Rostrum’s Law Review | ISSN: 2321-3787



The significant expansion of the cosmetic industry has brought forth not only exciting opportunities and innovative products but also a complex web of challenges that stands at the intersection of rigorous regulations for product safety and the protection of labour rights. Cosmetic products are chemical formulations that contain various ingredients. Some of the most promising natural ingredients like cocoa, shea, mica, copper, charcoal etc employ child labour for their harvesting and procurement. The entire process involves hard child labour, posing different levels of danger to their lives and well-being. Simultaneously, it can lead to unsafe working conditions, long working hours, job insecurity, and wage disparities, and expose labourers to harmful chemicals. Furthermore, these issues are intricately linked to the worst forms of child labour and children in hazardous employment. Despite government efforts at various levels, various loopholes persist. This study examines government interventions, regulatory frameworks, and their implications, shedding light on the relationship between child labour in the cosmetic industry and their rights, offering insights into the intricate dynamics governing this crucial sector. It further delves into the role of consumers by making an informed and ethical choice and demanding transparency in the supply chain to ensure it is free from exploitative practices.

Keywords: Labour laws, Child labour, cosmetics, cosmetic industry, consumer awareness

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

-Nelson Mandela


When it comes to lifestyle products, personal care and cosmetics are some of the most sought-after products available in the market. Personal care and hygiene have become an indispensable part of modern living setups. Irrespective of age, gender and utility, cosmetics and personal care products have remarkably taken over the modern market. The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 (Sec 3 (aaa)), defines ‘Cosmetic’ as any article intended to be applied to, the human body or any of its parts with the purpose of cleansing, beautifying, enhancing attractiveness or altering the appearance. Traditionally cosmetics were closely tied to the notion of women’s beauty and makeup. However, it has transcended the conventional boundaries of gender, class, age and race, and now encompasses a broad spectrum of products used by various people. In today’s era, the cosmetic industry is required to function at multiple levels. They are assumed to enhance, groom, protect (Panico et al., 2019) and maintain hygiene, well-being and self-expression. Today cosmetic items range from skincare products (moisturiser, sunscreen), makeup (face, lips, nails), fragrances(perfume, deodorants), hair care items(dyes, shampoos, conditioner ), and the list continues to expand to meet evolving consumer needs. Cosmetics thus serve as a sheer reflection of lifestyle, aesthetics, personal care or self-care, enhancing appearance, youth and boosting self-confidence etc. The global consumer market has witnessed a steep shift in choice and demand for products. More often selling these synthetic products otherwise known as spurious cosmetics (Sec 17 D), or counterfeit and fake cosmetics, has been a trend in the market.

In the last few years, cosmetics, and personal care products have garnered considerable attention as they are one of the most important categories of emerging consumer products. Simultaneously, various hazardous pollutants and chemicals are continually released, posing serious threats to human and environmental health (Patisaul & Adewale, 2009). The use of such cosmetics, especially chemical-based ones, can be linked to certain undesirable consequences due to the concentration of certain chemical substances (Balwierz et al., 2023). Cosmetics are formulations majorly based on chemical components. Cosmetics today are laden with various chemicals, minerals and heavy metals in the form of oils, salts, emulsifiers, etc. These ingredients are ether derived naturally or synthesised chemically in the lab. Naturally derived components, such as minerals, and oils, pose challenges in their procurement. Most consumers are unaware that common ingredients found in everyday products are directly associated with child labour. Procuring these resources often involves farming, harvesting, mining and other form of hard labour conditions. Children, due to their vulnerability and lack of bargaining power to negotiate fair working conditions or wages, are often the preferred choice for various forms of child labour. The use of cosmetics can be associated with undesirable effects not only for the individuals who use or consume these products but also for those engaged at different points along the supply chain and in the production process. Certain chemicals when absorbed into the body can affect physiological processes and cause adverse health effects (Yosipovitch et al., 2019).

Child labour is considered to be morally and ethically unacceptable. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was the first international body to address it and take a significant step to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Children (CRC) in 1989. As a result, thereafter the children are recognised as individuals, rather than just economic assets to the family.  Children are undeniably an important human resource having the potential to lead the nation towards development and growth. In underdeveloped and developing countries like India, a huge population still lives in poverty, one of the drawbacks of which is child labour. The causes of child labour can be attributed to various underlying factors, including widespread poverty, disparities in society, and the absence of adequate employment opportunities for adult caregivers. The absence of robust regulations in the cosmetic industry not only poses risks to consumer safety but can also have adverse effects on labour rights. Adequate oversight and regulation are essential not only for ensuring the quality and safety of cosmetic products but also for safeguarding the rights and well-being of those who work in the industry.

