The hidden cost of beauty: millions of children working to produce ingredients for cosmetics.

31 Jul 2023 by World Vision
The hidden cost of beauty: millions of children working to produce ingredients for cosmetics.

  • World Vision report lifts the lid on the dark reality behind beauty products revealing children are forced to work in dangerous and sometimes life-threatening conditions to gather ingredients for cosmetics.
  • Murky supply chains make it difficult to ensure beauty products do not contain ingredients gathered using child labour.
  • An estimated 30% of ingredients in cosmetics are derived from either mined or agricultural commodities.
  • Globally, 112 million children – or 70% of all child labourers – work in agriculture. Up to 26% of child labour is linked to global export markets.
A new report from World Vision today reveals the dark reality behind glossy beauty products, with many likely to contain ingredients gathered by children working in mines and farms in low-income countries.

The organisation has launched an open letter calling on New Zealanders to sign to show their support for the urgent introduction of comprehensive modern slavery legislation so that New Zealanders can be assured that the products they buy, such as cosmetics, are free from child labour and slavery.

The report, The High Price of Beauty, shows that while beauty products may be “cruelty free” in that they are not tested on animals, they are likely to include ingredients procured using child labour.

In particular, products such as vanilla, cocoa, palm oil, shea, copper, and mica are often used in cosmetics, but consumers are often unaware that these products are harvested or mined by children as young as five in countries such as Indonesia, India, Ghana, Cote I’ivoire, and Madagascar.

World Vision’s Head of Advocacy and Justice, Rebekah Armstrong, says child labour should have no place in the make-up bags of New Zealanders.

“We know that New Zealanders value beauty products that are natural, sustainable, and cruelty-free, but at this point in time we have no way to ensure that our cosmetics are genuinely “cruelty free” because we have no laws in place requiring businesses to monitor and address modern slavery and child labour in their supply chains.”

The government announced on Friday that it would draft a law to require supply chain transparency from New Zealand businesses.

Armstrong says this is a positive step but it’s vital it’s delivered urgently, that it has cross-party support and that it ultimately includes due diligence and “take action” requirements.

“New Zealanders need modern slavery legislation that requires businesses to take steps to address modern slavery so that when we buy products like cosmetics, we can be assured they haven’t been made at the expense of children being forced to work in perilous conditions so that we can look good in our next selfie,” she says.

Armstrong says unless companies are required to rigorously vet their supply chains it is likely that 140 million children will be trapped in child labour by 2025.

World Vision International’s Partnership Lead for Advocacy and External Engagement Daniela Buzducea says the conditions that many children work in to gather ingredients for cosmetics is truly horrifying.

“In illegal mines in India and Congo, children are dying in collapsed mine shafts while digging for minerals to help us sparkle or delay ageing.

“The demand for these products is huge and the global cosmetics industry was worth an estimated $532 billion in 2020, but this is not a zero-sum game. The sale of these products leads to increased profits for cosmetics companies, but also to more child labour,” she says.

An estimated 30 percent of ingredients in cosmetics are derived from either mined or agricultural commodities, and the growth of the natural beauty industry has seen an increased demand for agricultural inputs.

Between 2018 and 2022, there was a spike in the number of children working to gather ingredients used in cosmetics such as cocoa, copper, mica, and vanilla.

New Zealand has its own role to play in the cosmetics industry’s dirty secret – importing nearly $370 million worth of cosmetics in 2022. Furthermore, we imported many common cosmetic ingredients from countries where child labour is a recognised issue, including palm oil from Indonesia, cocoa from Ghana, and vanilla from Uganda and Papua New Guinea.

Armstrong says most New Zealand cosmetic and skincare companies do not disclose whether the ingredients they import are free from child labour nor do they say where their products are sourced from. In many cases, this is because they haven’t carried out the work to understand the origins of their products.

Armstrong says complicated supply chains for cosmetics and beauty products mean legislation is the only way to ensure companies procure responsibly and help address the root causes of child labour.

“The supply chains for both mined and agricultural products are often convoluted and can be difficult to trace. It’s unlikely companies will take action to address and mitigate modern slavery if they don’t have to which is why legislation is so urgently needed.”

“We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that our beauty products come at the expense of children’s welfare, education, and futures. We need to act now to end the suffering of children for the profit margins of cosmetic companies and our own vanity,” she says.

World Vision is encouraging New Zealanders to contact their favourite beauty brands and ask what they are doing to address child labour and modern slavery in their supply chains.

New Zealanders wanting to ensure that their beauty products are made free from child labour can also sign World Vision and Tearfund’s open letter supporting the urgent introduction of comprehensive modern slavery legislation here.

Note to Editors:
Common ingredients found in cosmetics that have links to child labour:
  • Palm Oil
    More than 80% comes from Indonesia or Malaysia, where children as young as five work. Fires for clearing also create risk.

    Palm oil is incredibly pervasive in cosmetics and can be found in many food items as well.
  • Cocoa
    The largest exporters of cocoa are Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire, where an estimated 2.1 million children work, 16,000 of whom have been forced or trafficked. There’s been 21% increase in child labour in these countries during COVID-19 lockdowns.

    Cocoa can be found in moisturising creams, lotions, soaps, bath bombs, sugar scrubs, face masks, blush, and bronzer.
  • Vanilla
    Mostly comes from Madagascar, also Uganda, Indonesia, and Mauritius. It’s an incredibly valuable crop, but the high risk of theft and labour-intensive pollination increases a push to use child labour.

    Vanilla can be found in body lotions, lip balms, body butters, foundations, and creams.
  • Shea
    This is harvested in West and East Africa, traditionally by women. There have been reports of child labour, but there’s been a recent push to focus on sourcing from women’s cooperatives.

    Shea is used in a wide variety of products, including eye makeup, lotions and creams, suntan products, lipstick, and hair care.
  • Mica
    About 25% of mica comes from Jharkhand and Bihar in India, where most mines are illegal and child labour is rife. More than 22,000 children, some as young as five, work in the mines with their family members far from schools or health care.

    Mica adds sparkle to highlighter and blush, eye shadows, lipsticks, and nail polishes.
  • Copper
    Is mostly sourced from Chile, Peru, Democratic Republic of Congo. There are high levels of corruption in DRC and patchy mining sector regulation means traceability is low and risk of child labour is high. Children work up to 12 hours and earn just USD $2 per day as low-paid washers or sorters.

    Copper is used in high-tech serums and other skincare products, thanks to its skin healing and plumping properties.

Media contact:
For further information or to organise an interview, please contact Kirsty Jones - or (09) 580 7753