The Ugly Truth Behind Beauty

by Iman Shah, January 20, 2022

Women and men across the world use eye pigments, blushes, lipsticks, eyeliners, and lip liners as a way to express themselves, enhancing their natural features. From a little pop of glitter in the inner corner of the eye to make the eye look bigger to a hint of shiny blush to give the cheeks a fuller look, glitter is a fundamental ingredient in a lot of makeup products. But how does the $500 billion makeup industry manage to shine all that glitters? The answer lies in a mineral found in nearly every continent, mica. Mica is utilized in makeup, but it is also used in the automotive, medical, and defense industries, making it a widely used inexpensive ingredient. The mica industry is forecasted to be worth over $700 million by 2024, yet the workers who mine and dig as a group all day in some of the poorest states of India can only hope to collectively make two dollars per day in total (Schipper and Cowan). This contrast is possible because some of these states, namely Jharkhand and Birpur, have indigenous communities living in the outskirts of the city who sieve through mud and dirt all day in the hopes of finding as much of the shiny rock as they can, and it is their only source of income. Geographically these communities live remotely and have limited access to job opportunities, basic services, schools, and businesses. Agriculture used to be another source of income, but due to increasing infertility and drought-prone soil, the only viable option is to work for long hours, digging and mining for mica and that too without any safety equipment. The conditions have irreversible consequences on adults, yet children accompany their elders to provide a helping hand, leading to a systematic cycle of poor health and poverty. Since it is the only way to earn bread and butter, an estimated 20,000 children have to work to support the multi-billion dollar industry (Schipper and Cowan). However, the problem of child labor can be significantly improved with awareness which will then promote the proper implementation of laws, economic growth, and education. Therefore, when it comes to survival and child rights, child rights should be chosen not only because it is morally right but also because in the long run, it will prove more beneficial. 

Child labor has effects that are cyclical and long-lasting. However, one of the most effective ways to combat this issue is through awareness. Awareness through different means, especially social media, can be helpful in terms of putting pressure on governments to acknowledge issues, put light on issues, and create fundraisers and donations for important causes. Makeup gurus, some of whom have millions and even billions of followers, have the immense potential to start the change. Realizing there is an issue in the first place is what will initiate the change because as a beauty influencer remarked after finding out the truth about the deadly industry, “I’m very embarrassed to only be finding out about this now” (“The Dark Secret Behind Your Shiny Makeup”). A study on social media found out how the “Red Cross received eight million dollars in donations directly from texts” in two days, illustrating the power of social media (Gao 10). Although Makeup gurus can use their influence to raise donations for these children, they can also use it to simply show their viewers how the most important ingredient in many makeup products is supplied. Influencers hold a lot of power as proven by a survey conducted by Statista which reported how “58 percent of the brand strategists and marketers surveyed report that influencer marketing will become integrated into all of their forthcoming marketing activities” (Stubb and Colliander). Makeup products that are used every day, wasted, redesigned thousands of times, without considering how this ingredient ends up in almost every makeup product. However, by simply informing viewers of the way these things happen, people can become more conscious. 

This consciousness can then in turn help pressurize companies to trace the supply chain. A major reason why child labor and abuse that is utilized to supply Mica is virtually undetected is that traders can legally get licenses to sell the mineral (Bliss 21). The supply chain goes from miners, collectors, traders, processors, exporters (Bliss 25). Therefore, since the mineral is technically purchased legally from the exporters, the rest of the process that happens behind it goes unseen. A lot of companies report that tracing the supply chain of the mineral is hard and ambiguous, but the truth is that these companies are simply not interested in tracing the origins of the chain. However, if awareness is raised amongst people, then consumers can demand greater supply chain transparency and traceability. A local activist in Jharkhand urges consumers to “Write to them [companies] and request that they disclose the source of their mica… after all, if they manage to procure the specific grades of mica required for their various products, they should be able to find out who is extracting it” (Zuckerman). Makeup buyers can usually find out if Mica is being utilized sustainably in specific products by reading the ingredients or by searching online for the brand’s sustainable-sourcing policies. Consumer awareness can make companies realize that it is worthwhile for them to start a due diligence trajectory specifically for Mica. Tracing the whole chain is difficult since these companies are not sourcing directly from the mines, but if companies and NGOs collaborate on working to end child labor, it can drastically improve the situation. 

