Photos by Joep Jacobs and Boudewijn Bollmann
Make Up, Made Of
Matteo Dal Lago
The most common component of sand is silicon dioxide in the form of quartz. The Earth’s land masses are made up of rocks and minerals, including quartz, feldspar and mica. Mica, one of the least discussed minerals. It is named after its ability to reflect and refract light (Latin micare), and this property makes it one of the most popular mineral ingredients used in cosmetic products.
India is unequivocally the biggest supplier of natural mica, of which 75 percent is extracted in the so-called mica belt that straddles the eastern states of Bihar and Jharkhand, where adults and children engage in small scale illegal mining activities in hundreds of villages, earning a very low income. In its report from February 2020, Danwatch, an independent media and research centre specialized in investigative journalism on global issues, reported that workers illegally collecting mica in Jharkhand and Bihar earned between INR100 (equivalent to about €1.20) and INR150 (equivalent to about €1.75) per person a day.
India’s mica exports have been growing steadily over the past 10 years. China imports most of India’s mica, followed by Japan, Belgium and the U.S. The region Jharkhand/ Bihar represents the world’s largest mica mining area, covering an estimated 25 per cent of the world’s demand. A possible alternative to natural mica is synthetic mica. Produced in laboratories, synthetic mica offers the same properties as natural mica. Nevertheless, natural mica accounts for 90 per cent of the market. The biggest controversy connected to the supply chain of mica lies within the mines. There are no controlling mechanisms or supervising authorities in place which incentivise the adoption of workplace and labour standards or to prevent illegally mined mica from entering the global supply chain.
Interviews: Olivier Dubordieu, Mica Initiative; Marius Münstermann, investigative journalist; Irene Schipper and Sanne van der Wal, researchers at SOMO, Center for Research on Multinational Corporations; Karin van der Staaij, business development manager at LKAB Minerals
Video Editor: Dimitry Suzana
Supporting Designer: Fleur Chiarito
Read an interview with Matteo Dal Lago on The Shadowy Origins of Sparkling Mica Link
Al Jazeera English, “Behind the Glitter: Mica and Child Mining in India,” YouTube, June 12, 2020. Link
Albert ten Kate et al., Beauty and a Beast (Amsterdam: Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), 2016). Link
Beautycounter, Transparency: The Truth About Mica," YouTube, February 5, 2020. Link
bmcmetals, "Mica Processing," YouTube, December 13, 2012. Link
EWG's Skin Deep, "Mica," Environmental Working Group, 2014. Link
Irene Schipper and Roberta Cowan, Global Mica Mining (Amsterdam: Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), 2018). Link
Lisa Cavazuti et al., “‘Zone Rouge’: An army of children toils in African mines,” NBC News, November 18, 2019. Link
Lisa Niven-Phillips, “Skincare Alphabet: M Is For Mica,” Vogue, August 1, 2016. Link
Marius Munstermann and Christian Werner, “Fighting for Survival in India's Deadly Mines,” Der Spiegel, January 22, 2018. Link
"Mica export figures from Kolkata Sea harbour," Seair Exim Solution, 2016. Link
Peter Bengtsen, “Mica mining, why watchdogs count,” Le Monde Diplomatique, April 19, 2019. Link
Peter Bengtsen and Laura Paddison, “Beauty companies and the struggle to source child labour-free mica,” The Guardian, July 28, 2016. Link
Refinery29, “The Dark Secret Behind Your Favorite Makeup Products,” YouTube, May 4, 2019. Link
Sanne van der Wal, Child Labour in Madagascar’s Mica Sector (Amsterdam: Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), 2019). Link
Today, "Children Labor For Pennies Mining Mica In Madagascar," YouTube, November 18, 2019. Link
Matteo Dal Lago is an Italian designer based in Eindhoven. He graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in Man and Leisure in 2019. His interests lie in the gap between craftsmanship and industrial manufacture, experimenting with materialisation and modularity. He applies a “tinkering” philosophy to the fields of furniture and interior design, while also branching out into research and exhibition design.