The Dark Secret Behind Your Favorite Makeup Products | Shady | Refinery29

Makeup can be a tool for liberation and expression.

It can make us feel beautiful, but one of beauty's most popular ingredients has a dark side.

When children are the hidden cost in our cosmetics.

Who's stepping in to help them out?

And who's leaving them behind.

We're here in London on a press trip with Lush Cosmetics.

The British company invited us here to learn about an initiative surrounding one of the

most controversial ingredients going into makeup today.


An unassuming mineral essential to modern life.

The property of heat and electrical resistance makes this mineral invaluable.

For decades it's been used in everyday products like electronics, insulation, paint, and even toothpaste.

But over the past few years the cosmetics industry's demand for glowing radiant shimmer

has exploded.

From the perfect, no makeup makeup gleam, to the blinding shine of a highlighter created

for double taps.

Mica is often a magic ingredient.

But it also has an ugly side.

The majority of the world's mica comes from India, where 2016 Thomson Reuters Foundation

investigation revealed that it was being mined by children and had a deadly cost.

The revelation forced the beauty industry into a moral reckoning.

Some companies have pledged to work with the mining communities in India to create a sustainable

supply chain.

It's a lofty goal.

With progress that's been slow to come by.

Companies like Lush that have built a brand on ethical sourcing have taken a different approach.

Without a transparent supply chain, it decided to pull out of natural mica altogether.

This glittering shimmery effect is all the synthetic mica.

It looks pretty but I'm about to find out that it's more complicated than appearances

might suggest.

Much as I love sparkles, I didn't want anything put into a Lush product that you

know could have had a death attached to it.

The nice thing about the synthetic mica is it has much more variety of the this sparkle

that you can get in the pigment.

So really there's no reason to have natural mica.

It's much more complicated in that natural mica that's a commodity which is in almost

any product you use.

You should not try to avoid mica.

You should make sure that the families where you buy the mica from as a company get decent

wages get living wages.

As corporations roll out initiatives with promises of positive change.

I'm curious to know how they're actually impacting the people and especially the children on

the ground.

Globally the mica industry is worth over half a billion dollars.

And India is at its center with the world's largest and highest quality reserves of mica.

The majority of it can be found in the country's eastern states.

We're leaving New Delhi and we're about to take a sleeper train to a region called Jarkan.

Which is where a lot of this mining is happening.

Jharkhand is a mining state with rich reserves of coal, copper, and of course mica.

Most of the nearly 33 million residents live in rural areas where illegal and unregulated

mica mines dominate the trade.

It's been this way since the 1980s when restrictive environmental laws drove the industry underground.

It's been a very long journey and we're trying to keep a low profile.

Just because this is such a sensitive subject here.

Now many of the mines are abandoned and scavenged, while others are run by illicit operators.

We're finally getting close because you can see all of the shimmer in the dirt.

It's the first time I've ever seen pretty dirt.

I met up with Rohit Gandhi our local contact who secured our access to the mine.

Nice to meet you.

Very nice to meet you as well.

I'm gonna keep the cars ready just in case any of these contractors who actually mined

with these children come around.

We should be ready to leave right away.

Why would they be mad that we're here?

They know it's illegal right to use children in the trade for mining then obviously they're

against the law.

Just a few steps off the road.

I start to see them.


Hard at work, mining for mica.

They sifted through up here.

It's all mixed with gravel, and then they'll sift it through and they'll take the mica out

and that then go and sell to somebody who will then you know shipped overseas.

Pooja Bhurla is only 11 years old and has been mining mica since she was eight.

How many days are you out here per week?

Every day?

Do you ever get scared when you're working in the mines?


Where are your parents right now?

Jharkhand suffers from a classic case of the resource curse.

A phenomenon where areas with abundant resources tend to be worse off for it thanks to government

corruption, and commercial exploitation.

Despite the fact that this area is rich in mica and other minerals,

Jharkhand has one of the highest poverty rates in the entire country.

Many of these children including Pooja make less than a quarter a day.

But it can mean the difference between something to eat and an empty stomach.

What are the other children in the town doing?

It's been estimated that up to 20,000

children are working all across the region in mines just like these.

Seeing these mines and meeting these children it's easy to understand why Lush wouldn't

want anything to do with mica.

This is incredibly scary and I can't even believe there's kids all the way down there.

But it's also painfully clear that these children have no alternative.

Can you tell me how old you were when you first started working in the mines?

