Saving Face in America: The Cosmetics Slavery Question

Being a woman in this culture of America, one part of my daily life is trying to save face – that is, trying to save my face’s appearance to the world through using cosmetics and make-up. Awhile-back, though, I came across a comment on a slavery-awareness website that made me realize that saving my face (literally) while also trying to save face (avoid shame) ethically, might be pretty difficult.

The comment that made me aware of the issue was that mica, a mineral used to bring shimmer/shine in eyeshadow, etc. is often mined by children. In India, some sources indicate that children as young as 6 years old have been found mining mica. This news came out in 2009, and yet I never heard anything about it until I started looking.

Doing a little internet research today turned up another high profile ingredient – cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a product of the cocoa bean, one of the most notorious products when it comes to child labor and poverty wages. Next time you think about purchasing a cocoa-butter product, you might want to think twice.

These are two examples of how slavery and lack of ethics play into the cosmetics issue. Cracking open my Better World Shopping Guide to the cosmetics section helps to complete the big picture – when it comes to normal budget-friendly cosmetics companies, social ethics isn’t at the forefront. Here’s a look at some brands most common to me:

Covergirl – F

Almay, Revlon – D minus

Maybelline – C minus

Burt’s Bees – C

While these scores take into account non-human concerns such as animal testing, they also relate to overall corporate responsibility. If you were looking for a reason to justify spending a little more on better make-up or cosmetics, you may have just found it.

All of this came to a head for me today when I went to order a new supply of Mary Kay products. Here I am looking at eye-shadow and suddenly questioning whether it contains mica and how I could know if Mary Kay was ethical in their supply chain. Just because a company treats their up-front employees well or donates to social causes doesn’t mean there isn’t slave labor at the bottom. Many large companies are all about saving face – looking good on the outside so noone sees that things are rotten underneath. It took awhile to track down anything relevant on the Mary Kay website, but I finally saw a key word: TRANSPARENCY. I discovered that this company is aware of the slavery issue and is constantly evaluating and keeping an eye on high-risk areas. They conduct unscheduled audits within their supply chain to verify that proper ethics are being followed. They are required by a 2012 California law to disclose their company’s efforts to eradicate slavery in their supply chain. You can read their statements here. There’s no way to know if these products use mica among their minerals or how that mica is being obtained apart from contacting the company directly (and trusting their answer), but for me, a company that is aware and making efforts seems like a company worth supporting.

With companies that get A’s in my book, like Aveda and The Body Shop, and the Mary Kay companies of the world, I believe it IS possible to save face literally and figuratively in this world. It just takes a lot of intentionality, an ability to pay a little more, and willingness to do your home-work.

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Ratings from the Better World Shopping Guide website.

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