First in a two-part sequence.

This story begins, as so many supply-chain tales do, at a mine, the start of a journey during which a commodity — mica, on this case — finds its means into a very numerous array of quotidian issues: attic insulation; brake linings; automotive paint; concrete; digital capacitors; epoxies; fertilizers; gypsum wallboard; LED lights; molded rubber; oil and gasoline drilling fluids; plastics; printing inks; roofing shingles; and toothpaste.

And someplace down that listing: cosmetics.

The mine in query — truly, hundreds of them — might be discovered within the japanese Indian province of Jharkhand, simply over 200 miles west of the cultural hub of Kolkata. Jharkhand — and Bihar, its neighbor to the north — boast one of many world’s richest veins of mica in addition to a posh ecosystem of gamers massive and small that present the shiny, shimmering rock to world markets, together with to a maverick California cosmetics firm referred to as Beautycounter.

However, because the saying goes, all that glitters will not be gold.

Mica mining has grow to be a rising drawback for the image- and brand-conscious cosmetics business. Its relentless pursuit for protected and efficient elements has animated a variety of efforts to grasp and, when needed, enhance the sourcing practices for mica and hundreds of different elements. In some circumstances, which means substituting them with new, less-problematic ones.

Procuring these elements can contain complicated provide chains, during which households, small companies and whole communities in far-flung elements of the globe develop, mine or in any other case supply uncooked supplies. From there, the supplies might wend via a maze of intermediaries: collectors; brokers; distributors; processors; and an assortment of others who in the end remodel them into no matter specs the market calls for. Alongside the way in which, supplies from one web site could also be commingled with these from others, complicating firms’ and their prospects’ efforts to grasp the place, precisely, they got here from and the circumstances below which they have been produced.

The complexity of monitoring and tracing all these elements can obscure detrimental environmental and social impacts, from air pollution to bribery to slavery. And baby labor, during which babies, typically recruited due to their means to suit into small areas, do tough, harmful work for low pay. In some circumstances, they’re the one factor standing between their households and hunger.

Which brings us again to mica.

In cosmetics, mica is usually used as a colour additive to offer the glitter and shimmer customers anticipate in such merchandise as blush, eye shadow, lipstick and basis. (The mineral’s title comes from Latin phrase micare, which implies to sparkle or pulse.) It is usually widespread in skincare merchandise, notably these marketed as brightening or illuminating, and is used as a bulking agent and to extend viscosity.

Mica flakes, picture courtesy Beautycounter

Mica is mined in additional than 35 international locations, however about 25 % of the world’s provide comes from deposits present in and round Jharkhand, in what has been dubbed the mica belt. Jharkhand can be house to the best stage of poverty in India, which has led kids to affix the labor pressure with the intention to allow their households to place meals on the desk. About 35 % of the inhabitants of Bihar and Jharkhand stay on lower than 50 cents per day, based on one report.

“The mica in India is optically very distinct,” Leonardo Bonanni, founder and CEO of New York-based Sourcemap, a supply-chain mapping software program firm, defined to me. “Folks purchase it similar to they purchase cocoa from West Africa: It has that particular profile that they are in search of. It is one of many highest high quality, if not the best high quality, on the earth.”

What’s been much less chronicled is the arduous journey firms undergo to scrub up their mica provide chain.

In recent times, the story of mica and baby labor has been well-told, because of investigative reporters, activist teams and anxious firms. What’s been much less chronicled is the arduous journey firms undergo to scrub up their mica provide chain, together with the often-grueling work it takes to hint the mineral from its supply all the way in which to merchandise, then make the mandatory adjustments to make sure it meets an organization’s moral and efficiency requirements. And to speak all this to its prospects and stakeholders in a easy, compelling and reassuring means.

In that regard, mica is only one of many commodities in company provide chains that face social and environmental challenges, to not point out byzantine routes to market, resulting in elevated scrutiny of firms, and particularly shopper manufacturers, perceived to be lower than accountable or clear. And whereas every commodity can have its personal distinctive challenges, the teachings realized in a single can inure to the advantage of others in right this moment’s interconnected enterprise world.

College of rock

The previous few years have introduced an increase in concern over baby labor in mica mining in Jharkhand. Investigators have documented kids as younger as four — some working alongside their mother and father and siblings — hammering rock from partitions in unlawful mines, then carrying heavy masses via slippery tunnels. Above floor, kids type the mica flakes from the rock and transport them to makeshift assortment services, a few of them in deserted mines. None of them attend college.

A Thomson Reuters Basis investigation in 2016 discovered kids “dying in crumbling, unlawful mica mines … however their deaths have been lined up.” A 12 months later, the Indian authorities legalized mica mining in an effort to permit the sector to be regulated, root out baby labor and guarantee higher wages and circumstances for mine staff of all ages. Little one labor, nevertheless widespread, stays unlawful, and plenty of makeshift mines are unregulated.

Youngsters working in a mine in Jharkhand, India. Picture through Danwatch.

Beauty firms, probably the most seen shopper manufacturers utilizing mica, have been below stress from advocacy teams to scrub up their mica provide chains, partially, by eliminating baby labor. Various each massive and smaller manufacturers have taken on the mica concern, some extra successfully than others. These efforts stay a piece in progress.

