Mica is sparkly, shimmery, radiant, and it’s a naturally occurring mineral that is ground down to form a lustrous powder. Mica and glitter make us feel beautiful. It makes us feel empowered. However, knowing the truth about where it comes from is more powerful than anything.
Some companies have pledged to work with mining companies to help create an ethical supply chain, but many companies have failed to do so. Failing to manage an ethical supply chain or to offer support to regions where mica miners live is not a question of multi-billion-dollar industries’ capabilities, it’s just a question of their interest. Since the source of mica is very hard to trace, it would require effort on their part. Traders pedal mica to intermediaries, and this allows them to conceal how the mica was a result of child labor or grotesque labor conditions.
Every year, suppliers in the U.S. profit from the labor of over 10 million working children.
These children are working in illegal industries, and therefore, it’s very hard to implement child labor laws and employment laws that deal with things like working conditions in this industry. Many mica industries are underground. For example, today, 70% of India’s mica is illegally mined, and there are 20,000 children across Jharkand state putting it into our pallets.
Many people believe children working in mines to be the fault of their parents rather than the industry, but oftentimes, mica mining is the only source of income supporting the family. The parents are faced with having their children mine mica or starve. Furthermore, they receive little help from the State in regards to education, job security, and food. So, paying for their kids to study is often out of the question.
And so – digging is survival. In the end, each kilo of mica sells for 10 US cents, and on a good day, a large family digging together can earn 2 US dollars per day. However, even this price has gone down since lockdown. Give these conditions, some may think - “well, why don’t they just move to the city or move somewhere else?”
There are no options like this. Moving is a privilege.
Many families have weekly expenses of about $34 USD, but barely earn $13 a week. On top of that, many have to pay bribes to law enforcement in order to keep working in an illegal industry. Moreover, families frequently have to pay off loans taken to cover costs for their children or just for basic needs. They can’t access the bank system, and they run into loan sharks who will offer loans at a sky high interest rate. Thus, the family becomes trapped in an endless world of mica mining and bonded labor.
This bonded labor offers them no security since there’s no telling how much mica they might get. Therefore, they can’t even budget. And while there’s a high amount of financial risk, they also risk their lives. If one person makes a mistake within the mines, many could die. The mica mines are deep, dark, and steep, burrowing holes. First of all, to even work in a mine like this, you need a helmet, a pickax, and metal shoes at the bare minimum.
The miners and their children arrive to work with flip-flops, their hands, knowledge of the terrain, and scarves to keep from breathing in the mica which can cause little cuts in the lungs. This is what they are equipped with to help and guide them. The contractors are not held accountable for these working conditions because they flee the scene when someone dies or gets hurt. They don’t report it either.
So, while little is known about all of this, what can we truly do to make a change? Yes, there are options like synthetic mica which is created more sanitarily in a lab and has a better finish. But then, we also have to think about removing this source of income from the families. What can we do?
We can start by creating awareness and utilizing social media to share where mica truly comes from. As consumers, we can apply pressure and obligate brands to monitor and maintain ethical supply chains through writing in, and Instagram, a tweet, or even just a simple share. If these brands don’t prioritize monitoring supply chains, we shouldn’t buy it as often. Not buying something as often seems like “slacktivism” in comparison to boycotting. But, even on the margin, companies don’t want to lose money, and opting for just 2 synthetic mica palettes out of 5 can be powerful. It all starts with a change in demand. Because once this happens, there’s a definite chance to change supply. And in this case, how it’s sourced.