Along with hoops and red lipstick, glitter is the accessory you can’t go wrong with. “Why do girls always put glitter on their faces?” one anonymous submitter to the Concrete Confessions Facebook page bemoaned recently. It’s fair to say we’re obsessed with anything that glitters – you can even buy lattes with the stuff. In November, here at Venue, we encouraged readers to use glitter in your eyebrows, put it in your hair, and smear it all over your arms.
But all that glitters isn’t gold.
The plastic-free glitter in most beauty products consists of little pieces of a coloured mineral called mica. Reporters for ITV shocked the globe when they discovered six-year-old children working illegally in mines, using hammers to break large chunks of the material into smaller rocks. 60 percent of mica products are sourced from mines in India, where it is illegal for children under the age of 14 to work there.
However, children of primary school age are forced to work long hours in unregulated, dangerous condition, for low wages. The charities Terre des Hommes and SOMO estimated around 20,000 children could be working in mica mining.
Some companies, like L’Oreal have pledged to ensure they only buy products from legal mines, meaning the chance of children being involved in production is a lot slimmer than in the informal market.
However, companies have struggled to sever links with the exploitative aspects of the glitter industry entirely. Lush began the process of eliminating natural mica from their ingredients lists in 2014. Directors said they found it difficult to completely boycott the product because of how much it appeared in mixtures.
It wasn’t just that the material was part of a complex mix of other components; in 2016 Lush discovered natural mica in products they had been told did not have any in. They faced the realisation that they could not trust their present supplier.
The cosmetics company wanted to use up the rest of their stock, so as to not waste natural materials, but say as of 1 January 2018, there is no natural mica in any of their products.
An answer comes in the form of laboratory-created synthetic mica. The natural minerals of this version of glitter mean that oceans are not damaged by hostile microplastics and avoids any association with child slavery.
Other companies have pledged to stay wary of natural mica production, but admit they will not boycott the material. L’Oréal state the majority of the mica they use is sourced from the United States, but they will try to ensure the mines they use in India are ethical.
A L’Oréal spokesperson said: “We believe that discontinuing the use of Indian mica would further weaken the situation in the region. In addition, local NGOs and expert organisations are supportive of efforts made to secure the mica supply chain and thus improve the living and working conditions in the region.
“In India, mica mainly originates from socially and economically challenged regions where there is a risk of child labor, unsafe working conditions, and where the supply chain involves multiple actors.”
They estimate 99.2 percent of their mica comes from secured sources.
Jakub Sobik, a spokesman for the group Anti-Slavery International, told a journalist from the Guardian that synthetic glitter might not be the best solution after all. They said: “Not all mica companies are involved in exploiting children. People’s livelihoods depend on it as well. So you would like to see conditions improve rather than the whole industry shut down.”
Dozens of companies have signed the Responsible Mica Initiative, including Chanel and L’Oréal, which aims to educate children in mining villages of their rights. The initiative’s ultimate goal is to clean up natural mica’s supply chain.