The supply chain of Mica poses its hardships, but there are alternate resources companies can resort to which makes the eradication of child labor more possible. L’oreal, for instance, has taken an initiative to source Mica from only “legal” and “fenced” mines (Bliss 29). Similarly, other companies have resorted to Mica mines in more developed countries such as America, which comes with a higher price but a transparent supply chain. Moreover, there is also synthetic Mica, which is developed in labs. Lush, the British cosmetics company, proudly presents itself as the leader of supplying its ingredients ethically; however, in 2016 it “discovered natural Mica in a range of mica pigments it had been told were synthetic” (Bliss 30). Therefore, the development of synthetic Mica is a field that requires further research; however, it can still prove to be worthwhile putting efforts by the billion-dollar companies as it can eliminate the need for natural mica in the first place.

Awareness is imperative because it will then bring attention and aid to all the other things that need drastic changes. People will be more conscious of their actions, and they can also donate. Furthermore, NGOs and other organizations can come to these poverty-stricken areas to better the situation. One of the ways this can be achieved is through improving the traditional ways of livelihoods, specifically the agriculture system. A sustainable agriculture system ensures food security and environmental safety; it provides livelihood by providing a source of income. Given that the farming situation in these areas has suffered due to drought and ineffective and primitive techniques, NGOs can initiate a change by teaching non-traditional farming techniques which will not jeopardize the availability of the resources for future generations and still provide an alternate source of income for the villagers. These change initiatives could include innovations on water scarcity, multiple-use schemes or other community resilience, extreme water vulnerability mapping in the area, and technical options on water demand management. These initiatives can equip farmers to effectively mitigate droughts, stop using urea and DAP fertilizers, and teach methods like crop rotation, so the same nutrients are not drained from the soil throughout the year. The revival of these lands might seem unworthy; however, a UNEP report has found out that “for 42 countries of Africa the benefit of intervening to conserve is 3-26 times greater than the cost of inaction,” and those interventions came through the help of NGOs (Kumar). NGOs are very prominent and effective in implementing sustainable agriculture programs, but, on the other hand, governments can also play their role by implementing state-led land reform programs and buying crops from the local farmers at a fair price. State-led land reforms take a big piece of land and assign sections to different farmers; this leads to greater independence and possible profits for the individual farmers, avoiding the monopoly of one person controlling the lands. Government buying crops at a certain price will ensure that despite any other inconveniences that might occur, such as price drops or crop failures, the crops the farmers were able to produce are sold at a predictable and fair price. 

Eradication of child labor cannot be achieved only through the improvement of farming techniques but also through the implementation of laws and regulations. India already has laws that forbid children under the age of eighteen years from working in mines, and it is also against the UN Child Conventions (“Act now: end child labor!”). Awareness of the abuse of children in these states will urge governments to go beyond simply stating these laws in law books and implementing this law. One law that can potentially prove beneficial in this case is the legalization of mining Mica, which was made illegal in 1980 under the Forest Act. Mica is a forest resource and in efforts to conserve the environment, this law made it illegal to extract this mineral. 24,000 people who once relied on a stable source of income were left jobless (Bliss 24). Repealing this law will not only enable to formalize something which is already happening but also regulate the sector thus addressing the issues related to working conditions, minimum wages, and protective equipment. Enforcement of this law should include setting a minimum age for the mineworkers through proper documentation processes like unique identification numbers or birth certificates. The legalization of these mines would also mean that the workers do not have to work in fear of being caught all the time and illegal operators will not be holding control of the mines. Villagers get forced to work under these operators because they depend on unlicensed lenders when they need money for medical treatments or other reasons (Zuckerman). The only way to pay off the loan is by agreeing to work in these mines; hence, people get stuck in an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Furthermore, deaths in these mines usually go unreported and people are compensated with “blood money” (Makower). Therefore, the legalization of this law could also mean that deaths will be reported as there will be less fear of pursuing illegal activities under illegal operators who assert their dominance through force and brutality. However, these resolutions can only potentially occur if the law is properly enforced. 

