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  • Makeup can be a tool for liberation and expression.

  • It can make us feel beautiful, but one of beauty's most popular ingredients has a dark side.

  • When children are the hidden cost in our cosmetics.

  • Who's stepping in to help them out?

  • And who's leaving them behind.

  • We're here in London on a press trip with Lush Cosmetics.

  • The British company invited us here to learn about an initiative surrounding one of the

  • most controversial ingredients going into makeup today.

  • Mica.

  • An unassuming mineral essential to modern life.

  • The property of heat and electrical resistance makes this mineral invaluable.

  • For decades it's been used in everyday products like electronics, insulation, paint, and even toothpaste.

  • But over the past few years the cosmetics industry's demand for glowing radiant shimmer

  • has exploded.

  • From the perfect, no makeup makeup gleam, to the blinding shine of a highlighter created

  • for double taps.

  • Mica is often a magic ingredient.

  • But it also has an ugly side.

  • The majority of the world's mica comes from India, where 2016 Thomson Reuters Foundation

  • investigation revealed that it was being mined by children and had a deadly cost.

  • The revelation forced the beauty industry into a moral reckoning.

  • Some companies have pledged to work with the mining communities in India to create a sustainable

  • supply chain.

  • It's a lofty goal.

  • With progress that's been slow to come by.

  • Companies like Lush that have built a brand on ethical sourcing have taken a different approach.

  • Without a transparent supply chain, it decided to pull out of natural mica altogether.

  • This glittering shimmery effect is all the synthetic mica.

  • It looks pretty but I'm about to find out that it's more complicated than appearances

  • might suggest.

  • Much as I love sparkles, I didn't want anything put into a Lush product that you

  • know could have had a death attached to it.

  • The nice thing about the synthetic mica is it has much more variety of the this sparkle

  • that you can get in the pigment.

  • So really there's no reason to have natural mica.

  • It's much more complicated in that natural mica that's a commodity which is in almost

  • any product you use.

  • You should not try to avoid mica.

  • You should make sure that the families where you buy the mica from as a company get decent

  • wages get living wages.

  • As corporations roll out initiatives with promises of positive change.

  • I'm curious to know how they're actually impacting the people and especially the children on

  • the ground.

  • Globally the mica industry is worth over half a billion dollars.

  • And India is at its center with the world's largest and highest quality reserves of mica.

  • The majority of it can be found in the country's eastern states.

  • We're leaving New Delhi and we're about to take a sleeper train to a region called Jarkan.

  • Which is where a lot of this mining is happening.

  • Jharkhand is a mining state with rich reserves of coal, copper, and of course mica.

  • Most of the nearly 33 million residents live in rural areas where illegal and unregulated

  • mica mines dominate the trade.

  • It's been this way since the 1980s when restrictive environmental laws drove the industry underground.

  • It's been a very long journey and we're trying to keep a low profile.

  • Just because this is such a sensitive subject here.

  • Now many of the mines are abandoned and scavenged, while others are run by illicit operators.

  • We're finally getting close because you can see all of the shimmer in the dirt.

  • It's the first time I've ever seen pretty dirt.

  • I met up with Rohit Gandhi our local contact who secured our access to the mine.

  • Nice to meet you.

  • Very nice to meet you as well.

  • I'm gonna keep the cars ready just in case any of these contractors who actually mined

  • with these children come around.

  • We should be ready to leave right away.

  • Why would they be mad that we're here?

  • They know it's illegal right to use children in the trade for mining then obviously they're

  • against the law.

  • Just a few steps off the road.

  • I start to see them.

  • Children.

  • Hard at work, mining for mica.

  • They sifted through up here.

  • It's all mixed with gravel, and then they'll sift it through and they'll take the mica out

  • and that then go and sell to somebody who will then you know shipped overseas.

  • Pooja Bhurla is only 11 years old and has been mining mica since she was eight.

  • How many days are you out here per week?

  • Every day?

  • Do you ever get scared when you're working in the mines?

  • Yes.

  • Where are your parents right now?

  • Jharkhand suffers from a classic case of the resource curse.

  • A phenomenon where areas with abundant resources tend to be worse off for it thanks to government

  • corruption, and commercial exploitation.

  • Despite the fact that this area is rich in mica and other minerals,

  • Jharkhand has one of the highest poverty rates in the entire country.

  • Many of these children including Pooja make less than a quarter a day.

  • But it can mean the difference between something to eat and an empty stomach.

  • What are the other children in the town doing?

  • It's been estimated that up to 20,000

  • children are working all across the region in mines just like these.

  • Seeing these mines and meeting these children it's easy to understand why Lush wouldn't

  • want anything to do with mica.

  • This is incredibly scary and I can't even believe there's kids all the way down there.

  • But it's also painfully clear that these children have no alternative.

  • Can you tell me how old you were when you first started working in the mines?

  • If you didn't have to mine, what would you be doing today?

  • Do you have any idea where the mica goes after you mine it?