Solely about 18 % of mined mica goes into cosmetics. The electronics business is the most important consumer, with about 26 %, adopted intently by the paints, pigments and ink sector, at 24 %. However cosmetics, to this point, has been the sector most below scrutiny for its mica sourcing practices.

Enter Beautycounter. The 7-year-old privately held firm, primarily based in Santa Monica, California, sells 150 or so merchandise on to customers via its web site, brick-and-mortar shops and greater than 50,000 unbiased consultants. Its founder, advertising govt Gregg Renfrew, constructed the corporate round an ethos of “clear” and protected cosmetics by scrutinizing even probably the most generally used elements.

“We’re targeted on security for human well being. At the start, that is our main platform,” Renfrew informed me throughout an on-stage interview in 2019. The corporate has banned greater than 1,800 elements from its formulations on account of well being and security considerations.

About three years in the past, Beautycounter’s considerations started to broaden to incorporate the well-being of these in its provide chains. It got down to attempt to change the sourcing strategies for 3 elements it felt have been notably problematic: palm oil; vanilla; and mica.

Again to the supply

To start, the corporate wanted to grasp the provenance of its mica: the place it got here from and the assorted events who touched it, each actually and figuratively, on its approach to being included into Beautycounter merchandise. That turned out to be no small feat.

“Traceability is the important thing to reveal secrets and techniques and just be sure you can truly perceive how persons are handled once they’re mining or farming the elements that you simply use,” Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s senior vice chairman of social mission, defined to me just lately. “And whereas we commend the work that has occurred by a few of the different conventional magnificence gamers, we truly did not see anybody that was taking what we felt was an enough dive to essentially perceive methods to hint the mica provide chain.”

Dahl and her group started to audit their suppliers and realized “simply how little has been carried out to grasp the place and the way mica is sourced and in the end results in merchandise.”

Dahl and her group realized simply how little has been carried out to grasp the place and the way mica is sourced and in the end results in merchandise.

One comparatively simple choice may have been to make use of solely mica mined in america, which boasts excessive environmental and social requirements, at the least in comparison with these in India, Madagascar and different locations that mine mica. 

For instance, German chemical firm BASF operates an open-pit mica mine in Hartwell, Georgia, that it says meets its excessive requirements and has no baby labor. The Hartwell mine is the biggest supply of mica to Beautycounter.

Nevertheless it isn’t that easy. A few of that has to do with the character of the mineral itself.

Mica is the title for 3 dozen or so phyllosilicate supplies whose crystalline construction might be break up or delaminated into skinny sheets or flakes. Several types of mica are used for various functions, relying on whether or not the necessity is for a fabric to be elastic, versatile, hydrophilic, insulating, light-weight, reflective, refractive or opaque, amongst a number of different qualities. Figuring out the specified attributes for a given product might be difficult.

For instance, when utilized in eyeshadow and blush, the character and high quality of the mica can decide how lengthy it stays on one’s pores and skin. Within the case of a tinted moisturizer, one in all Beautycounter’s most distinguished merchandise, the corporate tried sourcing home mica, “and it simply made folks’s faces look tremendous shiny,” Dahl mentioned.

One other workaround can be artificial mica, made in a lab, which is claimed to be brighter and extra uniform in colour and end. A number of beauty manufacturers, reminiscent of Aether Magnificence, Jane Iredale and Lush, boast that their use of manufactured mica eliminates baby labor issues. It’s not a assure: In 2016, Lush found pure mica in a spread of mica pigments it had been informed have been artificial.

(It may be equally difficult for customers. Mined mica could also be listed on a product ingredient listing as mica, muscovite, potassium aluminum silicate or by its chemical title, CI 77019, whereas the lab-made model might present up as artificial mica or artificial fluorphlogopite.)

Beautycounter makes use of domestically mined mica at any time when attainable. “That is truly how we begin our product improvement course of,” Dahl defined. “And if that mica does not carry out, then we go to our different vetted suppliers.”

In a lot of these different circumstances, mica sourced from Jharkhand is the way in which to go.

Dialing for particulars

In 2018, Dahl and her group got down to perceive its mica provide chain, together with how a lot verifiable data was obtainable about working circumstances and baby labor. All of its mica suppliers have been in a position to produce third-party certification testifying to moral labor practices, but it surely was unclear what, if something, was behind these certificates.

Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s senior vice chairman of social mission.

“It was clear instantly if a provider even knew the place their product was coming from and the place it was sourced, as a result of there have been so many middlemen,” Dahl defined. “And in case you do not even know the place your product is sourced, how are you going to truly hand us a certificates that claims, ‘We really feel assured’?”

That 12 months, Sasha Calder, Beautycounter’s sustainability director, started asking onerous questions on baby labor in a sequence of telephone audits.

“For some suppliers, there are such a lot of middlepeople that we nonetheless do not know,” Calder informed me. “And for these suppliers, we’re not working with them as a result of they did not have that traceability from the mine all the way in which to our formulation.” In some circumstances, mica went via “at the least 10 completely different layers and ranges of suppliers,” she mentioned.

