Beauty is the Beast

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Cosmetics. Is it a girl’s or boy’s best friend? Is it a great form of releasing innate artistry? Does it boost your self-esteem? Does it help you break gender and sexual boundaries in a bigoted and prejudiced society? Whatever be the case, it seems as if the appreciation for make-up and cosmetics have been on an incline recently, whether it is subjugated to both men and women or members of the trans community. It is great to see people invest their time in identifying their gender roles and update the personal pronouns they wish to be labelled by. Trust me, the 21st Century denizen is all for you! And sure, if make-up aids you in addressing your gender in a more idiosyncratic or fashionable manner or if it simply helps you channel your inner Picasso on a facial canvas, you’re on a good track of identifying Gen-Z ideals that push this world forward into developing a clearer perspective on personal freedom and breaking “the mold” of gender disparity.

But at what cost do we cry for this freedom. Do cosmetics really hold great value to our existence even if it’s at the cost of someone’s life? We cry out loud at the disdain shown towards animals by cosmetic brands and cosmetic scientists. Testing harsh substances to see epidermal reactions and grading their ability to cause abrasions have made us as consumers choose “cruelty-free” products. The very act of animal testing indisputably raises a lot of contempt towards those who conduct and uphold this operation. Almost 90% of sovereign states have not implemented a ban on animal testing. Whilst various bills have been introduced in most countries to curb this procedure, they haven’t been passed in any of their respective parliaments to this day. It’s evident that the remaining 10% of those sovereign states have completely banned cosmetic testing on animals and some have also disallowed the import and use of animal-tested products.

One such country is India. 2014 was monumental when it came to implementing a complete and total suppression on animal-tested cosmetics. Early 2014 witnessed a total ban on animal testing and by the end of the year, the country even banned the import of animal-tested cosmetic products. A landmark ruling when you think about it. Some developed countries have come close to adjudicating such concerns but bills that catered towards the humane treatment of animals (with regard to cosmetic testing) have not been passed, moreover countries like Canada maintain high levels of secrecy much like most Asian countries (Japan and China predominantly) when it comes to cosmetic testing on animals. For a country as forward and economically evolved as the US, cosmetics account for 0.22% of their GDP (as of 2019) and the most dominating of these brands are L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, which heavily rely on the need for cosmetic testing on animals. Lately, as of 2018, the state of California has banned the sale of animal-tested cosmetic goods: inconsequently however animal testing still functions all throughout the United States as well as the majority of the First World and the Eastern Bloc.

What is discouraging is that another evil of the cosmetics industry has still not struck the eye of the conventional cosmetic consumer. Mica. Mica minerals, due to their lustrous quality and flaky elasticity, contribute to most cosmetic accessories, both glimmering and matte categories. They are added in foundations, primers, eye-shadows kits, bronzers, colored mascara and eyeliners as well as nail polish. It goes without saying that Mica adds a real aesthetic touch to cosmetics and in turn transforms cosmetic users into a hackneyed Snapchat filtered version of themselves. What is oblivious to us is the harsh reality that goes behind sourcing Mica and the pain and suffering endured by child laborers. Bring in India, the country that made headlines for banishing animal-testing for cosmetics, has the highest number of child laborers in the world mining for Mica. The state of Jharkhand and parts of Bihar house some 22,000 child laborers who toil for hours on end to earn an approximate of 20-30 INR (i.e., $0.40 USD) as a daily wage. Everyone in the supply chain financially benefits from obscuring the origin of the Mica through this complicated turn of hands, because it keeps costs low by allowing exporters to exploit the people mining it. 

The corporations take advantage of the vulnerability that clings onto villagers who thrive under the BPL (Below Poverty Line) benchmark, they target women and children, who possess nimble bodies and short frames consequently making it easier for them to navigate mines. The fragility of Mica and the gangue that encompasses the mineshaft insinuates a whole new problem of mine collapses. The events that are carried out in these disasters have stolen the innocent future of their victims and marred their families beyond hope. Collapsing mines cause injuries which in grave conditions are fatal, and inhaling Mica dust can cause infections and permanent damages to the lungs. While we let this sink in, suppliers in charge of sourcing Mica remunerate families a mere sum of $440 USD as a return in such an event where the death of a child miner takes place. The tragedy in this sequence is how fatalities and pain rule their world and the injuries they sustain relieves us from all culpability, rather in its place a morbid sense of remorse takes over. 

