If you check the packaging of many cosmetic products you may see ‘Mica’ listed among many other ingredients. This is the most common mineral used in mineral make-up, giving lip gloss, foundation, powder, eye-shadow and nail-polish its sleek shimmer.
What it doesn’t list in the ingredients is that children risk their lives to put this sparkle into western cosmetics.
Thousands of children as young as six are involved in the “illegal” collection of Mica from the soil before it is exported to major brands in the West.
Collecting Mica involves working in the mines of Jharkland and Bihar, India, which are often 3 to 4 kilometres deep into the jungle, where the pieces of Mica can be found within the mud on the ground. Retrieving the particles involves repeatedly digging up mud, sieving it, setting aside anything valuable and moving onto the next bit.
Mica mining has multiple dangers and is sometimes fatal. Whilst scavenging in the rocky ground children risk snake and scorpion bites as well as being buried alive by collapsing slag piles whilst digging holes. They regularly suffer from cuts, bruises and infections and the Mica dust can cause respiratory disease. They children being forced to work here are also being denied the right to an education.
A social movement called Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) which means ‘Save the Childhood Movement’ in Hindu runs schools in the area and the some children have been enrolled. However, due to the remoteness and political instability of the area, there is little help available from government or NGOs to tackle this and the BBA are one of few agencies working there.
The BAA have recorded the names of over 5000 children working in these mines, however there are likely thousands more.
But there is a hope.
A momentum has been building, calling for change and for businesses to tackle their supply chains and end child labour in the Mica mining industry. The BBA have become involved in proposals to create ‘child friendly villages’* where all children are removed from work and enrolled in school.
Bhuwan Ribhu, national secretary of the BBA said: “International corporations need to do more work and take up more responsibility in their supply chain… Corporations must ensure that their profits are not made at the cost of children and should work towards elimination of child labour.”
Whilst operations in Mica mines did cease in some areas where investigations into child labour occurred, there has still not been a successful establishment of an institutional mechanism that will check for illegal mining and prevent child labour.
Demand for Mica has remained high and whilst it is sometimes substituted for other products, it remains a key ingredient in cosmetic products and does not seem to have lost its shine.
It is certainly an issue that needs to be tackled head on. Next time you buy a cosmetic item check what products went into making it. Is your ‘natural glow’ worth it?
*For more information see Anti-Slavery’s report here