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Health & Beauty, Life & Style

Mica – the ugly truth behind the sparkle

mica in makeup

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A dash of child labour, a pinch of deforestation and sprinkle of unfair wages – do you know what’s in your make-up?

The make-up industry has been hitting the headlines recently with some damning reports on the sourcing, mining and processing of a key ingredient of many make-up items: mica.  Why is this natural mineral causing such controversy and is it the only issue in the make-up supply chain?  Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer reports on their latest findings for Moral Fibres, when investigating some of the most popular make-up brands.

Mica – the ugly truth behind the sparkle

Until Mica hit the headlines in February most consumers would have known very little about this naturally occurring mineral.  Despite being found in nearly every make-up brand, providing the natural sparkle to eye shadows, lipsticks and blushers, its use had slipped under the radar.

Yet this glittering prize is not all it seems: behind the veneer of colourful shades, expensive marketing, and the promises of beauty there is an ugly truth.

mica in makeup

Recent reports show that 25% of the world’s mica comes from illegal mines in the Jharkhand and Bihar regions of North East India and involves 20,000 child labourers.  A recent ITV news investigation showed appalling working conditions, with children as young as six working in precarious mines.

Tunneling into the hillside to reach the mica deposits, workers have no protective equipment and the poorly constructed mines often collapse.  Cartels, operating illegal mines, are generating huge profits whilst children work for meagre wages and miss out on the education that could lift them from this spiral of poverty.  Between 5-10 children die in the mines each month and unreported adult fatalities are estimated to be much higher.

Despite the recent headlines these practices have been known about and challenged by campaigners for a decade.  So surely this mica doesn’t end up in our cosmetic products here in the UK…

Invading the supply chain

In our recent investigations into the make-up industry, we discovered that all of the make-up brands that we examined used mica in their products but only one mainstream brand had a clear policy on the issue.

It is clear from the absence of policies and statements from cosmetics companies that illegally sourced mica could well be contained within the products that are sold here in the UK.

Company responses

Lush made a pledge to remove mica from their products back in 2014 as they didn’t have the “purchasing power or local knowledge” to stay and make a difference, but they have spoken out about the difficulties that they faced in doing this.  When trying to switch to synthetic mica they found that it also contains traces of natural mica.  “We had no idea how difficult it would be,” said Stephanie Boyd, PR Manager for Lush.

Green People specifically stated that they do not use mica from India and instead source it from Malaysia.

Odylique stated that their mica was “ecologically and ethically obtained according to organic standards”.

L’Oréal was the only mainstream make-up brand to have a policy on their website and they state that 97% of their mica comes from secured sources, agreeing to work only with a limited number of suppliers in India who have committed to: “sourcing from legal gated mines only, where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected”.  Their plan to achieve 100% secured sources by the end of 2016.

Companies must do more

It’s hard to understand why other cosmetics brands haven’t done more to investigate their own mica supply chains, but there is a positive force for change coming.

In February 2017, the Responsible Mica Initiative was set up with the view to eradicating child labour and unacceptable working conditions in the mica supply chain within the next 5 years.

L’Oréal, Coty and Estée Lauder have all signed up to the initiative, which is promising as together with Boots they account for 60% of the total UK make-up sales.

Although this glittering rock has been responsible for so much damage in vulnerable communities over the last decade, at last, it seems that the picture may be changing.  And there really is no excuse for the larger cosmetics companies not to be a driving force for change here.

Is mica the only supply chain issue for make-up brands?

At Ethical Consumer, we have produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands and products, using calculations to assess and rank companies in all aspects of ethical behaviour.

Our report for the make-up industry  highlighted major issues in supply chain management and the use and sourcing of palm oil across the industry.

eco friendly make up brands

 

Smaller businesses such as Odylique and Green People were the only companies to achieve the highest Ethical Consumer ratings for supply chain management.

The cosmetics giants such as Boots, Superdrug, L’Oréal, Coty, Estée Lauder all received the lowest ratings.

We found that many brands have inadequate clauses on child labour, guaranteed living wages and acceptable working hours in their supply chain policies and so fail to properly protect workers.  Limited auditing and reporting on these issues also demonstrate a lack of commitment to finding and addressing issues.

Palm oil also an issue

We also found palm oil to be a concern within the make-up industry with companies such as Revlon and Coty having no publicly available policy on the sourcing of palm oil.  Palm oil has been associated with human rights abuses and widespread deforestation, the lack of traceability of the sourcing of palm oil and its derivatives highlights further issues within cosmetics supply chains.

Across all judging criteria, some of the biggest cosmetics companies such as Superdrug, Boots and Loréal achieved some of the lowest ratings.

Ethical Consumer best buys

Whenever we run consumer reports we look to recommend those companies who are doing their part to produce ethical products.  We have awarded our ‘Best Buy Label’ to Odylique (who feature a Fair Trade lipstick in their collection), Green People*, Neal’s Yard* and Lush.  These companies have achieved at least a middle rating for their supply chain management, are certified as organic and/or have received a best rating for their animal testing policies.

what is mica

Make-up shake up

Until large cosmetic companies, with their huge influence and enormous buyer power, can demonstrate that they are committed to managing a fair supply chain where workers are safe and paid fairly, it might be time to use your buying power to support the emerging ethical brands.  It’s time for a make-up shake up.

