Mica mineral – dark side of the makeup industry
Have you ever wondered the origin of the eyeshadows, shimmers or highlighters that are proposed by beauty companies?
Recently, I have found out that the majority of the shimmering beauty products are made of a mineral that is called mica. Mica is flat, elastic and heat resistant mineral. These qualities make it attractive and irreplaceable for beauty companies. Mica plays significant role in makeup industry, but is used in various products like car paint, toothpaste, plastics, even in the preparation of trains. It is also used in skincare products for brightening and illuminating the skin.
Almost all famous beauty companies use natural mica to give glowing look as it is the best and not expensive. The mineral which can be silver, pink or purple is exploited mainly in India and Madagascar. More specifically, Jharkhand city located in India is rich with the largest reserves of mica in the world. However, in 2016, Madagascar surpassed India as the biggest global exporter of sheet mica, the grade used extensively in the electronics and automotive industries, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database.
Actually, mica is neither toxic nor harmful to human health. Nevertheless, there are numerous ethical concerns related to the exploitation process of the mica.
First of all, the main problem is the widespread of the illegal child labor in the mica mining. In fact, in order to discover this mineral, a number of pits of 15 meters deep are dug by children with bare hands and without any equipment all day long. After digging the shaft children get down and extract mica without having a rest usually from 5 am to 6 pm. As there are several types of mica, the next stage is sorting the mica. Usually, this is done collectively by all members of the family since it is their sole source of the income. Finally, when the families extract and classify mica, an intermediate buys and exports it to China. After treating the mica, China merchandises it to the European countries where mica meets the customer needs.
The second aspect of the problem is that, not only it is illegal for children to work, but also dangerous to their health and life. Existing perilous working conditions expose children’s lives to risk. Every year several children die as a result of an “accident” which is inevitable under these circumstances. The families of victims endure the situation and continue to work because the law does not provide a protection for them. Besides, talking about health impacts, it should be noted that the exposure to the mica dust is dangerous for respiratory system and can even cause lung disease known as Pneumoconiosis.
Another issue is that, despite of the back-breaking work done by children and their families they do not even get paid properly. The poverty, lack of accessible social and healthcare services force them to put up with a small salary. For approximately 6 tons of mica sheet, miners receive only 250 USD which is very low.
After investigation of mica mines by Guardian, certain companies realized the seriousness of the problem and began to question the origin of supply chain which seemed to start in the black market.
As a result, some companies began to cooperate with NGOs and adopt due diligence in order to ensure that the mines are child labor free and the workers are paid properly. As an example, L’Oréal had engaged in responsible procurement of mica by promoting human rights throughout the supply chain.Another solution was proposed by British cosmetics company Lush that decided to abandon natural mica and to pass to a synthetic mica, because it seemed impossible to figure out whether children were involved in its exploitation or not.
In 2011, OECD adopted a Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas which recommends companies to respect human rights and ensure transparent and sustainable mineral supply chain. In fact, this Guidance became a sort of “international standard” for companies involved in mineral sector.
Furthermore, Responsible Mica Initiative (EMI) was launched in Paris in 2017 following the researches made by The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and Terres des Hommes. Currently, 22 companies are engaged in EMI, such as Philips, L’Oréal etc.
In conclusion, all these researches, recommendations and other steps, raise the awareness of the importance of human rights and promote prevention of child labor in mineral sector.