Vidushi Shrivastava

It is no secret that the makeup industry is booming. With celebrities and influencers making new brand deals and endorsing products by the daily, there is an immensely high demand for the top cosmetic products; people are very eager to buy the newest releases of products. Makeup has become a daily staple in people’s lives. Women are said to spend approximately half an hour in the morning applying their makeup and usually use at least six products.

Many of these products will contain some type of shimmer. The shimmer in these products most likely comes from mica, a family of silicate class, a very common mineral. It is very shiny and has coined the nicknamed “fool’s gold”. It is commonly used in not only cosmetics, but also electronics, paint, utensils, ink and many more. It was once used mainly for paints and electronics, but now the makeup industry has dominated, and thus mica has been going most predominantly to highlighters and eyeshadows. If your makeup items have shimmer in them, it is most likely they contain mica.

There are two types of mica: authentic mica, which is dug up from mines, and synthetic mica which is artificially made. Authentic mica is most commonly mined in India, the top exporter of mica. Synthetic mica mimics the effects of authentic mica and is made in a lab.

Authentic mica is retrieved from mica mines that go underground. In India, many of these mines are illegal, but are still worked in because of how sought after mica is. Children go down to the most treacherous nooks of these mines to retrieve mica. The mines are often unstable, and these kids risk their lives every single day to earn a little money. Workers earn as little as 77 cents a day, despite the fact that one kilogram of mica can be sold for $10,000. The families working in these mines tend to be those in poverty and focus more on getting food on the table before they think about getting their kids an education.They either cannot afford to send their children to school, or they simply don’t see the point of education. The families rely heavily on their children to support the family and help bring in food, and the way they do that is by working in the mines.

‘Children’s work in India’s mica mines involves sharp-pointed, heavy tools. The children inhale dust from the stone cutting and they risk being hit by falling stones when they are hacking the mica free from the stone walls. The heavy loads of mica are transported up narrow ladders and in extreme cases the children can be buried alive when the crumbling mine shafts collapse.’ (source).

However, this is all illegal. Getting paid under minimum wage is illegal. Children working at that young of an age is illegal. Trespassing to unsafe mica mines is illegal.

Proper preventative measures are not being taken and children still go down to the treacherous mines each day in search for a little extra money to make. Children as young as five years old have been reported working at the illegal mines, even though the minimum age requirement is 14. About 20,000 people were reported to be working in the mines, with 90% being illegal. It is estimated that five to ten children die in the mines, and even more adults die.

According to India’s Bureau of Mines, India “officially” exports approximately 15,000 tonnes of mica. However, India actually exported more than eight times that amount: 130,000 tonnes in 2011-2012. More than half of it went directly to China. Jharkhand and Bihar, both extremely poverty stricken states in India, account for 25% of the entire world’s global production of mica.  Although mica can be found all across the globe, India holds a monopoly and in total produces and exports 60% of the entire world’s mica. Some very brig makeup brands are linked to India’s mica mines.

So what do we do to help? Ironically, boycotting makeup with mica isn’t something that is going to lead to a solution. Neither does buying only natural, cruelty-free problems makeup. This doesn’t deal with the issue of slavery because (1) a product only has to have one or two natural ingredients in it to be deemed natural, and (2) if we began boycotting products containing mica, it is likely the prices will be driven down and the working conditions will become worse for the workers. Instead, we should push companies to be more transparent with their sources to bring more light to the situation. Pressuring companies into responsibly  sourcing their exports is a thing that we can do to by asking more questions along with contacting and encouraging companies to be more transparent with their sourcing. Policy implementation could also potentially help. 

Solutions aren’t simple and require a lot of attention. However, child labor and forced labor are something that can be prevented. Every child deserves to go to school and spend their time happy, not worrying about supporting their family at that young of an age. Help us eradicate child labor and all forms of human trafficking.