When we put on the highlighter that's popping on our cheeks, we only admire the glow we get and the trendy comments we receive in turn. But we never question whose blood and sweat was offered to give us the shine that makes us gleeful.
When we buy makeup products, we never check the labels to ensure which ingredients and elements have been used in those products to provide us the desired shiny outcome. Not very long time ago, I was also one of those oblivious people who just wanted the trendy makeup products that align with my skin tone. But once you educate yourself regarding the unethical beauty products, there is no going back.
A silicate mineral called mica is used in most beauty products to provide a shiny pop which is a key component to the universal beauty industry. Although China is the global producer of mica, our neighbouring country India is known to be the home of the largest deposit of it owing to its cheap labour and existence of exploitation of desperate, illiterate, and unemployed people by way of illegal mining.
The Indian states of Jharkhand and Bihar produce the largest amount of mica through mining operations that are illegal due to restrictions on mining in forested areas. This restriction contributed to the emergence of the so-called 'mica mafia', the black market of this booming industry.
As a result, people living in poverty are forced into working in an unsafe environment contributing to colossal health hazards as well as fatality. Children as young as five years old are involuntarily employed in such intensive illegal mining work for extended hours and in return, they earn eight cents for one kg whereas in the world market the price ranges from AUD1000 to AUD2000 per kg.
This illustrates the low-cost labour the ultra-rich cosmetic industries are unscrupulously enjoying and articulately exploiting whether knowingly or unknowingly. It further entails human rights abuse and the degradation of environmental resources.
In a recent investigation, carried out by Cynthia McFadden, Senior Legal and Investigative Correspondent of NBC News, provided the evidence of rampant child labour in another region. In Madagascar, where this so-called magical mica is sourced from mainly for the automobile industry, exploitation of child labour is a commonplace.
In 2016, the Responsible Mica Sourcing Summit was organised in Delhi where an agreement was reached concerning the traceability and transparency of mica usage. Beauty Companies like L'Oreal and Lush have adopted the initiative to acquire mica from secured sources as the mica supply chain is globalised which changes hands many times from the miner to the consumer. Of course, very few beauty companies are aware of whether their supply chain is 'cruelty-free' or not.
Boycotting mica is not an appropriate solution as many mine workers' livelihoods are dependent on it. Therefore, experts have asserted that eliminating child labour, bonded labour, and human rights abuse, will be possible if mica is sourced responsibly.
However, political patronage plays a crucial role in the ongoing illegal mica mining as the majority of mineworkers are employed through bonded labour. Therefore, active government intervention coupled with transparency can lead to the mitigation of such exploitation. In addition to this, the wages of mine workers should be raised so that they can support their family and their children can have access to education which can potentially alleviate child labour.
Moreover, consumers must hold the brands accountable as they are spending their money on these products. This can be achieved by way of reaching out to the companies' human resources department, raising awareness on social media and other networking sites, etc.
Although it is a well-known fact that reaching such a goal would be a far-fetched dream as the mica industry is growing in a rapid pace, a little self-education and awareness regarding unethical beauty products will not harm anyone.
Also, next time we look in the mirror, we can feel pretty without feeling guilty.
The writer a lawyer and a certified Human Rights Trainee