There's A Dark, Disturbing Secret Hiding Inside Your Makeup

The murky supply chain of mica starts with impoverished communities and child labor. Elena Pivtorykopna/Shutterstock

An investigation by Reuters in 2017 of a village in the Giridih district of Jharkhand state chronicled the stories of local people working in the mica mining industry. They discovered that at least seven children had died in two months in the crumbling mines. However, the real figure is likely higher. Due to the illegal nature of the work, bodies are often not recovered from the rubble or are cremated by mine operators.

Another recent investigation by Refinery29, published in May 2019, found that children as young as 5 years old are still working in mica mines around Jharkhand. 

"There’s no other form of [work]. When you’re hungry, there’s no other way," Kishar Kumari, a local who lost his daughter in a mine collapse, told Refinery29.

Even beyond the initial concerns of precarious makeshift mines and child labor, mica is nasty stuff to be around for too long. The US CDC states that exposure to mica can cause eye irritation, a cough, breathing difficulty, exhaustion, and weight loss. As such, they recommend any workers who are around it to wear specialized respiratory gear.

The murky supply chain of mica might start in impoverished communities with child labor, but after being passed through chains of brokers and international manufacturers, it ends up in makeup bags and smartphones of people across the world. 

Following the huge stream of investigations in recent years, the situation is improving, although it’s still unclear how much mica is tangled up with child labor today. One of the biggest wholesale suppliers, German chemical giant Merck, acknowledged the use of child labor in their mica mines and started to act on the situation in 2009. It since states that it no longer uses any mica that is sourced in “an informal work environment”, and many cosmetic companies have vowed to remedy problems in their own supply chains.

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