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UNCOVERING... Ethical Sourcing of Your Beauty Ingredients

Updated: Mar 25, 2019


As beauty lovers, we love trying out new and exciting products. And beauty brands satiate this thirst by giving us cosmetic launches to look forward to almost every week. But with demand, comes supply. And as we know, this oversupply from demand is not only taxing to the earth's resources, but leaves the question on how to appropriately dispose of our many consumer waste products.


Today, we'll be taking a look into yet another key consideration of what makes a beauty product: its source and supply chain. So, do you know just where and how your ingredients are sourced?


What is ethical sourcing?


Ethical sourcing can be simply defined as for a company to take “vital steps to improve supply chain transparency and full traceability of naturals used.”


This is three-pronged, consisting of the environment, resources used, and the people involved. Ethical practices include sustainable development and preservation of the environment, and fair trade, which affects the quality of life for the locals to reduce the pressure for them to leave the countryside. Without such a framework, problems such as unfair labour practices and environmental degradation can arise.


Although we are powerless to the amount of transparency a company may reveal about their supply chain, it is important to understand what is being done to ensure the upkeep of ethical production process. As we increasingly demand more transparency, brands will then have to step up and ensure that their manufacturing processes are sustainable. Not so convinced? Just take a look at what activism did for Nike, 20 years ago.


What’s more, ethical sourcing...

1. Can affect you directly.

If you take a look at palm oil, the environmentally damaging practices in sourcing and production have led to an all to familiar annual haze that comes from Indonesia.




Despite being illegal, corporations and small farmers engage in the slash-and-burn method, to clear vegetation for pulpwood, paper and palm oil plantations. Though we live thousands of kilometres away from Indonesia, we are susceptible to air pollution and respiratory problems caused by pollutants in the haze.


What’s more, an increase in one of the air pollutants, PM2.5, can lead to a 1% drop in productivity.


2. May indirectly lead you to support unethical causes.


Surely, you wouldn’t want your $60 face cream and supple skin to be the cause of child labour? Just a few negative consequences of unethical and unregulated sourcing includes: unfair labour practices, cruel animal practices, environmental damage and human trafficking.




How does that work out? Let’s take a closer look at one such ingredient, mica...


Since mica is used to add shimmer and sparkle, they can be found in cosmetics such as eyeshadows, lipsticks, powders and even some skincare. Outside of the cosmetic industry, ground mica can be found in toothpaste, car paint and plastics.


Where can it be found?

Most of the mica sourced is from India. The mines along the border between Jharkland and Bihar in North East India are estimated to supply 25% of the world’s production of mica.


What is the problem?


1. Child labour

Unfortunately, the mines are illegal, and more than 20,000 children are involved in the mining of mica. Due to poverty and the remoteness of the area, the local communities are forced to rely on the illegal mining of mica for a livelihood. Instead of going to school, many children work in these mines for meagre wages (some earning five rupees, or 1 cent for every kilogram) to supplement their parents’ income.




2. Unfair wages and hazardous working conditions

According to Terre des Hommes (TDH) Netherlands, a Swiss organisation for children aid, children and adults who work in these illegal mines can only earn “45 per cent of the average salary in a legal mine”. Workers mine without protective equipment, making them at risk of snake and scorpion bites, severe lung diseases due to the inhalation of silica dust and are also exposed to fatal accidents when informal pits collapse.


An average of 10 children die each month in mica-related deaths. Indian NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) workers estimated that fewer than 10 per cent of such deaths go unreported.


3. Lack of traceability

Many importers of mica are unaware of the unethical and unsustainable mining practices due to the complex and globalised supply chain which include many middlemen. The lack of traceability makes it hard to bring changes to brands’ supply chains and legislation on mica mining.


What is being done?


Boycott of natural mica


Lush has removed natural mica from its products since 1st January 2018. It uses synthetic mica instead which are thankfully, environmentally-friendly as they are made from natural minerals. However, as Lush explained, it took a while to switch to synthetic mica. One problem was that mica was sold in bulk and they had a huge stock of natural mica which they decided to use instead of simply throwing them out. Furthermore, it took time to source for another supplier and to ensure that they engaged in fair and sustainable practices.

According to an article by The Guardian, Aidan McQuaide, director of the NGO Anti-Slavery International, said that boycotting is generally not the best approach as it can threaten livelihoods. Although he did acknowledge the challenges businesses face in ensuring a legal and sustainable mining process.


Dutch NGO SOMO also stated in a 2016 report that boycotting “will not solve the problems of child labour, rampant poverty and low health, safety and environmental (HSE) standards," instead, recommending that companies “stay involved and seriously conduct due dilligence”.



The Responsible Mica Initiative


The Responsible Mica Initiative is an association that aims to achieve a 100% responsible mica supply chain over the next five years (by 2021) by working closely with public, private and non-profit sectors. It aims to do so by:



  1. Implementing fair and sustainable mica collection, processing and sourcing practices and improve traceability along the Indian mica supply chain.

  2. Empowering local communities to ensure long-lasting change by deploying empowerment programs to additional villages in India, defining a scaling-up plan and process, and carrying out impact assessments – among other projects.

  3. Working together with the Indian government and local authorities to build a legal framework and livable environment for Indian mica communities.

Members of this initiative include: Burt’s Bees, Chanel, Clarins, Estée Lauder companies, L’Oreal, H&M and The Body Shop


Child-friendly villages


Source: The Guardian


This model was established in 2010 as a joint initiative between the National Resources Stewardship Council (NRSC), a non-profit organisation promoting responsible sourcing, and BBA.


The scheme works with the local communities and governments to help children in the 500 villages in the region attend school instead of mining by improving infrastructure and living conditions. BBA told The Guardian that 100 villages have been converted to child-friendly villages where 3,650 children are enrolled in schools. New schools and infrastructure have also been constructed and improved to include clean drinking water, lunches and toilets.

Brands such as Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and Yves Rocher have also worked with the organisations on the scheme to help eliminate child labour in mica mining.


Despite the steps taken, child labour still remains a prevalent problem that brands, organisations and governments have to tackle. Although there are child labour laws in place, India has lax enforcement. Furthermore, Kailash Satyarth, founder of BBA, said that the Naxalites [a Maoist rebel army] control the jungle along Jharkland, and the police are often killed, rendering it difficult for the elimination of child labour.


And lastly...what can you do to help?


Here are just some considerations to go through the next time you're looking to buy a mineral-based/glitter product!


With more knowledge, us as consumers can pressure business to be transparent in their supply chain


The process of attaining a truly transparent and ethical supply chain may seem a long and arduous process, but it is an important one, for the livelihood of all fellow living things on this planet. Hopefully, with this knowledge, you will be equipped with smarter decisions the next time you pay your favourite beauty store a visit!


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