The sparkle in your cosmetics generally comes from mica, a mineral that may be sourced using child labour.
Mica is found in many everyday products, from automotive paint to computers. Commonly, you’ll find mica in make-up, with brands proudly claiming the glitter from their mica content as a reason to buy their foundation, face powder and lipstick.
In January 2014, Australian journalists found cases of children mining mica in India. Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reporters Sarah Whyte and Ben Doherty found evidence of children as young as 10 skipping school to earn around 83 Australian cents per day collecting and mining mica. This alarming report raises the question: was your make-up made using child labour?
Ask your favourite cosmetic brand to tell you whether they use child labour in their supply chain.
Big companies, little responsibility: why it’s difficult to find out if mica was mined ethically
Not all mica is sourced from India or uses child labour in its extraction.
The product is mined in many countries, including the United States. So, how do you know if your make-up is child labour free?
The only way is to confirm directly with cosmetics companies. So far, very few have made available public information about where their mica comes from and how well they monitor their supply chain.
As the SMH investigation makes clear, child labour continues as big companies fail to get more than assurances from their suppliers that child labour was not involved in production.
When Australian cosmetic companies were asked by the SMH where and how the mica used in their products was sourced, a number of companies did not provide enough information to even confirm the country of origin of mica in their products. Only one company contacted, L’Oreal, has public information about audits conducted on their supply chain.
This issue is one of accountability. Big companies must take responsibility for supply chains to ensure that labour conditions, from safety measures to the use of child labour, are meeting minimum human rights standards. At a minimum, companies should audit all stages of their supply chain, investigating the practices of contractors and sub-contractors.
What can you do?
First, identify if there is mica in your make-up. Mica may be labeled as glimmer, Kaliglimmer, Muskovit or CI 77019.
A number of cosmetics companies do not list ingredients on their website. You will either need to track down product packaging or go to an independent website that lists ingredients. The Skin Deep Project website, for example, EWG’s Skin Deep resource gives you the option to opt-out of mica. One company, Lush, now refuses to use any mica in its products because of possible links with child labour.
Second, if you do want to buy cosmetics with mica, now or in the future, write to your preferred cosmetics company and ask them to guarantee that child labour is not used in any part of their supply chain. It is crucial that companies report on the labor conditions in their supply chain and publicly release this information. This accountability allows consumers like you to choose which products best meet your standards.
1. SMH, 19 January 2014, The grind and grief behind the glitter
2. 2009 report, The Sunday Times, Mica and child labour in the same region of India as the 2014 SMH report
3. Guardian, 11 March 2014. Comment on supply chain issues and appropriate business responses (is auditing enough?)
4. Guardian UK, 11 March 2014, Lush removes mica from all products of child labour fears
5. Foreign Policy Association 23 July 2009, notes on child labour laws in India
6. Minor mention of bonded labour (of adults) in mica production in India (p 24), 2005 International Labor Organisation report
Information from cosmetic companies
1. L’Oreal 2012 Human Rights Data – includes statistics from supply chain audits
2. Estee Lauder has worked with local Indian not-for-profits on education and intervention projects to combat child labour (claim from SMH article and shop Ethical! – although original source appears to be no longer online, it was a 2005 project).