Prevalence of Child labour

As the world is aspiring towards development and economic prosperity, a large segment of society is plunging towards poverty, as a result, millions of children are trapped in forced child labour. Today about 160 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour( United Nations, 2023). Of this staggering number, 7% of all children, equivalent to 62 million, hail from the Asia-Pacific region, signifying the second-highest concentration of child labour in the world.

Children involved in labour practices are categorized as ‘children at work’, ‘children in employment’, ‘children engaged in economic activities’, ‘child labourers’, ‘children involved in hazardous work’, and ‘children engaged in the worst forms of child labour’. According to the ILO, children who are economically active, including those temporarily out of work with a formal connection to a job, are considered to be ‘children in employment’ (ILO 2009) or child labour. Whether certain types of “work” can be called”child labour” is contingent upon several factors, including the age of the child, the nature and duration of the work, the working conditions, and its objectives. Hence, the definition and scope of child labour varies from country to country and society to society, as well as among different sectors within countries. As per the reports, nearly 79 million children between the age of 5-14 years are said to be working in conditions that are hazardous or unhealthy for them (ILO and UNICEF, New York, 2021). Working under such circumstances can prove dangerous to their health, safety and moral development. Hazardous child labour is also associated with consequences often resulting in poor health and safety, disability, and moral damage affecting psychological development. Hazardous child labour in itself is one of the worst forms of child labour (ILO 1999). Work is deemed hazardous when it is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children and tsubject them to illness or injury from the use of dangerous tools, unsafe machinery, and expose them to toxic substances (insecticides, herbicides, lead, potassium cyanide), extreme temperatures and falling object (O’Donnell, Rosat, et al., 2002).

As per the U.S. Department of Labor, the reports on child labour in India indicate the prevalence of child labour practices is predominantly in manufacturing various industries including bidis, fireworks, metalware, bricks, garments, matchsticks, fabrics, mica, glass etc. The economic condition of a country directly influences the prevalence of poverty and consequently, the incidence of child labour. Developing nations often grapple with higher rates of child labour, particularly in rural areas, where an estimated 122.7 million children are engaged in various labour-intensive activities. Sectors such as agriculture, hotels, restaurants, factories, mining, and construction, among others, typically employ a substantial number of child labourers. These vulnerable members of society, including children and women, are often exposed to hazardous working conditions and are at higher risk of exploitation. Such disparities underscore the crucial link between economic stability, poverty levels, and the widespread issue of child labour.


Cosmetic ingredients and raw material sourcing

Modern cosmetic products cater to various needs of consumers across a wide spectrum. It helps provide consumers with a range of options for enhancing their appearance, self-care, grooming and boosting their confidence. With the advent of innovative technologies and research, these products are continually evolving to address specific concerns and deliver targeted results, reflecting the dynamic nature of the cosmetics industry. The extensive array of cosmetic products, including skincare, makeup, hair styling items, toiletries etc owes its diversity to a wide range of molecular formulations. Manufacturers carefully choose appropriate raw materials to curate products that are both effective and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. Furthermore, these raw materials play crucial roles, serving as actives, preservatives, protective agents, extracts, and high-functioning solutions in the formulation of cosmetic products.