Eradication of child labor cannot be achieved only through the implementation of laws but also to create alternate sources of income. Besides agriculture, supporting small and medium scale enterprises (SME’s) through soft loans or micro-credits (on the model of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh), promoting local cottage industries, and local, national, and international tourism can be some examples of job creation and economic activities. Skills the indigenous people already possess can be utilized to their advantage. Research conducted found that women in Jharkhand possessed skills such as “sari-making”, painting mud houses, “sewing”, and “tailor-making” (Dagar 6). However, Suyamukhi, one of the indigenous women, remarked “These items don’t sell for much” (Dagar 7). This is where awareness can be used so these products are sold on a national and international scale. Furthermore, NGOs and the government can provide further assistance to this marginalized group by teaching ways for starting a business, applying for microcredits, and navigating the market. Supporting such potential small local businesses will lead to gradual independence from the dependence these people have on mining Mica as their only source of income.

In addition, the government also needs to play its role by providing facilities to these citizens. Citizens and governments have social contracts whereby each has roles and responsibilities. If it is expected that citizens will abide by the law, then the government is responsible for providing them not only safety and security but also sources of income and provision of social services. Besides health and education, water supply and sanitation, infrastructure development particularly farm-to-market roads and broader connectivity with other parts of the state and country are important ingredients in fostering this vertical social cohesion. It would be highly recommendable that the government look into this with a different lens i.e. not only provide these services but also use it as means to create jobs for youth and unemployed persons from various strata and skills sets. Consumers and the international community can play their role by urging the government to abide by their side of the social contract so villagers then do not need to resort to unlicensed lenders or other such resources. 

Education is another imperative aspect that would again need the government’s attention and involvement to truly support the eradication of child labor. Besides traditional education, vocational and technical education needs not only to be promoted but also attractive. This can include incentivizing through free education, free books, and perhaps stipends for the students who attend and perform in their respective educational areas. However, Dr. Kumar, who researched education in Jharkhand, concluded that “doling out some incentives does not do much” (9). It is true that only providing incentives will not eradicate the overall issue of lack of education; on the other hand, there have been instances that have illustrated the effectiveness of incentives. Anjali Sinha, a researcher who has been to Jharkhand sites to collect data, witnessed in 2014 how some of the villagers willingly converted to Christianity for incentives such as certain amounts of food per month (Sinha). It is important to note though that this conversion is not only because of the incentive but also because these people want to escape India’s brutal caste system. Additionally, research in Nicaragua on poverty eradication illustrated how “school breakfasts were implemented to attract children,” which after three weeks resulted in “all eligible children” attending “school” (Blandon et al. 5). Therefore, incentives can become a channel that makes children less desperate to leave education and earn money instead. Simply providing children with a school will not solve the problem, children need to be taught in their mother tongue, at least in the primary years, in efforts to keep dropout rates low. Respectful and sensitive teachers, who are patient towards the first-generation learners, are needed. Awareness needs to be raised amongst the villagers to assure parents why sending children to school, especially girls, is beneficial for them and it will become a chief way to break the cycle of poverty. It is both in the government’s and villagers’ interest to pay attention to this aspect as education has proven to be “essential to a country’s development” (Kiross et al. 10). Many studies have proven how literacy has “been a major determinant in the rise or fall in other indicators” such as “growth rate, birth rate, death rate, and infant mortality rate”(Kiross et al. 10).

Awareness of the child labor situation in these mines has the potential to create a platform which in turn will result in consumer awareness, urging companies to either resort to alternative resources or trace the supply chain; additionally, consciousness regarding this matter can also urge government and NGOs to provide these people with different sources of income, by, for example, improving the agricultural state, and overall the government should be pressurized to play its role by providing proper facilities. However, these are all long-term initiatives that require enforcement and solving the problem from the very root. The main concern that can arise against such potential implementations is that the eradication of child labor “could increase the cost of commodities, harming the economic “comparative advantage of countries with cheap labor” which will eventually negatively impact the “poor people” (D’Avolio). Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the overall problem of child abuse in this area is complicated and deeply rooted; hence, it is going to take time and in the short term it might seem futile to pursue these actions. On the contrary, not initiating a change will keep these neglected groups of people fixated on a meager lifestyle. 