  • Wait someone's...who's coming?

  • We had to take off really quickly from that mine because we heard that people were coming

  • cause they knew that we were there.

  • The mica trade here is built on a facade that it's players have a stake in maintaining.

  • Once the mica leaves the mine, it's funneled into a process that conceals the fact that

  • children ever had anything to do with it.

  • Traders pedal the mica to intermediaries who often sell it under the licence of a legal

  • mine from another part of the country.

  • By the time the mica is exported, its illicit origins have been stripped away.

  • But back in Jharkhand, it's impossible to escape the realities of the trade and the

  • risks that go along with it.

  • Cuts and broken bones.

  • Respiratory illnesses that can damage or even scar the lungs.

  • And sometimes, the unthinkable.

  • Surma Kumari and her sister Laksmi were mining one day when the tunnel they were working

  • in collapsed.

  • Can you show me where you got hurt in the accident?

  • Do you and your family still work in the mines?

  • The Kumari Family story is a common one.

  • Lakshmi's death is just one of an estimated 10 to 20 deaths that occur every month.

  • The unregulated nature of mica opens the door to dangerous work conditions and predatory pricing.

  • Families are trapped in a cycle of poverty.

  • How much would the companies that are buying the mica have to pay you to be able to send Pooja

  • to school?

  • To be able to completely change your life.

  • It really hit home.

  • For better or worse, the choices that companies and consumers make have the power to determine

  • people's lives.

  • It made me look at my beauty products in a totally new light.

  • I've pulled out some of the products that I use every single day.

  • There's mica in this.

  • First ingredient.

  • They all have mica in them.

  • There's mica in all of these products.

  • While I don't know if the mica in these products specifically came from a mine that

  • used child labor, there's no transparency in any of these supply chains involved with

  • these products.

  • These families all rely upon these mines and they've been selling mica for a long time now.

  • There has to be an ethical way to get mica out of the ground.

  • There has to be an ethical way to treat these families and it's hard not to feel responsibility.

  • I wanted to know where the Indian government was in all of this.

  • It turns out, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, or NCPCR has

  • been aware of the issue since at least 2016, when its governing ministry lodged a complaint.

  • When we reached out to them, they said they were conducting a survey to understand the

  • scope of the problem, and sent us to the ministry that oversees their work.

  • There is poverty and there is less spread of education in these interior areas and our

  • ministry is making all efforts to see that child rights are protected.

  • So we were just in Jharkhand and we saw children working in the mines that are young

  • as five or six, but your department is the one that's surveying that.

  • Is that enough that's being done?

  • Actually we are not aware of any such survey that's currently being done, as you say.

  • We have been told that this committee is doing the survey and that they're under your jurisdiction.

  • How is that

  • We have not authorized it.

  • As far as this ministry goes, the ministry of the women and child development, child

  • labor is not exactly a mandate.

  • It was alarming to realize that someone so high up at the ministry, seemingly knew so

  • little about this dire issue.

  • While solutions may be slow to come from the top, a movement on the ground is providing

  • some hope.

  • A model that's been coinedthe child friendly villageis connecting parents

  • to new income streams, so that their children don't have to work.

  • So many kids.

  • It's a concept piloted by the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation.

  • And it's working.

  • More than 3,000 children have been rescued.

  • More than three thousand children have been withdrawn from child labor.

  • And they have been enrolled in school.

  • Funding comes through government services and private business support, including beauty

  • conglomerate Estee Lauder.

  • We thought long and hard if we wanted to stay in Indian mica, if we wanted to move towards synthetic.

  • And where we ultimately landed is that it's important for us to have a stake.

  • And having a stake means we will continue to be there until this problem comes to a resolution.

  • And it has been incredibly important to us to always start these initiatives with the

  • community itself.

  • It has been a long term process.

  • And everybody has a role and responsibility to play in addressing this whole issue.

  • This gathering of child friendly villages is a showcase of what's possible when companies

  • stay invested in the communities they work with.

  • Thank you.

  • I feel very welcomed right now.

  • My name is Champa Kumari.

  • Champa.

  • Lovely to meet you.

  • Champa Kumari is part of the most important and inspiring outcomes of these child friendly

  • villages.

  • The Child Parliament.

  • At 14 years old, she's a fierce champion of illiminating child labor.

  • What would you say to some of the companies and consumers who are buying mica that come

  • from child labor.

  • What do you want to accomplish next?

  • You want to become a teacher?

  • Yeah.

  • You're a big picture thinker.

  • I like it.

  • Yeah.

  • Promising to be mica free isn't the only, or even the best, answer.

  • Mica is the lifeblood of this region, and any solution that

  • will make a real difference must acknowledge that.

  • It's empowering kids, like Pooja and Champa, that will bring change and break the cycle

  • that keeps this region and its children chained to mica.

  • Thanks for watching Refinery29.

  • For more videos like this, click here.

  • And to subscribe, click here.

Makeup can be a tool for liberation and expression.

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