Cosmetic ingredients are widely categorised as functional (Juliano & Magrini, 2018), structural ingredients (Abbasi 2023), stabilising ingredients, aesthetic and novel or experimental ingredients. Functional ingredients are the ones that ensure the basic functionality of the products. These include surfactants, conditioning agents, emollients, and other active ingredients. As cleansers, surfactants are incorporated to generate lather and aid in the removal of dirt and oil from the surface (Riege and Rhein 2017). Structural ingredients on the other hand determine the viscosity, consistency and overall structure of the product. Various cosmetic ingredients are multifunctional, often serving more than one purpose in the formulation. Further classified into two distinct groups of ingredients that could be chemically synthesized and from natural sources. These chemical ingredients comprise a diverse array of components that are either synthesized in laboratories or derived from natural sources. The universe of cosmetic ingredients is rich and diverse, however, minerals and natural raw materials are fundamental building blocks in this creative process. Raw materials of natural origin include plant extracts, essential oils, natural clays, minerals, vitamins, and various herbal ingredients. The trend of using natural materials for cosmetic preparation is a long-standing practice and still continues to gain rapid momentum in contemporary times (Barros and Barros 2020). These substances often exhibit properties for skin-nourishing, moisturizing, and therapeutic properties. Additionally, there has been a significant increase in the popularity of natural herbal, natural, and organic cosmetics contributing to healthier options. Minerals like mica, copper, silica, talc, and titanium dioxide, along with a range of natural and synthetic chemicals, constitute the heart of many cosmetic formulations. These ingredients impart colour, texture, and functionality to the final products that consumers adore

Minerals such as mica, copper, cobalt, talc and silica which are commonly used in cosmetics, are typically mined from various regions worldwide. Mica is used as a glittery or shiny agent in cosmetic and makeup products while copper and its derivates protect and regenerate the skin tissue by providing elasticity and anti-ageing properties (Pickart & Margolina, 2018). Cobalt is used to impart pigment to hair color, dyes, nail polish etc. Natural raw materials like shea butter, palm oil, latex, vanilla extracts, cocoa etc are innocent enough to appear natural and cruelty-free (Shaw & Cisney, 2023), but their procurement and harvesting often prove harsh on the labour force involved in it, which is mainly the children. These ingredients are generally sourced from countries which are significantly poor, thus a higher probability of child labour being involved in the process.

Intriguingly, the story of sourcing some of these raw materials is often tragic and overlooked amid the glitz and glamour of the industry. The production of cosmetics relies heavily on the extraction of minerals and other raw materials, which are often sourced from regions where child labour is prevalent. Child Labour and their exploitation is a common concern in the mining of various minerals, like mica, and copper, where workers often face exploitation due to unorganized sectors and ambiguous supply chains. These children, often living on the margins of society, engage in hazardous work, including mining and processing raw materials, to supply the growing demands of the cosmetic industry. Consequently, they are subjected to low wages, limited alternative employment opportunities, and working in hazardous conditions, leading to widespread poverty and exploitation within the community.

Status of Child Labour in the Cosmetic Industry

The global cosmetic industry is witnessing an exponential surge owing to rising disposable income, especially among women consumers, consumer awareness of wellbeing and self-care, changing lifestyles and the influence of social media. (“Cosmetics Market,” 2021). The global demand for cosmetics led to a significant increase in demand for products cultivated quickly and inexpensively in developing countries. This growing demand resulted in intensified pressure on these countries to increase production, often leading to the exploitation of natural resources and vulnerable populations, including children, to meet the market requirements. Poor working standards, inadequate social protection, and limited access to education and healthcare further contributed to poor living and working conditions for families and child labour, aggravating the issue.

In the makeup and cosmetic industry, the sourcing of ingredients is a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of product creation. While consumers may appreciate the final result of their beauty products, such as lipsticks, eyeshadows, or moisturizers, they might not be fully aware of the journey these products take from raw materials to their hands. In addition to chemical compositions, cosmetic product significantly incorporates two categories of elements- naturally cultivated ingredients and mined minerals. Palm oil, cocoa, vanilla and shea form the former category, while ingredients like mica, and copper form the latter. These ingredients are sourced from various parts of the world and largely involve child labour. Instead of attending school and enjoying childhood, many children are forced into labour to support their families and sustain basic needs. They play critical roles in growing crops, harvesting, mining, and transporting these materials, often in harsh and perilous environments. Some of the cosmetic ingredients are sourced from around the world from different farms, forests, plantations and mines, specifically located in rural or undeveloped parts of various countries. There the sources of livelihood are very limited, hence fair wages or adequate working conditions cannot be claimed. When children are unable to negotiate on fair working conditions or wages they are prone to long working hours and various health and safety hazards. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness can hide a troubling reality – the risk of child labour associated with some commonly used ingredients.

