Makeup is a pretty important part of my everyday life. It's something my friends, sisters and I bond over. It's the part of my getting-ready routine that I enjoy the most. And it's a form of self-expression that I take a lot of pride in.
For most of my friends and me, buying cruelty-free makeup is a no-brainer. I don't want the colours and pigments I put on my face to be smeared and tested on an animal first. I don't want to be responsible for an animal's suffering. Makeup should be fun — not cruel.
So, as much as I can, I try to educate myself on the practices of the companies I buy from. What is their policy on animal testing? What loopholes do they use to get around animal testing laws? What information is available to the public? Between my sister and I, we've managed to amass quite a bit of knowledge so that our makeup habits will match our beliefs.
The truth about "cruelty-free"
Then last year, something happened. I found out that the "cruelty-free" products I was using might not be cruelty free for children. That's because a sparkly pigment called mica — the one that gives all our highlighters, eye shadows and nail polishes that pretty iridescent sheen — is mined in mostly unregulated, unsafe conditions where labour laws are not enforced.
I felt betrayed. All this time, I thought I was making kind choices, when in reality, I could have been fuelling an industry that harms and even kills child labourers.
According to the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, 25 per cent of the world's mica is sourced from Jharkhand and Bihar, India. In these two states, 22,000 children work in mica mines. Some of them are as young as four or five.
In 2016 an investigation by Reuters revealed that seven children had been killed in mica mines in India in just two months. Their deaths were quietly covered up so that the industry could continue to profit from child labour.
A Canadian problem revealed
World Vision Canada recently did a study of 60 companies that import mica-containing beauty products into Canada. Of those companies, only 18 per cent provided detailed evidence of their commitment to prevent child labour in their supply chains. Considering that, according to the report, Canadian cosmetics imports have nearly doubled in five years, this is a huge problem.
As consumers, our appetite for beauty products is increasing. The World Vision report says that 42 per cent of Canadians buy beauty products on a monthly basis, or even more often. We are a lucrative market for these brands, most of which provide little to no information so we consumers can make responsible decisions about our glowy makeup.
For the sake of a little sparkle
Two of the children affected by the mica industry are six-year-old Roshni and her brother Kamal (four). Their names have been changed, but these two little ones are very real faces of the mica industry. My colleague Sam spoke to the children and their parents in India to investigate the effect of the mica industry on families like theirs.
Their father Karan told Sam that because of the low pay this dad receives, even his small children must pitch in. Their two older siblings, who are eight and 10, live 30 kilometres away in the care of their grandmother. A family is separated, working in dirty, dangerous and degrading conditions — all for the sake of a little sparkle.
Rajendar, the guide who showed Sam the mica mine Karan works at says that companies prefer people to machines for this type of labour.
"If mica is collected using machines, it breaks into finer pieces, reducing its value in the market," Rajendar said.
The mine is illegal, meaning that safe labour standards (including the ban on child labour) are not enforced here. Mines can collapse without warning, as happened in the deaths of child miners that Reuters investigated in 2016.
But for Karan and his family, the money they make at the mine is all they have to survive. He has tried to find other employment — but returned to the mine, just as his father and grandfather before him.
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Please give me the details
I don't want the products I put on my face to cause cruelty — to animals or to children like Roshni and Kamal. That's why I'm signing this petition asking the Government of Canada to create legislation so that companies in Canada — beauty and otherwise — will have to report on how they prevent child labour in their supply chains.
I'll also be writing to some of my favourite brands to find out what they are doing to prevent mica that could be mined by children from ending up on my face. It's not a lot to ask that I know what my hard-earned dollars are funding.
Beauty shouldn't be cruel. Let's start the conversation to make sure it isn't.
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