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Child Labor in Makeup

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While the world burns with new horrors daily, the old horrors continue, such as child labor for global supply chains that protect multinational corporations from responsibility by offloading all risk onto contractors. This very much includes the makeup industry, which sites its mica needs in horrible and often illegal mines in India, where the work is done by impoverished small children. India is taking a first step in doing something about it by legalizing the mica industry to bring it above board.

India is to legalise the mining of mica, a sparkly mineral used in eyeshadows and car paint, in a bid to cut the number of children who labour – and often die – to produce it.

The announcement comes nearly a year after a series of Guardian investigations into mica found that crippling poverty forces many families and their children to mine the highly prized mineral, with as many as 20,000 children believed to be working in the mines, about 90% of which are illegal.

A later investigation by Thomson Reuters Foundation found that at least seven children had died in just two months as they scavenged for the mineral in illegal mines.

Activists lauded the decision to legalise mica mining, but warned that high poverty levels meant the move was unlikely to stop child labour.

Two states in eastern India, Jharkhand and Bihar, account for roughly 25% of the global production of mica, which is used by the cosmetics, building and automotive industries in various products. Household and luxury brands including L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, Rimmel, Merck, BMW, Vauxhall and Audi have all been linked to India’s mica mines.

Jharkhand’s mines commissioner, Aboobacker Siddique, told Reuters that the authorities would first tackle the disused mines and dumps of scrap mica, where children scavenge alongside their families for the mineral. The government would then auction off the disused mines and other reserves, with the intention of keeping out children and their families.

“People were taking up these scraps illegally and accumulating and selling it,” said Siddique. “To stop this, we decided to remove the waste dumps of mica by selling it in auctions.”

I doubt this will make much difference, but it’s something. What would make a difference is holding the companies legally responsible for their supply chains by banning the use of products sourced by child labor and forcing companies to verify that they aren’t violating that, with severe penalties if they are. Holding the big MNCs accountable; that’s the only real way to solve the global exploitation at the core of the supply chains.

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