I would like to talk to you about mica. Not the cheeky singer-songwriter who thinks big girl, you are beautiful (gee, thanks MIKA) but the sparkly, dusty stuff used in cosmetics.
After many years of Lush fandom (which has now also turned to sparkly dust) Lush news stories always catch my eye. A couple of weeks ago I noticed these two articles in The Guardian. They are lacking the standard issue antique photograph of Mark Constantine in a flowery shirt, by a mountain of soap of his own making, but you can’t have everything (as any ex-Lush fan knows).
The first http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/india-child-labour-mica-mineral-cosmetics discusses the growing market for the use of mica in cosmetics. The main supply comes from India, where the industry is largely unregulated and relies heavily on forced child labour.
In the second story, http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/lush-removes-mica-child-labour The Guardian have approached Lush, as part of an investigation into whether cosmetics manufacturers are using an ethical mica supply chain. As a result, Lush have committed to removing mica from their products and finding a suitable alternative instead. Hooray for Lush! etc etc
Lush always make a song and dance about their ethical buying. You can find them on their website (ok, find is an exaggeration but it’s on there somewhere) waxing lyrical about their Fair Trade vanilla absolute and claiming that ‘In the Lush Buying team we look for suppliers who are honest, transparent and hard working.’ It makes a nice, sexy story for the website and the Lush Times/Fresh Matters/whatever-it’ll-be-next-time with happy, glossy pictures of a happy Lush buyer with happy local faces, all so happy to be doing business.
But what about the ingredients which don’t come with a shiny story? Going back to the first article in The Guardian
‘According to the Australian newspaper The Age,child labour is endemic in India’s mica mining business and 86% of the country’s mica exports in 2010-2011 were unregulated.
Presented with this evidence, British cosmetic brand Lush, which uses mica from India in its handmade products, was shocked.’
Got that? Shocked. A word which suggests a certain element of surprise. But it goes on –
‘ “That’s appalling,” says co-founder Rowena Bird. “I became aware of this issue a few years ago’
Years ago? How can you be shocked about something you already knew? It’s yet another issue Lush have been aware of for years and failed to address. Meanwhile, according to this article http://www.smh.com.au/world/the-grind-and-grief-behind-the-glitter-20140118-311f8.html#ixzz2xoRj4uSREstee Lauder have been working in partnership with a local NGO to promote access to education as an approach to work towards the elimination of child labour in mica-sourcing communities, since 2006.
Even L’Oreal, who are hardly a yardstick for ethical cosmetic production, have been trying to clean up their act. According to this article http://www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com/Formulation-Science/Mica-and-child-labour-in-focus-due-to-Lush-s-latest-stand L’Oreal became aware of the possibility of child labour being involved in the production of mica in 2009 and have been working to eliminate it since.
If ethical buying is so high on the Lush agenda, why are they so behind the times? What have they been doing while other companies have been working to address this issue? Back in The Guardian we find Mark explaining that Lush
‘would usually request spot checks on its suppliers to be assured about local practice, but the area in which mica is mined is too dangerous for visitors to arrive unaccompanied. This means that Lush is unable independently to guarantee that child labour is not used on the sites that supply the mineral to the store.’
Rowena goes on to explain ‘we require our suppliers to issue a certificate declaring that its mica production is free of forced labour of all kinds. Of course, such declarations are based on trust’
So, having known for years about the use of forced child labour in the production of an ingredient, in an area which is too dangerous for people to visit, Lush’s response was to ask the suppliers to self-certificate? No flaw in that plan.
Mark admits he has known about this issue for years, too. ‘Constantine said concerns had first been raised some years ago, but Lush had thought assurances by audit would be enough. It has now reconsidered its policy in the light of recent concerns.
“It made us all run around and ask, what are we going to do then? Why are we using it?” he said. Lush has not set a date by which the mineral will be eliminated from all its product lines, but is already using synthetic replacements where possible.
“We have been moving across to synthetic mica on things like the bath bombs. Really, we would like to be able to get a mica that was mined correctly. At some stage, the whole industry should take responsibility for that.”
How can ‘assurances by audit’ be enough for Mark, when, by his own admission, nobody is able to carry out any kind of audit?
Notice also, that they are unwilling to set a date. Lush say they are going to eliminate mica from their products, but not when. Will it take them as long as it took them to replace the non-biodegradable glitter? Lush didn’t just remove those tonnes of ocean unfriendly glitter, they waited years, until they found a substitute – meaning that in the meantime, they could continue to enjoy their sparkly profits.
Of course, it’s great that Lush have responded to this issue with a pledge to sort the problem out. If they’ve known for years though, why does it take a public kick up the bum from a newspaper to provide the motivation to deal with it? Ten year old children, working in illegal mines, in dangerous conditions isn’t enough of a wake-up call, you need a newspaper breathing down your neck?
How do Lush audit their supply chain to make sure that the ingredients they buy are ethical? If their idea of auditing is to ask people to send in a certificate, how can any customer be sure that the ingredients used are ethical? I am left wondering how they audit the animal testing side of things – do they actually check or do their suppliers just send in a certificate for that, too?
Yours, glittering with the blood of a thousand tiny children,
Can we believe anything Lush tell us about their ethics and standards? I choose not to.