Child labor is so easily utilized in India because poor children are vulnerable and easily exploited. Children cannot form unions, go on strikes, demand breaks, and set minimum wages because children are not meant for such pursuits. They are meant for school, for playing. They are not meant to worry about whether they will be able to see tomorrow or will there be enough food on the table tomorrow. India and the global community have a responsibility to give this oppressed group of people and their children their basic rights, facilities, and resources; furthermore, the international community should not lose sight of this cause till these goals are fulfilled. The situation of this problem is difficult, deeply rooted, and complex; however, through awareness, the right resources and resolutions can be passed so the rights of the children can be chosen without hindrance by this neglected group of indigenous people.


Works Cited

“Act now: end child labor!” World Day Against Child Labour, United Nations, 2021, http://www.un.org/en/observances/world-day-against-child-labour.

Blandón, Elmer Zelaya, et al. “Breaking the Cycles of Poverty: Strategies, Achievements, and Lessons Learned in Los Cuatro Santos, Nicaragua, 1990–2014.” Global Health Action, vol. 10, no. 1, Jan. 2017, p. N.PAG. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/16549716.2017.1272884.

Bliss, Susan. “Child Labour in India’s Mica Mines: The Global Beauty Industry.” Geography Bulletin, vol. 49, no. 3, 2017, http://www.gtansw.org.au/files/geog_bulletin/2017/3_2017/05_GTANSW%20Bulletin%20_Issue%203%202017_Indias%20Mica%20%20mines.pdf.

Dagar, Preeti. “Vocational education and training for indigenous women in India: Toward a participatory planning approach.” International Journal of Training Research, Aug. 2021. doi:10.1080/14480220.2021.1959379.

“The Dark Secret Behind Your Shiny Makeup | Undercover Asia.” YouTube, uploaded by CNA Insider, 1 May 2021, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS_CR7UwhRs&t=411.

D’Avolio, Michele. “Child Labor and Cultural Relativism: From 19th Century America to 21st Century Nepal.” Pace International Law Review, vol. 16, no. 1, 2004. digitalcommons.pace.edu/pilr/vol16/iss1/5. 

Gao, Huiji, et al. “Harnessing the Crowdsourcing Power of Social Media for Disaster Relief.” IEEE Intelligent Systems, vol. 26, no. 3, 2011, pp. 10–14. doi:10.1109/MIS.2011.52.

Kiross, Girmay Tsegay, et al. “The Effect of Maternal Education on Infant Mortality in Ethiopia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” PloS One, vol. 14, no. 7, 2019, e0220076. doi:10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0220076.

Kumar, Anant. “Universal Primary Education among Tribals in Jharkhand: A Situational Analysis.” Xavier Institute of Social Service, 25 Mar. 2008, files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED500704.pdf.

Kumar, Pushpam. “Restoring Natural Capital Can Help Reduce Extreme Poverty.” United Nations Environment Programme, 5 Aug. 2016, http://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/restoring-natural-capital-can-help-reduce-extreme-poverty.

Makower, Joel. “Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain.” Greenbiz, 5 Oct. 2020, http://www.greenbiz.com/article/inside-beautycounters-quest-transform-its-mica-supply-chain.

Schipper, Irene, and Roberta Cowan. Global Mica Mining and the Impact on Children’s Rights: Executive Summary. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations [SOMO], Mar. 2018, http://www.somo.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NL180313_-GLOBAL-MICA-MINING-EXEC-SUMMARY.pdf. 

Sinha, Anjali. Personal Interview. 25 Sep.2021.

Stubb, Carolina, and Jonas Colliander. “‘This Is Not Sponsored Content’ – The Effects of Impartiality Disclosure and e-Commerce Landing Pages on Consumer Responses to Social Media Influencer Posts.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 98, Sept. 2019, pp. 210–222. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2019.04.024.

Zuckerman, Jocelyn C. “Is Your Makeup the Result of Child Labor?” Marie Claire, 17 Oct. 2018, http://www.marieclaire.com/beauty/a23722189/mica-in-makeup-controversy/.

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