Skip to main content

The Problem with Mica

Mica is an ingredient used widely in the cosmetics industry. We look at which companies are using illegally sourced Mica in their Make Up.   

Mica is the name of a naturally occurring group of silicate minerals. It is derived from the Latin word micare which means to shine, to flash or to glitter. Mica is used throughout the cosmetics and personal care industry, as well as in paints for cars.

In February 2017 an ITV investigation found the use of child labour in India to source mica. However, this isn't the first time the mica industry has been plagued by child labour abuses.  

In 2016, Dutch NGO SOMO and Terre des Hommes Netherlands released a new report which confirmed findings of up to 20,000 child labourers being involved in the mining of the mineral along the border between Jharkhand and Bihar in North East India. It is estimated that 25% of the world production of mica is sourced from these illegal mines.

According to Terre des Hommes (TDH) Netherlands:

The work is exhausting, hazardous and jeopardising their health. Moreover, those children cannot attend school and will therefore be trapped in a vicious cycle of exploitation. Children and adults working in illegal mines, can only earn 45 percent of the average salary in a legal mine, while legal mines only contribute to a small part in the total volume of mica exported.

While the report questioned several large Dutch companies, including Unilever, about their mica supply chains, it found that, for the majority of mica imported from Jharkhand/Bihar, no due diligence had been conducted either by the pigment producers or the exporters. The report called on companies to conduct due diligence of their supply chains and to work collaboratively with other companies on the issue.

Image: Mica in Make Up


In February 2017, TDH announced that a new multi-stakeholder body had been established, with 21 actors across industries and NGOs teaming up to form the Responsible Mica Initiative. The initiative is aiming to eradicate child labour and unacceptable working conditions in the Indian mica supply chain within five years

Sander Hanenberg, manager of the mica programme of TDH is optimistic:

It’s energising to see so many important players such as L’Oréal, Merck and Kuncai together and showing their commitment to eradicate child labour. Most of them were more or less working on the theme, but our research demonstrated the urgency to speed up the process. We will contribute with our expertise and help companies and governments to have the Indian mica supply chain responsible in five years. This will make a major difference to thousands of children.

The Responsible Mica Sourcing Initiative

The initiative has three objectives:

  • Implement fair and sustainable mica collection, processing and sourcing practices and improve traceability along the Indian mica supply chain.
  • Empower local communities to ensure long lasting change.
  • Work together with the Indian government and local authorities to build a legal framework and liveable environment for Indian mica communities.

In our cosmetics guide the following companies are involved in the Responsible Mica Initiative: L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, Coty, Clarins and Revlon.

What the companies said

Ethical Consumer looked at all the brands’ websites included in the make-up guide and found that all companies were using mica in their products – mostly it was being used in eyeshadows.

Only Green People specifically stated that it did not use mica from India and instead bought it from Malaysia.

Odylique stated that its mica was “ecologically and ethically obtained according to organic standards.”

Lush has been quoted in a few press stories discussing the mica issue. Simon Constantine said he knew something was amiss when armed guards were needed to accompany auditors to one Indian mine supplying their mica.

Lush said it didn’t have “the purchasing power or local knowledge” to stay and make a difference so, in 2014, it committed to remove all traces of natural mica from its products. It did this by switching to synthetic mica, but later found that this also had traces of natural mica in it.

“We had no idea just how difficult it would be,” said Stephanie Boyd, the company’s PR manager.

L’Oréal was the only mainstream company to have a policy on its website. It has decided to work with a limited number of suppliers in India who have committed to:

Sourcing from legal gated mines only, where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected. They also have to conduct independent audits to ensure such commitments are respected and invest in community-building activities in the areas where they operate to address underlying causes. Thanks to this strategy, 97% of our mica comes from secured sources today and, by the end of 2016, 100% will be secured from completely verified sources.

Subscription Products

Become a subscriber today

Ethics made easy - comprehensive, simple to use, transparent and reliable ethical rankings. A wealth of data at your fingertips.

From only £29.95 for 12 months web access and the print magazine. Cancel via phone or email within 30 days for a full, no-questions-asked refund!

Start your subscription - find out more