Mica, both natural and synthetic is a highly sought-after mineral in cosmetics. It is used in cosmetic and makeup preparations to give a metallic and shiny appearance (Wargala, Sławska, Zalewska, & Toporowska, 2021). Decorative cosmetic products like blusher, eyeshadow, body glitter, liner, and foundation contain mica as a primary component. India has been recognised as the largest producer and exporter of the world’s primary sheet mica, accounting for more than 60% of total produce (Das and Goel (2021). States like Jharkhand, Bihar and adjoining areas are the producers of mica, due to the large population living in poverty they are involved in mica production (Indian Minerals Yearbook, 2021). With limited employment opportunities or industries in the region, families have no choice but to work in crumbling mines, risking their lives in the process. Furthermore, the mica mining industry in these regions operates predominantly as an informal sector, with minimum or no government oversight, thus making it challenging to enforce any existing labour laws or regulations. These young individuals are tasked with extracting the mineral, working in conditions that are both physically demanding and unsafe. As per the survey more than ten thousand children, actively or passively, are engaged in mica production (NCPCR, 2018). The lack of oversight allows for the exploitation of children and perpetuates a cycle of poverty, as families often depend on the income generated by their children working in the mines. The social and economic vulnerability of these communities worsens the situation, leaving them with few viable alternatives and perpetuating the reliance on child labour as a means of survival. This has been characterised as a classic case of the resource curse phenomenon (Murshed, 2018)

As the demand for natural cosmetics escalated, the demand for natural minerals witnessed a sudden surge. Their journey from the mines to cosmetics often involves the labour of children. The process of mineral extraction involves manual labour in open-cast mines, where workers, including children, manually dig and collect the mineral from the ground. The extraction process is often physically demanding, with workers digging through layers of earth and rock to uncover the mica sheets. The entire mining process is not only physically strenuous but also extremely hazardous, as it exposes the workers, especially children, to risks such as collapsing mine shafts, respiratory issues from inhaling dust, and injuries from working with sharp tools. Child labour in mining represents one of the worst forms of child labour as it could harm their mental or physical health and/or expose them to serious hazards and have consequences on their overall well-being( (ILO, 1999, Art. 3). Working deep down in mines may have dire health repercussions, from tunnel collapse, falling rocks, explosives or being trapped. There they can be exposed to various toxic substances which may eventually lead to chronic health conditions including respiratory issues from inhaling dust, to eyes and skin ailments. Additionally, exposure to certain minerals and chemicals has been associated with the absorption of these chemicals in the body. through the skin (Yosipovitch et al., 2019), nose, and eyes are adverse long-term health hazards.  While factors like temperature and skin occlusion can modify how quickly substances are absorbed (Magnano et al., 2021), prolonged exposure could result in the accumulation of these compounds within the body, potentially causing serious health concerns. While it’s undeniable that mining poses serious threats to labour, especially health and safety, and presents significant hazards to the health and well-being of children, local families often have no alternative source of income. Consequently, communities residing near mica mines find themselves ensnared in an unending cycle of destitution, exploitation, and mistreatment. For these communities, each day becomes a relentless battle for survival.


Supply chains for both mined and agricultural products are often complex and challenging to trace, as they are imported and re-exported from multiple countries in various stages of the refinement process (Shaw & Cisney, 2023). The intricate process of procuring raw materials with the use of child labour keeps costs low and enables exporters to exploit them by paying them low prices. The awareness of the above-mentioned issues is a vital step towards positive change in the makeup and cosmetic industry. By shedding light on the risks of child labour associated with certain ingredients, consumers can make more informed choices, and brands can be encouraged to take steps towards responsible sourcing and ethical practices throughout their supply chains. Ultimately, creating a cosmetic industry that prioritizes the welfare of its workers and ensures the elimination of child labour is a collective responsibility that requires continued advocacy and action


Child Rights in India- Legislations and Policies

Due to their vulnerable physical and mental state, children need protection from any form of exploitation and harm. As a result, they have been the subject of special laws and legal provisions. The Indian constitution grants children their rights as citizens of the country, and to acknowledge their unique status, the State has enacted specific laws. Children’s rights encompass the fundamental human rights of children, placing special emphasis on the need for their protection safety and care. Often, their socio-economic conditions and government policies, have concealed instances of adult abuse and exploitation of children, resulting in a detrimental impact on their well-being. This situation has further led to a cycle of vulnerability and deprivation, denial of access to education, child labour and hindering their opportunities for a brighter future. From this perspective, children are viewed as a minority group that society must reassess its behaviour towards, acknowledging the importance of upholding and respecting their rights, not just as human rights but also even as labour

