All That Glitters is NOT Gold:The True Cost of Pretty Pools

While researching over the course of 22 months I would quiet often pour through facebook feeds of my favourite wax groups to discover what everyone loves about their indie vendors of choice. I have no idea how many times I’ve been hypnotized by these beautiful time lapse videos of wax tarts melting into a symphony of colour and glitter. A fluid explosion of sparkle, vivid hues and fragrance to create a multi sensory experience.


What made the tarts come to life as they melted into a mini pool of beauty and glitz? Whatever it was I HAD to have it!!! Could our wax tarts be that magical? The answer took me down a rabbit hole of epic proportions as I discovered the silicate class of minerals, more specifically Mica; commonly referred to as “nature’s glitter”.


Humans have utilized Mica for centuries for its twinkle effect. It can be found in a multitude of household products, from the nail polish on your toes to the adorable Disney tumbler you acquired on your last vacation to the sparkly detail of your cars paint. Mica is the most beneficial ingredient in the cosmetics industry as everyone lives for a glow to revitalize their appearance.  In forum after forum I read that chandlers are using cosmetic grade micas in their wax tarts to replicate those explosions of colour and shimmer we see in wax pools. “Perfect”, I thought to myself... “if they are cosmetic grade they should be easy to acquire, eco/skin friendly and affordable?  Little did I know the ugly truth behind the world of “micas”.


While micas can be found globally, the largest monopoly of this natural resource is in India where they produce 60% of the global supply. More specifically concentrated in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar; located in eastern India which collectively account for approximately 25% of the planets mica production. There is nothing wrong with mica itself or mining for the mineral. The problem is both of these states are rife with poverty. According to a study conducted by the World Bank of India in 2013 as high as 36.9% of the Jharkhand population were living well below the poverty line. In times of desperation, poverty forces children to work. Greedy quarry owners dish out high interest loans to parents trying to feed their families, also known as debt bondage. The same owners are often known to inflict violence upon those who break the terms of said contracts; which in turn enslaves families for generations to come.


India’s legal age to work is 14, however children as young as five have been caught working in Mica mines, earning as little as 77 cents a day or less. They are in constant danger of mine shaft collapse, snake and scorpion bites, lacerations, concussions and chronic respiratory illnesses such as  bronchitis and asthma. Approximately 5-10 children die each month while enslaved in mica mines. India officially produces about 15,000 tonnes of crude and scrap mica annually according to the government's Bureau of Mines and admits it has a few hundred tonnes stockpiled. Yet India exported more than 130,000 tonnes - more than eight times the official production figure - in 2011-12, 1/2 of these black market mica sales were exported to China.


“At present, the majority of mica mining and trade is illegal,'' India's industry secretary A.P.Singh drily notes of the massive discrepancy.


Again I threw myself into further research, still convinced I HAD to create magical mica pools but now I was on a mission to find “ethically” sourced cosmetic grade mica. Of course there is always the synthetic alternative but we’ll cover the effects of micro glitters on an eco scale in another post. With vigorous research I discovered many suppliers use a combination of natural and synthetic micas in their  products likely for affordability. I dig deeper to figure out the most commonly used mica supplier for wax tarts here in North America and I was incredibly disheartened to say the least.


While this company claims they have a “strong commitment to social responsibilities and ethical business practices” they follow up their great intentions with “we pre-screen all of our manufacturers and suppliers and require declarations that no children are employed (monetarily or otherwise) by the company or subcontractor of that company” they go on to say that they believe these “declarations” will ensure their hands are clean of child slavery. Wishful and incredibly naive ideals considering these quarry owners have no issue with horrific human rights violations, I’m sure lying in bogus “declarations” is a cake walk.


If on a grander scale 12 out of 14 top international cosmetics companies won’t disclose where their mica comes from; likely because they have no clue. Quite often it’s sold from the quarry owners to a middle man hence the abundant black market discrepancies. This gives cosmetic companies or cosmetic grade mica suppliers the ability to not have direct contact with child slaves or the blood on their hands as they hide behind “declarations” and a veil of nonsense.


L’Oreal is a global powerhouse in the cosmetics industry. However as recently as 2014, they were purchasing mica through two separate sources Merck, a German pharmaceutical and chemical company, and Kuncai, a Chinese chemical company. Kuncai does not require their supply chain to be child labor free and Merck claimed to be doing social audits monthly. According to an article on Merck confirmed they were aware of the use of child labour despite contractual obligations from suppliers not to employ children. The company acknowledged that monitoring the supply chain was difficult adding, “especially since these areas are considered not safe.


Joanna Ewart-James, Anti-Slavery International’s Supply Chain Co-ordinator, said: “It is disappointing that Merck knew about the existence of child labour but appears to have done little to address it. This case demonstrates that contractual requirements not to use forced or child labour are insufficient and offer no guarantee that neither exists in a company’s supply chain.” (source)


Oh how badly I wanted to make Ella After Wax tarts shimmer with IG photo worthy wax pools or beautiful explosions of glitter in time lapse videos to share. These were not the simple answers I had hoped to find in my research. All that glitters is not gold and if an industry giant such as L’Oreal can’t be sure of where or how their supplies are being sources I stand no chance at ethically sourcing glitter. All hope is not lost though, as this much reminds me of a time where through education consumers demanded change when it came to testing on animals.


Since the 2014 Danwatch report which identified two of L’Oreal’s unethical suppliers of mica, they have led the industry by working with NGO’s. L'Oréal was actively involved in the Responsible Mica Sourcing Summit, organised by The Natural Resources Stewardship Circle (NRSC) and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in February 2016, and stated on its website that: "We have therefore decided to implement a sustainable procurement policy in India based on a limited number of suppliers who have committed to sourcing from legal gated mines only, where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected".


If you are committed to helping end child labour check your cosmetics for ingredients. Ask your favourite vendor of choice if they use ethically sourced mica or if they trust their source. Know the true cost of everything you purchase and consider doing your part to end this cycle.