Mica Mining – Why Child Labour Is An Ingredient in Makeup

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Do you know the ingredients to avoid in your makeup? Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer investigates for Moral Fibres, and uncovers child slave labour associated with mica mining, and other unethical practices.

A dash of child labour, a pinch of deforestation, and a 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 mica the only issue in the make-up supply chain? We investigate, so you can know what ingredients to avoid in your makeup.

Mica – The Ingredient to Avoid in Makeup

Until mica hit the headlines recently, 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 behind Mica, making it a makeup ingredient to avoid.

mica in makeup

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

Tunnelling 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. Not only that, but they 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. This makes it a difficult ingredient to avoid when buying makeup. However, only one mainstream brand had a clear policy on mica mining.

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 to Mica Mining

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. However, 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 mined 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. Here they state that 97% of their mica comes from secured sources. They’ve also agreed only to work only with a limited number of suppliers in India who have committed to: “sourcing from legal gated mica mines only, where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected”.  Their plan is to achieve 100% secured sources by the end of 2016.

Companies Must Do More When It Comes to Mica

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

In February 2017, the Responsible Mica Initiative was set up. Here they aim to eradicate child labour and unacceptable working conditions in the mica mining supply chain within the next 5 years.

L’Oréal, Coty, and Estée Lauder have all signed up for the initiative. This 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.

Issues in Supply Chain Management

At Ethical Consumer, we have produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands, and products. Here we’ve used 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.

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 their supply chain management.

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

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

Is Mica The Only Makeup Ingredient to Avoid?

But what else is in your makeup? Are there other makeup ingredients to avoid? Well, our report also highlighted issues with the use and sourcing of palm oil across the industry.

Palm oil has been associated with human rights abuses and widespread deforestation. What’s more, the lack of traceability of the sourcing of palm oil and its derivatives highlights further issues within cosmetics supply chains. This makes palm oil another ingredient to avoid in your makeup.

Across all judging criteria, some of the biggest cosmetics companies such as Superdrug, Boots, and Loréal achieved some of the lowest ratings. Meanwhile, companies such as Revlon and Coty have no publicly available policy on the sourcing of palm oil.  

Ethical Consumer Makeup 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 features 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. They are also certified as organic and/or have received a best rating for their animal testing policies.

mica, the ingredient to avoid in your makeup

Make-up Shakeup

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, and can ensure that child labour is not involved in mica mining, then it might be time to use your buying power to support the emerging ethical brands.  It’s time for a make-up shakeup.

ps: do check out this post on zero-waste and plastic-free makeup.

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