The Indian Constitution, which came into effect in 1950, consists of significant outlines from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the form of both Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. The Directive Principles of State Policy articulate social and economic rights deemed “fundamental in the governance of the country” and place the onus on the state to incorporate them into legislation (Article 37). These principles provide the government with the flexibility to enact suitable legislative and administrative measures to safeguard children’s rights; however, it’s important to note that no court can compel the government to ensure these rights, as they are fundamentally directives. Nevertheless, these directives have empowered the judiciary to issue significant judgments in support of children’s rights, even leading to Constitutional Amendments, such as the 86th Amendment to the Constitution, which enshrined the Right to Education as a fundamental right.

Key Policies related to Child Labour

  1. The National Child Labour Policy seeks to tackle the issue of child labour through targeted initiatives, managed by the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE) and the Ministry of Women and Child Development. In line with the National Child Labour Policy, the NCLP Scheme was initiated in 1988 to rehabilitate child labour. Further, a legislative action plan in the form of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, of 1986 was enacted. The government has thus adopted preventive as well as restorative policies for the eradication of child labour.
  2. The National Action Plan For Children (NAPC), launched in 2016 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) aims to foster cooperation among various government levels, the private sector, and other stakeholders to fulfil the requirements of children. It prioritizes enhancing children’s access to healthcare, education, and protection, and strengthens institutions to address the worst forms of child labour.

The two core ILO conventions concerning child labour and its various dimensions C138, the Minimum Age Convention and C182 Worst Forms of Child Labour Conventions respectively (ILO, 1973,  1999) are duly ratified by India (ILO, 2017). These are further supplemented by C190 Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation (ILO, 1999). The Guiding Principles of human rights, state that companies and corporations should refrain from causing harm to human rights, even in situations where governments fail to establish or enforce the necessary regulations (“United Nations Human Rights Council,” 2011). Additionally, they stress the importance of ensuring that victims of corporate misconduct can seek and obtain meaningful redress. The dominant approach, at its core, involves preventing children from working in conditions that may endanger their life and safety and where prevention has already failed, removing and relocating them from those conditions.

As a matter of trend, consumers increasingly seek natural and organic cosmetics, often looking for labels like ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘vegan’ to indicate that a brand values ethical practices. However, it’s important to recognize that these terms primarily refer to animal testing and do not necessarily imply that the entire supply chain is cruelty or exploitation-free- including child labour and human rights violations.


Child labour is an international issue, just like any other social evil. The pandemic is deemed to have plunged a lot of families into the pit of poverty, thereby increasing the families’ reliance on child labour. On top of it, school closure during the crisis justified their alternative to opt out of school and send their children to work and contribute to family income. Despite major actions and efforts by the government and non-government agencies, nothing worthwhile has been achieved. Elimination of child labour all by itself, is certainly a task too big for any one country to deal. Coordination and cooperation from various stakeholders like governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, international agencies, non-governmental organizations, scholars, research institutions and most importantly general public at different levels is required to accelerate the action. The necessary laws and regulations are in place to protect children, the need is to create harmony between enforcement machinery, child protection systems, and the contribution required to apply them. The COVID-19 crisis has served as an important lesson globally on the need for international cooperation and partnership in overcoming global challenges. This stands significantly true for ending social evils like child labour as for other critical development.

The implementation of various solutions is imperative to combat the issue of child labour in consumer-oriented industries like cosmetics. Initiatives such as establishing children’s clubs, providing access to quality education, conducting community sensitization programs, and creating sustainable livelihood opportunities can significantly contribute to addressing this critical concern. Engaging with local communities and ensuring a fair price for the resources can contribute significantly to supporting families and enabling children to access education. It can serve as a crucial step toward breaking the cycle of poverty and exploitation in these regions. Further consumers also have a role to play with special reference to ingredients procured by children under hazardous conditions. Promoting responsible buying behaviour, raising awareness, creating and curating sustainable alternatives and using the power as a consumer to encourage makeup brands to protect children worldwide are some of the measures to protect child labour from working under such conditions. Moreover encouraging fair trade-certified beauty products, fair treatment of children at work, and paying them a fair price, extending social protection for children and their families can widely help to mitigate the poverty and economic uncertainty that underpin child labour.


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