As a socially or morally responsible consumer, are you apprised of the raw materials that the final product comprises? Are you aware of the modus operandi that are used by suppliers and cosmetic corporations to retrieve the raw materials? Well, the forthright answer is that most consumers are indifferent and uninformed of these specifics; either that or human morale has gone to the dogs, and social ethics and utilitarianism have been nullified by the customer. But it isn’t entirely your fault, most cosmetics companies declined to comment on how they guarantee where in India their Mica comes from and how they obtain it.

But if you question the hoarding and disturbingly cloying value of makeup for personal use, a majority of users feel that those specific materials and substances assist in diminishing the appearance of a variety of skin blemishes which otherwise raise personal insecurities. No make-up causes individuals to be stereotyped as aesthetically displeasing and unattractive at times, and this social construct of “cosmetics enhancing beauty” has become a necessity. But it is also cruel to ignore the nature of backhanded compliments and the blatantly sardonic (or if you’re looking for a more flagrant term)  vile and dense commentary that our cosmetic partisans receive as a result of their “magnanimous” support for maquillage. This puts the makeup consumer in two minds, whether they purchase this commodity in copious amounts or they sit still and concede to the verbal assault, dropping the entire shtick. In this day and time, the latter is rarely the case, but  this vague probability shouldn’t insinuate that I support the abuse that cosmetic artists and users tolerate. In fact, the slurry of negativity creates a more toxic and self-absorbing environment that is currently the last thing we need.

But in this modern era, even rational consumerism doesn’t solve the horde of problems that plague the world of capitalist productivity, rather the real change lies in ethical consumerism, where as a buyer it is your moral duty and obligation to question and analyze every component and practice that is used in product manufacture, supply and waste management. The conglomerates were indifferent about where their sourcing concerns may take action, but suppliers still need a surplus influx of capital due to pure personal greed. The sad truth is, despite possessing third-party certification companies, the supply chains around Mica simply aren’t advanced enough for anyone to ensure that children are not working, mostly because these invigilators suffer from corruption, and there are issues throughout the verification processes. Finally, the consumer acquires what he or she wants without the slightest of inhibitions.

Nowadays there are a few initiatives that are brought about to help combat this iniquitous system. Although  there is no international standard to identify ethical mining for Mica, certain cosmetic companies are sourcing “ethically mined Mica” which ensures traceability and transparency of the whole supply chain. The extent of this guarantee however remains uncertain. Brands such as L’Oréal have made specific claims stating they only purchase Mica from suppliers who use independently verified, child-free gated mines to retrieve raw material.

Experts with representatives in India, specifically around Jharkhand and Bihar  remind us that it’s still too early for any guarantees. Terre des Hommes (an international children’s rights humanitarian organization) says that Mica collected by children is easily and often sold to foreign establishments under the license of a legal mine; traders naturally rely on mendacity to make the sale. The majority of Mica mining takes place in Jharkhand and Bihar, but there are hardly any legal mines in these states, so the Mica coming from there is exported using the licenses of legal mines in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. 

Organizations like the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) are working to create “child-friendly” villages that turn children into their own activists by giving them a voice. These efforts earned Kailash Satyarthi the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. His foundations have freed over 3,000 children from Mica mines. Surprisingly, Estée Lauder Companies decided not to pull out of India when it learned of its connection to child labor practices back in 2005. Instead, it joined the BBA organization on the ground to help create change from within.

Many brands have recognized the complex, deep-seated reliance the industry has created in these communities and have joined working groups in an effort to band together for change, but progress has been slow. One such group is the Responsible Mica Initiative, or RMI, a cross-industry “do tank” that was started in 2017 to create an ethical, transparent supply chain  by 2022. Cosmetic conglomerates like L’Oréal, Estée Lauder Companies, LVMH, Coty, Chanel, and Shiseido have all joined RMI in their fight to disband and demolish this practice. But what is the guarantee we have that these practices may end soon? That depends entirely on the consumer. Irrespective of purchasing a standard product at a low rate to an ethically sourced product at an expensive rate, it is basically that price difference that you are setting on a child’s life that defines your belief in abolishing this system.

To sum it all up, maybe it’s time we get past our cynical versions and start asserting a little scrutiny on our tangible and aesthetic desires and materialistic cravings, because while you want an eyeshadow palette, a kid in rural India just wants to go to school. Amen.

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