Mica Production and it’s Human Rights Implications

Following on from my first two blog posts which touched upon transparency within supply chains, this week I will be looking at a potential human rights violation that may occur if companies keep their supply chains in the dark. Mica is an ingredient most commonly found in cosmetics, although may also be used in paints and building materials. Mica is a shiny material that is mined in large reserves all over the world, although I will more specifically be looking at mica mines in India.

While searching for articles and topics to look into this week, I came across an extremely useful website/resource called The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. It is a registered charity in the UK which allows you to search human rights based topics and even individual companies. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the ethics of my make up products, mainly in terms of animal testing. I found out that The Body Shop who are famed for the fact that they do not test on animals are now actually owned by L’oreal, who do test on animals. Profits from the Body Shop feed into L’oreal as a parent company who then fund animal testing which is highly hypocritical in my opinion. Animal testing aside, I’ve also heard about an ingredient that is commonly used in cosmetics and it’s ethical implications being discussed. I searched for articles about Mica using the resource centre and I found this article from an Australian publication.

Reading the article was heartbreaking as it discussed how it is common in India for child labour to be used in the production of Mica. I find child labour a difficult and delicate topic to discuss, my initial and perhaps naive thoughts on child labour were that it is disgusting and just shouldn’t happen. However, I remember reading a study not long ago about how child labour can actually be vital to developing countries. For some families in the 3rd world, having their child working can mean the difference between the family surviving or starving to death. Just like when this country went through our industrial revolution and used child labour, the same happens in other areas of the world. I remember that the study urged for better and safer working conditions for children rather than eradicating child labour altogether. However, through reading this article about India’s Mica mines it seems that there isn’t really a way to make this type of work safer, especially as a lot of the work happens on the black market. The article talks about how subcontractors use child labour for mica production and do not disclose this information to their suppliers.

Lots of familiar businesses were noted within this article as being associated with the production of Mica, including L’oreal and The Body Shop (funnily enough.) Majority of these businesses (if not all) are not based in India at all, it just acts as a host state for the production of this product. Last week in our lecture we talked about issues with extractive industries such as mining which cause huge human rights issues. We discussed how countries have domestic laws and how transnational ventures are extremely difficult to regulate as the host state and the home state of the business likely have different ways of governing their countries. This is known as a governance gap and is no doubt the reason why child labour in the production of Mica is such a huge issue.

Although I have only just touched on this topic, thinking about it definitely makes me want to pay attention to the ingredients that are used in my cosmetics. This heartbreaking quote from the article makes me realise how trivial some of the products we use day to day in the western world are compared to the sheer pain some people in developing countries have to go through in order for us to have them:

‘Khushbu, who looks even younger than her age as she expertly gathers the shiny mica flakes, says she knows about make-up, and that the mica she mines each day ends up as decoration on the faces of women overseas.

”It is used in powder for ladies.”’

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