Everyone associates December with Christmas, but did you know this month also marks National Human Rights month? Not only is December a time for spreading goodwill and cheer, but also for people around the world to stand together for equality, justice, and the rights of all humans.
Human Rights and the Cosmetics Industry
As we’ve addressed before with our posts, clean skin care is not solely about the ingredients. A truly clean brand strives to be clean in the entirety of its process, from the sustainability of the ingredient’s sourcing down to the packaging—we’ve posted before about our product development process. It’s also important to consider the human cost of the skin care products we love and use every day - in the economic, social and cultural perspectives.
As the Harvard Business Review has written, a good-quality product is about more than a good end product. It’s about making the entire chain of production sustainable and to promote and protect human rights.
While companies put a lot of effort into ensuring the product consumers purchase is high-quality, they often smoke-and-mirrors the rest of the development process. Why? Because too frequently there’s something shameful to hide, often involving the quality of life of their human staff.
This is a problem especially salient to the cosmetics industry. Typically somewhere along the life-cycle of a product, warehouses and factories are located in countries that often have less working regulations than in the U.S. or the E.U.
Many companies have unfortunately taken advantage of their workers and produced poor working conditions for them. Most of these workers are also women. In 2016, Avon workers in Istanbul went on strike because of discriminatory practices. Chanel (owned by the mega-giant Estee Lauder) faced a similar problem in South Korea.
Fortunately (or, unfortunately) more and more of these issues are coming to light. Refinery29 recently published a huge story on the production of mica, a naturally found opalescent mineral that makes cosmetics like eye shadow sparkly. The dark side of this beautiful mineral, however, is that it is often mined by children in eastern India, some of whom are as young as five years-old.
These children and families live a tragic reality where they would be food-scarce without their mining jobs, but are taken advantage of and work in deadly conditions, in a clear human rights violation.
We feel as though the best companies should feel like a partnership between everyone involved—the employees, the manufacturers, and the consumers. And a partnership implies trust, and a feeling that everyone shares a common cause. In clean beauty, that trust is in knowing your skin care is good for the world. Not just the environment, but humans, too.
What can you do?
As we’ve mentioned, what can be very difficult about these issues is that they often happen in countries without the legal infrastructure in place to protect workers. Even where they do, many times these companies are so large and opaque in their processes that problems are swept under the rug. So what can you do as a consumer?
First, pay attention and share the news stories when they come out. Although companies like Estee Lauder are extremely economically powerful, they’re still affected by hits to their image. Supporting the stories also help the workers that are the subject, whether they encourage people to donate to Indian-based children’s charities or in supporting worker’s strikes and unions. It makes these humans costs visible to us, even though they may be happening on the other side of the world.
Better yet, stop supporting companies with questionable human rights records entirely, or that are manufactured in countries that violate human rights. Companies that are fair trade or clean throughout their production cycle are proud and vocal about it. The Fair Labor Association, though by far not a complete list, keeps a record of brand affiliates and is a good place to start your research.
Finally, ask questions directly to the brand. If they’re not willing to be transparent with you about their development process, then you can choose to take your business elsewhere. This kind of wallet advocacy is what made the clean beauty industry such a force in the first place, and everyone can continue to use it to make it even better.