“That very preliminary step was the actual wake-up name that pushed us into motion to say, ‘It is time for us to take a deep dive,’” Dahl mentioned.

One objective of the phone-audit train, Calder mentioned, was to find out “if our companions or suppliers have been keen to have us on the bottom to see whether or not what they have been sharing on the telephone was official.”

Briefly order, it was time to go.

On the bottom

Calder ventured to Jharkhand in January 2019 to see what she may find out about which suppliers have been in compliance with Beautycounter’s human rights and security requirements. “We discovered that the mica business was way more difficult than something we thought,” she mentioned. “All of our analysis didn’t put together us for the complexities on the bottom.” Her expertise there didn’t encourage confidence.

Beautycounter sustainability director Sasha Calder in Jharkhand.

Calder returned house with suggestions for which suppliers have been keen to uphold requirements and which weren’t, and the place and the way the corporate wanted to reformulate elements from some suppliers or, with others, put in place a set of initiatives to be compliant with each worldwide regulation and Beautycounter’s personal requirements.

For the following a number of months, Calder and her colleagues labored intently with suppliers to implement these plans. In some circumstances, suppliers unwilling to make the mandatory adjustments have been summarily dropped.

High-down, bottom-up

Calder returned to Jharkhand in November 2019 to see how issues have been going. This time, she invited Leo Bonanni from Sourcemap to affix her. Bonanni isn’t any stranger to this sort of train, having investigated espresso and cocoa provide chains from Mexico to Madagascar and all through West Africa.

“Mica runs into the identical issues as cocoa within the sense that numerous it’s casual, numerous households extracting mica for their very own subsistence,” Bonanni defined to me. “It is a money product. You’ll be able to’t eat it, you may’t put on it, so it must be traded. And which means there are numerous vulnerabilities. The individuals who mine mica could be getting very low costs in comparison with what it goes for available on the market.”

With cocoa, Sourcemap retains tabs on a half 1,000,000 smallholder farmers in West Africa, the place baby labor is widespread. In Jharkhand, Bonnani noticed, “You’ve gotten an identical drawback — a whole lot of hundreds of artisanal miners of mica. Little one labor and malnutrition are endemic. On the similar time, these enormous multinational manufacturers and even the merchants are totally conscious that they are sourcing from these locations, however they lack that accountability to the ‘first mile,’ as we name it.”

Why do not we apply these classes from cocoa, which isn’t a straightforward provide chain to hint and monitor, to mica?

Bonnani thought: “Why do not we apply these classes from cocoa, which isn’t a straightforward provide chain to hint and monitor, to mica?”

In tracing provide chains to make sure moral practices, Sourcemap works in each a top-down and bottom-up style. The highest-down half is one thing it calls supply-chain discovery — basically beginning with the model to search out out what it is aware of about its suppliers, and its suppliers’ suppliers, the sort of train during which Beautycounter already had engaged. “It is a cascading course of that enables a model, regardless of the place it’s on the earth, to search out out the place their uncooked supplies are sourced,” Bonnani defined.

The underside-up half is on the bottom, as Bonnani did in touring with Beautycounter to Jharkhand, “Going there and making an attempt to determine what mechanisms can we placed on the bottom to really make that provide chain seen, make it clear,” he mentioned.

Bonnani rapidly decided that, whereas mica mining in India shared some qualities with cocoa farming in Madagascar, it lacked some qualities of the cocoa world. 

For instance, he informed me, “Within the cocoa business, there’s been rising assist from all of the stakeholders, together with even the native governments, to place in place traceability and to account for dangers of kid labor. In mica, we’re nonetheless lacking lots of the key gamers on the desk — principally the folks we would wish to place stress on the producers in order that they should grow to be clear about the place they really supply the mineral.

“There’s an enormous black gap that consists of a complete sequence of native warehouses and processors. And that is the place we lose visibility between the mine and the exporter.”

Fanny Frémont agrees. The manager director of the Accountable Mica Initiative, she has been engaged on behalf of her group’s 60 member firms, together with cosmetics and private care manufacturers reminiscent of Burt’s Bees, Chanel, Clarins, Coty, L’Oréal, LVMH, Sephora, Shiseido and The Physique Store. Its membership additionally consists of automakers, pigment firms, chemical firms, prescribed drugs and different mica producers and customers. (Beautycounter will not be a member.)

The group has been working since its founding in 2017 to assist firms throughout a spread of industries clear up their mica provide chains. The group and its members have got down to map the flows of mica, beginning on the mines. “Every member’s supply-chain participant should then undertake office setting, well being, security and truthful labor practices that embrace a prohibition on the usage of baby labor,” based on its web site.

The Paris-based group tracks 57 % of the mica exports from India, based on Frémont, and has been working with the Jharkhand authorities to implement current laws and enact new ones. However Frémont informed me that the mica initiative doesn’t plan to require traceability by its members.

That’s a blind spot, Bonnani mentioned. “Till we’ve got traceability, we cannot have the ability to account for any of the dangers within the mica provide chain, not to mention baby labor, one of many greatest ones.”

Subsequent: How remodeling the mica provide chain transforms lives

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