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For makeup lovers out there, your beauty routine likely consists of sparkling highlight, popping lip gloss or shimmering eyeshadows. However, have you ever wondered where do all the shimmers and sparkles come from? Most of your makeup products probably contain mica, which is a common ingredient in mineral makeup. The use of natural mica is not a problem. Unfortunately, there is an underlying problem with how the mineral is sourced. Here’s an Inconvenient truth, the mica industry is linked to child labour. So, is child labour the foundation to your makeup?
What is Mica?
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So let’s get to know actually what mica is. Mica refers to a group of minerals which can be found in granites, crystals and other rocks. Mica got its name from the Latin micare which means to shine or glitter. Mica is one of the important mineral ingredients in makeup products, including eyeshadow, nail polish, blusher, highlighter, and lipstick to add shimmer and sparkle. Apart from that, it is also used in various industries such as arts and crafts, automotive, construction, and home appliances.
Where Does Mica Come From?
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India is the largest producer and exporter of mica in the world. Mica is produced in vast proportions in India and mainly takes place in eastern states of Jharkhand and Bihar. According to The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), Jharkhand and Bihar is home to the world’s largest mica mining area which deposits about a quarter of the global mica production. Unfortunately, the mining of this mineral relies heavily on child labour. It is reported that around 22,000 children work in mica mining in these villages and 90% of these mines are illegal with some as young as 5 years old.
What Mica Mining Looks Like?
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In the rural areas of Jharkhand and Bihar, poverty drives children to seek work to supplement their family income despite India law prohibiting children below the age of 18 to work in mines and other hazardous industries. Mines are a very dangerous place for them to work, and it is related to the frequent use of dynamites. The children are being exploited to dig the mica. Equipped with hammers, and baskets, the children have to crawl into narrow tunnels to chip and collect the mica. Afterwards, they haul it out of the mine and dump it over a basic sifting tool that reveals a handful of mica.
The smallest children are found to be mining in the dark, crumbling shafts up to 300 metres deep that adults can’t reach. Some of them abandoned school as they have to work 5 to 6 days a week, up to 12 hours per day. The children (and adults) make 25 to 50 cents per day depending on the quantity of mica they dig. The heavy physical labour, together with the poor working condition that they have to endure, is horrifying. Thus, it is not surprising that The World Labor Organization (ILO) has categorised mining work as one of the worst forms of child labour.
Main Risks Attached To Mica Mining
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Child mica miners are exposed to hazards such as the danger of collapsing mines, respiratory diseases and other accidents. Underground mines are unstable due to the usage of dynamite sticks to explode open parts of the mine so the workers can enter deep into mica mines. Because of that, it can cause sudden collapses. SOMO reported that in March 2015, a 10-year-old girl was crushed to death when the roof of a mica mine collapsed on her. The same happened to two other children in March 2014. A three-month investigation by Thomson Reuters in 2016 found that 7 children had died in just two months working in the depth of mica mines.
Children and adults breathe a large amount of silica dust, a long term exposure may lead to silicosis, a potentially deadly lung disease. In addition, the children working in the hollow tunnels are exposed to the danger of snake and scorpion bites. Children can also suffer from broken bones, exhaustion, heatstroke and skin affections.
Is Progress Being Made?
Since this critical issue has been brought into the public eye, the Responsible Mica Initiative was formed in 2017. It is a global coalition comprises of multiple organisations committed to “eliminate child labour unacceptable working conditions in the mica supply chain and eradicate child labour by 2022”. L’Oréal, Estée Lauder Companies, LVMH, Coty, Chanel, and Shiseido and other cosmetic companies are part of this initiative.
British natural cosmetics company Lush is committed to removing all-natural mica from its products since 2014. The decision to stop using natural mica was because its main supplier was unable to guarantee that its product was child-labour free. They have switched to natural mica with synthetic ones known as synthetic fluorphlogopite.