and map the quality of materials using laboratory analysis,’ says Benjamin Wörz. ‘But we also focus on other factors. For example, we attempt to make sure that everyone who plays a part in the supply of a raw material or an end product is treated fairly and well.’ In concrete terms, this means providing adequate wages, prioritising occupational safety and eschewing forced or child labour. In short, that all boils down to compliance with the ILO core labour standards. ‘When it comes to amethyst, we are also interested in how the raw material has been handled,’ says the purchaser. Were broken tips glued back on, and was the druse coated with concrete to protect against breakage? ‘It is therefore a matter of process quality. We need transparency and end-to-end traceability along the entire supply chain.’ 

A druse is an egg-shaped formation with an outer layer made of chalcedony, inside which the crystals have formed.

Benjamin Wörz from naturamus documents both the quality and the processing phase of amethyst druses in Brazil.
Photo: naturamus GmbH

Transparency regarding origin and extraction

naturamus strives to secure at least one active supplier for all of the almost 1,000 raw materials required by WALA. ‘For years, we have been buying amethyst from a small supplier who provides us with high-quality goods,’ says Benjamin Wörz. ‘I always receive the desired quantity at the desired time. But this supplier doesn’t import himself and sometimes doesn’t know where the goods come from and how they were extracted.’ The quantities required are another reason to look for a new delivery channel: ‘WALA only needs a few grams of certain other minerals per year. We need around 30 kilos of amethyst.’

A trip to Brazil and on-site research

Benjamin Wörz and Ralf Kunert, CEO of naturamus GmbH, used an already planned supplier visit to South America to research amethyst. Martin Rozumek from WALA Basic Research had previously made contact through an acquaintance with the director of a small minerals museum undertaking an anthroposophical initiative locally. Together with him, naturamus visited suppliers, exporters, processors and amethyst mines in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. They had one question in mind throughout their trip: can we establish a supply chain that is aligned with our procurement principles?

A cooperative ensures standards are upheld

Benjamin Wörz recalls: ‘We eventually discovered the Coogamai cooperative. It works with around 200 local mines. What’s interesting is that the cooperative doesn’t work in the operational, commercial field and is therefore not driven by economic interests – a huge plus!’ Instead, Coogamai issues the documents required for export, authenticates that minerals have been legally mined and stones legally sourced, and certifies the name of the mine and the operator. It also liaises with governmental institutions. Coogamai earns a small share per druse. This is enough to pay the cooperative’s five medical workers and the geologist, who is involved in the renaturation of piles of debris that form outside the mines, among other things.

Martin Rozumek from WALA Basic Research examines the inside of the amethyst druse.
Photo: Jigal Fichtner

Occupational safety and medical care

Coogamai is also a medical centre for workers at mines belonging to the cooperative. They receive a free health check-up twice a year to prevent diseases like silicosis. However, the cooperative also draws up rules for mining operations: the operator must provide protective footwear, respirators, fresh air, and professional tools such as pneumatic drills with a water supply, and it must also secure the power lines. This level of dedication is not without reason: in his youth, the founder of the cooperative was a miner or ‘garimpeiro’. He, too, extracted amethyst from the mountain.

The required purchase quantity is too high for WALA

This is where our story might have reached a happy ending. But Benjamin Wörz is frustrated: ‘So far, our project is failing due to our issues with quantities. There is an economically defined minimum order quantity for exports. We’d have to buy stones worth USD 10,000. This equates to enough supply for many years. WALA would not be able to use this up quickly enough, and we would then lose our contacts in the period between orders. Dialogue and routine are the lifeblood of such relationships.’ However, a year after visiting the Coogamai cooperative in Brazil, naturamus managed to find a small exporter willing to sell the company smaller quantities. ‘Of course, we insisted that he source our minerals from mines belonging to the cooperative,’ Benjamin Wörz emphasises.

Connecting the right people

But despite the progress made, naturamus has not yet reached its goal. ‘In the long term, we would like to work with a German or European importer that we can link to the Coogamai cooperative on an ongoing basis,’ says Benjamin Wörz. ‘Amethyst is just one of around 300 raw materials that we handle. Yes, we have high standards and won’t let up. But at some point, routine has to set in so that our everyday efforts remain feasible.’ And the moral of the story? Benjamin Wörz smiles: ‘With our actions, we represent a certain way of thinking. From a global perspective, this is perhaps a small contribution. But if many companies take small steps towards becoming more sustainable and responsible, how different could our world look tomorrow?’