*Me, age 14, see below for details
Most shimmery and sparkly makeup contains an ingredient called mica, a natural mineral sourced from the earth. It is also used in electronics industry as an insulator. The problem with this beautiful, natural ingredient?
Roughly 60% of all the mica harvested world-wide comes from India where there are few laws protecting the children who often work in these mines. The mines are deep and cavernous – requiring a skilled worker with climbing gear to traverse – yet young children are sent down into them to sift for mica. The website Refinery29 created a very detailed exposé video showing the horrors of this practice and the risks associated with it. I highly recommend watching it if you have the time (approximately 20 minutes). Children are often wounded by falling debris in these unregulated mines and have been crushed to death by falling rocks. They sacrifice their educations so that they can contribute to their family income with the mere 20-40 cents (USD equivalent) per day.
Learning the truth about child labor has left me stunned. I couldn’t put my makeup on the following day after watching that video, and I looked at my shimmering highlighters and eyeshadow palettes with extreme guilt. I wondered how many children had risked their lives because they were desperate and hungry – all to supply my sparkly makeup. As a new mother myself, losing a child is an unthinkable horror. And yet, a death in the name of something as trivial as cosmetics makes it seem even worse.
No makeup is worth the risk of a dead child.
‘But my makeup is listed as cruelty free! Surely that extends to the lives and rights of human beings?!’
I began wondering…why is no one talking about this (beyond closed doors) in the beauty community? I started doing my homework, reaching out to determine if my favorite brands know where their mica comes from. Beyond just clean beauty brands, I decided to reach out to a few companies that aren’t part of the clean beauty community because this affects all of the beauty industry. Child labor is contradictory to being ‘cruelty free’, so I limited my scope to brands who claim to be cruelty free in particular.
What has surprised (and frustrated) me the most in my search for transparency is the tight guard so many brands hold around not only their formulations but also their sourcing of ingredients. In my opinion, sharing the sourcing location of one specific ingredient should not jeopardize a formulation, and if anything, it gives confidence to consumers and holds other brands to higher ethical standards. If a mica supplier is ethical and another company decides to use them also, it elevates the beauty community as a whole by eliminating child labor through better sourcing.
Using an ethically sourced
ingredient should not be seen as
something to compete over.
Ethics should be celebrated
as a victory against the atrocities that
take place in desperate communities.
People complain about the lack of transparency in the fragrance industry regarding ingredients because formulators consider their recipes to be ‘proprietary blends’.
Over and over while reaching out, brands told me that they couldn’t disclose the exact sourcing of their mica because it’s a ‘proprietary’ issue. The location sourcing of mica is no different than proprietary fragrance ingredients.
As consumers, we demand so much
regarding the safety of the products that we use;
Why aren’t we demanding safety for those
who are procuring the ingredients in them?
Through my research, I learned about the Responsible Mica Initiative which aims to eliminate child labor in the mining of mica within 5 years time. I mentioned this organization to many of the brands I corresponded with in hopes of affecting change.
After weeks emailing companies asking their stance on the sourcing and suppliers of their mica, I have compiled a list with sourcing and organization information. Some companies are very forthcoming and are willing to give names of their suppliers, source of origin, and organizations they work with. Others have assured their mica is ethically sourced as their suppliers write a certificate stating they do not utilize child labor, but refused to cite more regarding the country of origin for their mica.
There is no watchdog organization that enforces suppliers to follow code on ethical practices unless a company is personally conducting audits. Even that would be hard to trace, unless these companies are visiting the mines directly themselves. Some companies use or are switching to synthetic mica which I have also detailed. EcoCert and COSMOS both have strict policies to avoid child labor regarding their sourcing. I will continue to add to this list over time, and I hope it is a valuable resource to you as a consumer.
“How can I support change within the beauty industry regarding child labor?”
- Buy from companies that use synthetic mica or list their source of origin (Countries with strict working age requirements to protect against child labor)
- Buy from companies that work with organizations like the Responsible Mica Initiative
*Behind the photo:
I will never forget my ninth grade year photography class; it was the first of many artistic ventures I would dabble in on my way to adulthood. In that classroom, I could be free to express myself in productive ways that often yielded interesting results. It also allowed me to blow off a whole lotta steam: I was surprisingly angsty as a teen. One of the projects we did was writing down topics as a class and randomly drawing one to use as a theme for our shoot.
Mine? “Beauty has an ugly face”.
I was so naive and though I had a creative approach, I hardly scratched the surface of that topic. Now as an adult, I have completely different thoughts on the matter and can tell you exactly what that phrase means to me. Although I missed a golden opportunity to highlight the true sentiment of that topic, I still feel like I captured the right emotion when I look back at those photos nearly 15 years later.