Thanks to Georgina at Ethical Consumer for this great post.  Score table copyright of Ethical Consumer.

 

Fashion, Life & Style

How To Build An Ethical Wardrobe From Scratch #6

ethical wardrobe building

Today I have a new tip on how to build an ethical wardrobe from scratch.

It’s been a little while since the last tip  – I have about hundred and one things I desperately want to write about here on the blog but it’s often difficult to find the time or energy.  Moral Fibres is such a tiny part of my life, and the first casualty when my life gets busy.  Aah well, kids are just little for so long, and one day I’ll have all the time and energy in the world to write here, right?!

Anyway, enough digressing.  Let’s get to business, I hear you say!  My sixth tip on how to build an ethical wardrobe from scratch is when you’re looking to buy new clothes to do your research.  Here are five good places to start when researching ethical clothes:

Balu

Balu is an ethical shopping Google Chrome extension that says it gives you ethical shopping suggestions as you search the web.  I’ve given it a go and this isn’t strictly true.  Balu doesn’t offer suggestion when you Google something, which to me is searching the web.  Instead it offers ethical suggestions when you use the sites of particular retailers, such as John Lewis and Debenhams.  I don’t find this particularly useful, as I don’t use these sites very often, but I guess it’s a handy reminder when I do to look at more ethical alternatives.

I’ve personally found Balu to be a little more useful when you use their shopping directory.  The directory is a little naive at the moment.  For example, a search for ‘navy top’ yields no results, but a search for ‘top’ brings up results.  A search for bag brings up a handful of results, even though there are more ethical bag retailers out there than you can shake a stick at.  Naive as it is, through Balu I’ve found some new to me ethical retailers, such as Birdsong (this coat!), and Wills Vegan Shoes, and they handily reminded me about Veja, the ethical trainer manufacturers, who for some reason I always forget about.

I think Balu will  definitely be a site to watch, as they grow and add more retailers to their directory.

veja shoes

Veja trainers

Ethical Consumer

Ethical Consumer are probably the oldest of the consumer guides, running since 1989.  They have a variety of sections – some free and some only accessible via a paid for subscription, however you can take out a 30 day free trial.  I find the ethical shopping guide section the most useful – the ethical shopping guide to ethical shops is really useful if you want to see just how ethical your ethical clothing is.  The guide to high street clothes shops is really useful for trying to shop as ethically as you can on the high street.  According to Ethical Consumer, top of the ethics league for ethical clothing is People Tree and H&M on the high street.

people tree ethical

People Tree Dress.

Good Shopping Guide

The Good Shopping Guide describes itself as an ethical shopping comparison site.  Completely free to use, as well as having a handy fashion comparison table, shoes comparison table and jeans comparison table they also have a handy ethical clothing directory.  According to Ethical Consumer, People Tree rule the roost.  Meanwhile, higher end high street store Whistles rates highest on ethics, with Fatface, Debenhams, New Look and H&M not too far behind.

yellow skirt

Yellow skirt from Whistles

Not My Style

Not My Style is an app that tells you how much your favourite fashion brands share about how they treat the people who make our clothes.  It’s not available yet, but it will shortly be available for download on iPhone and Android.  In the meantime, as part of the app development they have rated over 100 shops, and they have handily made that information available here on their website.

Project JUST

Project Just is a beautifully designed site which has an incredibly useful, detailed and well researched and constantly updated Wiki guide to worldwide clothing brands, covering areas such as transparency, labour conditions, and so forth.  As an example their guide to Primark is pretty enlightening.  They say if you can’t find the brand you’re looking to investigate, then submit it to them and they will investigate.

You can also shop using the Project Just Seal of Approval, which is a constantly evolving work in progress.  O My Bag, for example, have Project JUST’s seal of approval for bags.

ethical shopping resources

O My Bag

And, for some unapologetic self promotion, there are some guides here on Moral Fibres that I’ve put together – for example women’s ethical clothing and men’s ethical clothing, and more all under the fashion menu.  Some are a little old (Moral Fibres is four years old now!) but I do try and keep them up to date.  I’m currently slowly (very slowly) putting together an ethical kids clothing guide, and one on shoes.  Keep your eyes peeled!

A Word of Warning

Just to warn you.  Sometimes these guides contradict each other quite wildly.  For example, The Good Shopping Guide rates River Island highly, scoring 73/100 in terms of ethics, and awards them the “Good Shopping Guide Ethical Company” green tick.  However, according to Ethical Consumer River Island score just 3.5/20 in terms of ethics, and are in the bottom five of their league table, whilst Not My Style also say they are one to avoid.  I don’t know the answer to this.  Sometimes it feels like trying to shop ethically is a bit like licking your finger and sticking it in the air to try and guess which way the wind is blowing.  I don’t have the answer to this other than doing some cross research and sticking to brands that you know are doing good.

Have I missed any resources?  Let me know and I’ll add them here!