There’s one beauty secret that’s managed to stay a secret for decades, and it’s not the key to the perfect winged liner or a trick for crease-free foundation. It’s the fact that much of the mica in cosmetics — you know, the natural substance that makes for shimmery shadows and blinding highlighters — is a product of child labor. In 2019, in-depth reporting from NBC, Refinery29, and others exposed the realities of mica mining in Madagascar and India; and on Feb. 5, Beautycounter enters the conversation with its new documentary, Transparency: The Truth About Mica.
The film explores “the work we have done to have a completely traceable supply chain,” a representative for Beautycounter tells The Zoe Report. That means tracking the controversial ingredient from the source to the manufacturer, then to the lab, and finally, to the beauty brand — and it’s virtually unprecedented in the industry.
Transparency begins in Hartwell, Georgia, the location of Beautycounter's preferred mica supplier. (Since the source is domestic, “we’ve literally gone into their mines to trace our mica through to the manufacturing stages,” according to the brand's blog.) But to meet product demand, Beautycounter often has to look to global sources, as well — including mines in Japan, Brazil, and India — which are significantly more difficult (and expensive) to audit. Of course, Beautycounter and most other reputable beauty brands will ask suppliers for certificates that ensure materials aren’t obtained via child labor, but as the documentary shows, certificates aren’t always a guarantee.
Over the past year, the clean cosmetics company has audited 100 percent of its mica suppliers by phone. It's also enlisted a third-party auditing firm to help conduct on-the-ground investigations of all its affiliated mica mines, many of which are featured in the film. “By the end of 2020, we will have conducted third-party traceability audits of all of our mica mine locations — a radical step towards transparency in the beauty industry,” Beautycounter adds. “We can’t do this alone, so we sought out two partnerships as we dove even deeper into our mica supply chain.”
The first is with Nobel-Prize-winning Kailash Satyarthi of the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. Together with the KSCF, Beautycounter aims to implement a program to support the local community of Jharkhand, India, a region notorious for its mica mines. The goal is not to obliterate the mining industry — it’s a much-needed source of income in poorer regions of India, Africa, and Brazil — but to encourage structural change that eliminates the use of child labor, forced labor, and wage theft.
The second partnership is with Sourcemap, “a technology platform founded at MIT to map the entire supply chain, to give us fuller visibility as to where mica is sourced in real-time,” Beautycounter says. “Later this year, we will have the technology on our website to show you where exactly the mica in our products was sourced.” The technology will also be available to the public as a toolkit, making it easier for other cosmetic companies to validate their supply chains, as well.
Watching Transparency — seeing the reality of “someone’s daughter, 4-years-old, pulling mica out of a mine, in the dark, scared to death,” as Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew puts it in the film — is jarring; especially considering these conditions are created, in part, by a demand for shimmery eyeshadow.
What can you do about it, as a consumer? First, ask elected officials to stop the importation of products produced by child labor by texting MICA to 52886. Then, demand traceable supply chains and full transparency from your favorite beauty brands. Beautycounter’s new technology proves it’s possible.