The Smell of Bullshit, part 51: mica, child labour, and Lush

Another day, another email (this one addressed to my full name 😉 )

Dear southsidesocialistsexybum,

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 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, 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 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 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,

Very anonymously,

Big Girl



Thank you very much for this email, Big Girl (you are beautiful, yes you are. Your hair needs brushed though.)

This is really related to the Corporate Social Responsbility report, which pointed out that there is very little external, independent verification of the majority of Lush’s claims. This post documented concerns about their cocoa butter and palm oil. And this post is about the glitter issue Big Girl mentions.

Can we believe anything Lush tell us about their ethics and standards? I choose not to.

13 thoughts on “The Smell of Bullshit, part 51: mica, child labour, and Lush

  1. The question: “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?”

    Yep, the suppliers effectively self-certify, or at least that had been the long-running way of things when I left Lush in… erm, 2010. Occasionally someone in Buying would get a stroppy/concerned email from someone elsewhere in the company suggesting that a supplier for a proposed new ingredient might test on animals/use animal products – after said supplier had certified they didn’t. But nothing was ever done to actually *change* the way certification was done, nor were any reports and suggestions about the various ‘fair trade’ options (some of which involve quite rigorous investigations of supply lines) followed up… Ditto, whenever vegan employees brought up (as they often did) the notion that everything should be vegan, Buying was often tasked to find vegan alternatives for various things: when they found them and they cost more than the veggie items already in use, the answer to change was an always resounding NO. And so it went on…

    Anecdotal? Yes. And for all I know, things have changed dramatically since I left Lush (e.g., perhaps Creamy Candy is now vegan? Maybe Lush now checks the ethics of its suppliers in cases other than the few flagship ingredient ones where it’s involved in a ‘project’ or similar use of a specialist supplier/transparent supply chain?). But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  2. I’m a Lush minion and have been told that mica is one of the natural-origin glitters we have used to replace plastic glitters, so if we are now using a synthetic mica alternative does that mean it’s a plastic glitter again?! The quote says synthetic rather than natural origin certainly implies so. Jeez. I hate working for Lush sometimes (often)!

  3. A few weeks ago Lush received notification that they had failed a Reach European Animal Testing Audit for knowingly using ingredients that are tested on animals. These ingredients are still being tested on animals even now, but Lush have no way of getting hold of the ingredients from sources that do not test on animals so they continue to use them and just keep quiet about it. The email detailed quite a few ingredients that have been used by Lush for many years with their full knowledge that they were tested on animals.

    Their dirty little secret was safe until the other day, when a member of staff accidentally forwarded the email to a supplier instead of sending it internally to the ethics director who would most likely have swept it under the carpet as usual.

    So it’s not just customer details that get sent out in error.

    Hypocrisy is rife within Lush but this takes the whole pack of vegan bourbons. As soon as the supplier goes to the press Lush will have some very tough questions to answer.

      The above link has this to say about claiming products are not tested on animals:
      The supply of any cosmetic product in respect of which a claim that the product or its ingredients have not been tested on animals appears on the packaging or in any document, notice, label, ring or collar (EVERY BIT OF LUSH PACKAGING, LUSH TIMES, LUSH BAGS, THE ‘WE BELIEVE’ STATEMENT, PRODUCTS, T SHIRTS, EVERYTHING!) accompanying or referring to the product is only permitted if—
      (a) the manufacturers and his suppliers have not carried out any tests on the finished product, its prototype or on any of the ingredients contained in the finished product or its prototype;
      (b) the manufacturers and his suppliers have not commissioned any tests on the finished product, its prototype or on any of the ingredients contained in the finished product or its prototype;
      (c) the cosmetic product contains no ingredients which have been tested by others for the purpose of developing new cosmetic products.
      Another law break Lush. And this time it’s one your whole company’s ethos is based on. How can we believe anything you say anymore? How can the ethics director or Mark Constantine sleep at night?

      • Doesn’t lush packaging all say “against animal testing” with their own invented logo… bit different to “not tested on animals”, no? I noticed a while back that the emphasis changed. I know their articles and blurb and bags all talk about not testing, but I’m not sure if the actual product packaging still says that, or just employs the new logo…

      • PS. I also see that the same document linked above also talks about labelling regulations, interestingly the following one (which I feel lush breaks on almost every single “naked” product… when were you last given the batch code of a massage bar or bath bomb or bubble bar?) “Regulation 12
        36 The Regulations require all cosmetic products to be marked with:
        • list of ingredients paragraphs 38 – 41
        • name and address of manufacturer or supplier paragraphs 42 – 44
        • country of origin paragraph 45
        • date of minimum durability (best before date) paragraphs 46 – 48
        or a “Period After Opening” (PAO) paragraphs 49 – 53
        • warning statements and precautionary information paragraphs 54 – 56
        • batch number or lot code paragraphs 57 – 59
        • product function, when appropriate paragraph 60″

      • It says fighting animal testing but not that it doesn’t animal test. It has the boxing bunny logo that they invented to be similar to but not quite like the official one. The ‘we believe’ statement has changed aswell to reflect that they will do their best but it is much more vague than it used to be.

      • Lush have never put batch numbers on soap, ballistics, bubbles – anything ‘naked’ and this contravenes EU regulations. The block of soap that comes in fresh from the factory will have a face sticker in the box that managers can stick underneath the block of soap. This inevitably falls off or gets thrown away when the block gets small enough for it to be visible. I’ve worked in shops where all the labels were removed as it made the display look ‘messy’. So the customer buying the soap has no idea which particular batch of soap they are buying.
        Also the E U regulations state that each piece should have the batch number on it’s outer packaging as well as the ingredients etc. If you are buying soap and it’s wrapped in front of you very often the Sales Assistant will merely print off the front label with the price on to seal the greaseproof and doesn’t bother with the ingredients bit in order to save labels and electricity. However, whatever information is given, there have never been batch numbers on any ‘naked’ product as most managers wouldn’t have a clue, let alone staff.
        Ballistics and bubbles might be a bit more traceable if it’s a new box opened but in a larger shop with a quick turnover it would be virtually impossible to trace.
        In store on delivery day batches used to be written down on cards in a batching box but we were told not to bother with that any more by our manager so we just note it down on the delivery sheet. However, that only helps the manager recharge broken ones so they know which batch it’s from so they can get a refund from manufacturing. This actually does nothing to help the customer if they have a reaction to one particular batch.

  4. Not surprising at all. But a MUCH bigger issue is that of cocoa butter since they buy tonnes of the stuff. Have you noticed that they have not put any data anywhere on how much of their cocoa butter is fairtrade? They could at least be transparent about it, maybe then they wouldn’t have shops full of staff telling people it’s all fairtrade when that’s far from the truth.

  5. Pingback: The Smell of Bullshit, part 71: Mica Morals Missing | Mitherings from Morningside

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s