Pretty Dirt: The Beauty Industry's Best-Kept Secret
There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of shimmer. Whether it's in highlight, lip gloss, or eyeshadow, the trendy “glow” look is a go-to for many makeup users across the world. Therefore, as the beauty industry expands, consumers are becoming more conscious of the stories behind the ingredients in their products, meaning more pressure is being placed on companies to become transparent about the origins of their resources.
Photo credit: Nita Bhalla for Reuters (Taken June 27, 2016)
Enter mica. An inexpensive, abundant mineral that would provide the shimmer which would sell quickly and generate massive profits. Among other places around the world, it can be found in Jharkhand, India, an Eastern state where below ground lie high-quality reserves of coal, copper, and mica. Despite an abundance of valuable resources, 36.96% of citizens live below the poverty line, the highest poverty rate in all of India. 70% of mica production in India comes from illegal mining. In order to survive, entire families (children included) must work intensive and often dangerous labour just to put food on the table. These families rely on the illegal mines and are trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty. They cannot escape poverty without an education. They cannot send their children to school without money, and they cannot earn money without the mines.
The process of mica collection is gruelling. Day after day, children (most often girls) go into the mines (deep holes in the ground) and collect the shiny dirt into a bowl. Breathing heavily from the dusty air in the mine and carrying a heavy load, they then climb up to the surface and sift the dirt they collected, picking out tiny bits of mica piece by piece. This process can take hours. The mica is then sold to traders who bring it to intermediaries who then vend it under the license of a legal mine in a different part of the country.
All the while, these children are making less than a quarter each day while adults profit off of their dangerous labour.
Photo Credit: Vivek Muthuramalingam, Nita Bhalla for Reuters
Every month, children are killed from the collapse of mines or respiratory illnesses caused by the
inhalation of harmful chemicals found in the debris. The scale to which these children are dying is currently unknown due to coverups which keep the industry alive. Less than 10% of these deaths are reported to the police. The illicit operators running the mines are fully aware that it’s illegal to use children for labour, but the collection of mica has been handled in this way ever since restrictive mica laws were introduced in 1980 by the Indian government.
The Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), has partnered with the Jharkhand state government to end child labour in mines, helping nearly 3,400 children escape child labour in the mica industry and placing them in schools.
Lush Cosmetics has committed to only using synthetic mica, though speculators have protested, saying that lab-produced mica is not the solution as it does not aid the poor mining communities of Jharkhand.
To stop the cycle of poverty in Jharkhand and illicit trading of mica, companies need to stop using child labour and make sure that adult mica miners receive fair wages which will enable them to send their children to school and receive an education.
As consumers, it is our responsibility to be aware of the circumstances in which our products are manufactured. We need to choose products based on sustainability rather than trendiness. We have the power to change the lives of so many people through our purchases, so it is vital that we must use our power for good.