If you didn’t have to mine, what would you be doing today?

Do you have any idea where the mica goes after you mine it?

Wait someone’s...who’s coming?

We had to take off really quickly from that mine because we heard that people were coming

cause they knew that we were there.

The mica trade here is built on a facade that it’s players have a stake in maintaining.

Once the mica leaves the mine, it’s funneled into a process that conceals the fact that

children ever had anything to do with it.

Traders pedal the mica to intermediaries who often sell it under the licence of a legal

mine from another part of the country.

By the time the mica is exported, its illicit origins have been stripped away.

But back in Jharkhand, it’s impossible to escape the realities of the trade and the

risks that go along with it.

Cuts and broken bones.

Respiratory illnesses that can damage or even scar the lungs.

And sometimes, the unthinkable.

Surma Kumari and her sister Laksmi were mining one day when the tunnel they were working

in collapsed.

Can you show me where you got hurt in the accident?

Do you and your family still work in the mines?

The Kumari Family story is a common one.

Lakshmi’s death is just one of an estimated 10 to 20 deaths that occur every month.

The unregulated nature of mica opens the door to dangerous work conditions and predatory pricing.

Families are trapped in a cycle of poverty.

How much would the companies that are buying the mica have to pay you to be able to send Pooja

to school?

To be able to completely change your life.

It really hit home.

For better or worse, the choices that companies and consumers make have the power to determine

people’s lives.

It made me look at my beauty products in a totally new light.

I’ve pulled out some of the products that I use every single day.

There’s mica in this.

First ingredient.

They all have mica in them.

There’s mica in all of these products.

While I don’t know if the mica in these products specifically came from a mine that

used child labor, there’s no transparency in any of these supply chains involved with

these products.

These families all rely upon these mines and they’ve been selling mica for a long time now.

There has to be an ethical way to get mica out of the ground.

There has to be an ethical way to treat these families and it’s hard not to feel responsibility.

I wanted to know where the Indian government was in all of this.

It turns out, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, or NCPCR has

been aware of the issue since at least 2016, when its governing ministry lodged a complaint.

When we reached out to them, they said they were conducting a survey to understand the

scope of the problem, and sent us to the ministry that oversees their work.

There is poverty and there is less spread of education in these interior areas and our

ministry is making all efforts to see that child rights are protected.

So we were just in Jharkhand and we saw children working in the mines that are young

as five or six, but your department is the one that's surveying that.

Is that enough that’s being done?

Actually we are not aware of any such survey that’s currently being done, as you say.

We have been told that this committee is doing the survey and that they’re under your jurisdiction.

How is that–

We have not authorized it.

As far as this ministry goes, the ministry of the women and child development, child

labor is not exactly a mandate.

It was alarming to realize that someone so high up at the ministry, seemingly knew so

little about this dire issue.

While solutions may be slow to come from the top, a movement on the ground is providing

some hope.

A model that’s been coined “the child friendly village” is connecting parents

to new income streams, so that their children don’t have to work.

So many kids.

It’s a concept piloted by the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation.

And it’s working.

More than 3,000 children have been rescued.

More than three thousand children have been withdrawn from child labor.

And they have been enrolled in school.

Funding comes through government services and private business support, including beauty

conglomerate Estee Lauder.

We thought long and hard if we wanted to stay in Indian mica, if we wanted to move towards synthetic.

And where we ultimately landed is that it’s important for us to have a stake.

And having a stake means we will continue to be there until this problem comes to a resolution.

And it has been incredibly important to us to always start these initiatives with the

community itself.

It has been a long term process.

And everybody has a role and responsibility to play in addressing this whole issue.

This gathering of child friendly villages is a showcase of what’s possible when companies

stay invested in the communities they work with.

Thank you.

I feel very welcomed right now.

My name is Champa Kumari.


Lovely to meet you.

Champa Kumari is part of the most important and inspiring outcomes of these child friendly


The Child Parliament.

At 14 years old, she’s a fierce champion of illiminating child labor.

What would you say to some of the companies and consumers who are buying mica that come

from child labor.

What do you want to accomplish next?

You want to become a teacher?


You’re a big picture thinker.

I like it.


Promising to be mica free isn’t the only, or even the best, answer.

Mica is the lifeblood of this region, and any solution that

will make a real difference must acknowledge that.

It’s empowering kids, like Pooja and Champa, that will bring change and break the cycle

that keeps this region and its children chained to mica.

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