If you’ve ever swooned over the pearly shimmer in your go-to eyeshadow palette, chances are you’re seeing mica.
You might see mica on your cosmetics label as “muscovite” or even “CI 77019.” Mica is a natural mineral found that forms in layers in rock. It’s soft and it’s color range can vary from black to rose to white.
Although mica can be found all over the world, it was first discovered in India thousands of years ago, and today, mica mining continues to be a way of life for its citizens.
Mica is considered safe for human use in cosmetics, but the process of mining mica in India is certainly not without its risks—especially for the children who are exploited in the mines there.
The State of Mica Mining in India
The most popular regions for mining mica in India are Jharkhand and Bihar, and mica mining in these areas goes back hundreds of years, though mica mining was made illegal by the Indian government in 1980 due to environmental regulations.
However, despite the regulations, illegal mining continues. Today, it’s estimated that more than 20,000 children are working in these mines. Children and adults alike work to make money for their families—but the work means children miss school, and the conditions are made hazardous by the illegality of the industry.
Sixty percent of mica around the world comes from these regions in India. Children as young as five years old are valuable mine workers because of their size—they can go deeper into narrow mining areas, and their small hands are ideal for collecting and sorting smaller pieces of the mineral.
Mines are at risk for collapse, which can leave children with serious, permanent injuries. Some even lose their lives. Mica mines also cause dust that can cause scarring of the lungs, lung disease (pneumoconiosis) and respiratory impairment.
Most of these children and their parents have no clue where the mica goes once they harvest it.
Is the Beauty Industry Aware of Their Mica Source?
Once the raw mica is harvested by the locals, a dealer takes it to an exporter to sell to a manufacturer or processor. The manufacturer processes the mica into a useable form that beauty companies then purchase for use in their products.
This complex supply chain makes it difficult for beauty companies to know exactly where their mica comes from, even if their source says it’s ethically harvested. The people profiting from the sale of mica—which includes everyone from beauty companies to the dealers, exporters and processors—contribute to the exploitation of children in the mines.
However, ceasing to use mica altogether means these people in northeast India lose their primary source of income, which could make their lives even worse.
Experts are quick to point out that ceasing to use mica won’t solve the problems of these communities, but working to secure transparency in the supply train and empowering these regions with better wages and safer working conditions can help.
Some companies are aware of their role in the supply chain and making changes as a result. LUSH Cosmetics has stopped using natural mica altogether and instead uses a replicated synthetic mica. Lush says they saw no way to attain transparency of their supply chain and so chose to stop using mica.
L’Oréal, the parent company of many beauty brands, continues to source mica but says more than 60 percent of its natural mica comes from the United States, and the brand also uses synthetic mica when appropriate. L’Oréal says it’s committed to ensuring the transparency of its supply chain and that 98 percent of its mica comes from secured sources.
However, Terre des Hommes, an organization fighting child exploitation based in the Netherlands, says that the corruption is deeper than many realize, and that mica can still be mined by children and distributed under the premise of a legal mine.
Initiatives in Place for Change
Unfortunately, at this time, there’s no official way to know if the mica in your beauty products came from a legal mine where there are no children and adults are paid a fair wage.
However, there are some initiatives in place for change. There’s the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI), which aims to create a transparent supply chain for mica by 2022.
Organizations such as the RMI acknowledge that stopping child labor in mica mines means improving the communities where illegal mining is rife. By helping these communities make other ways of living besides mica, improving schools and healthcare, they hope to help mine workers achieve a better way of life.
There’s also the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) and the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), both of which are working to create villages where children have a voice. These organizations have freed over 89,000 children from child labor across industries, including 3,000 from mica mines.
So what can you do?
Ask beauty companies where their mica comes from, and encourage them to acknowledge their role in the supply chain that suppresses these communities.
You can also donate to KSCF, BBA, and Tres des Hommes, all organizations that are fighting child labor and working to make a better way of life for the people in northeast India.
Simply by getting paid more and making safer conditions in the mines, and, of course, eliminating child labor so these children can go to school and avoid the dangerous conditions in the mines, would dramatically help these communities!