This article is the last in my mini-series for International Justice Mission’s Lent campaign. I won’t lie, it’s been mentally tough to write about so much slavery in such a short period of time. That being said, it has also served as a consistent reminder of how unknown these things are and how important it is to talk about them. Often, when these issues are reported, we end up left feeling helpless, like there’s nothing we can do or change and that this is just the reality we live in. I hope my posts have felt different, as I’ve worked to include action points in each one. It’s tough to face the realities of so much injustice worldwide, but it’s also our responsibility to try and be better. So today, after talking ethical coffee and slavery-free chocolate, it’s time to turn my attention to makeup.
When we talk about makeup ingredients, we’re often thinking natural, nontoxic, cruelty-free, and potentially palm oil-free. But there are other ingredients to consider, the main one being a material called mica.
What is mica?
Mica is a family of minerals from the silicate class, the most common minerals found on earth. It comes in different colors but essentially looks like a very shiny type of rock (it can often be used as fools gold). It’s very likely you’ve seen mica multiple times before, as it’s well sought after for its ability to make things glitter. Humans have used mica to make paint sparkle for centuries, but nowadays it’s especially common in cosmetics. If products such as your eyeshadow, lipstick or blusher have some shimmer to them, they probably contain mica.
Where does it come from?
While mica can be found across the world India holds a strong monopoly, making up 60% of global mica production. More specifically, the states of Jharkhand and Bihar in Eastern India account for roughly 25% of the global mica production, but both of these regions are rife with poverty. According to research published in 2013, 36.9% of the population in Jharkand and 33.7% in Bihar live below the poverty line, which means that slavery can easily enter the supply chain. Children become vulnerable as poverty drives them to seek work so that they support their family, whilst quarry owners also use high interest rate loans and violence to enslave families for generations. Child labor is especially pervasive in India’s mica mining business and a huge amount of India’s mica production is unregulated, with the country ‘officially’ producing around 15,000 tonnes of crude and scrap mica a year but exporting 130,000 tones in 2011-2012.
What mica mining looks like
Which brands are involved
According to research center DanWatch, twelve out of sixteen international cosmetic companies don’t disclose where their mica comes from, but seven of them support standards that include combating child labor according to their official communication. The problem, as always, seems to come because mica is often sold to middlemen who do business with these larger companies. This gives cosmetics companies the ability to not be directly in contact with any child labor or slavery, in the hopes that no one will notice or that they can say they had no idea if people do. Brands that have been linked to India’s mica mines include Estée Lauder, MAC, Rimmel, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Too Faced, Schwartzkopf, Intercos, Sun Chemicals, Tesco, Asda, BMW, Vauxhall, and Audi (as mica is also used to make glittery car paint). However one of the most notable is the world’s second-largest cosmetics company: L’Oréal.
L’Oréal, who owns Maybelline, Lancôme, Garnier, Yves Saint Laurent Beauty, Kiehls, Urban Decay (a very well known cruelty-free brand) and more, buys mica through intermediaries such as the German company Merck and the Chinese company Kuncai. These companies are known as the biggest buyers in the area (and supply to the other companies listed above), and regularly source unethical mica:
‘Merck confirm in the article that they were aware of the use of child labour despite contractual obligations from suppliers not to employ children. The company said that further monitoring along the supply chain was very difficult, adding, “especially since these areas are considered not safe.”
Joanna Ewart-James, Anti-Slavery International’s Supply Chain Co-ordinator, said: “It is disappointing that Merck knew about the existence of child labour but appears to have done little to address it. This case demonstrates that contractual requirements not to use forced or child labour are insufficient and offer no guarantee that neither exists in a company’s supply chain.”’ (source)
Read about solutions to the problem on Ethical Unicorn.
Also by Francesca: Is Your Chocolate Ethical? The Shocking Story Behind Your Favorite Treat
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Photo: Annie Spratt via Unslpash