ITV News investigates: India's shameful child labour mining for beauty industry sparkle

Mica. When you see it in the ground or in a miner's hand for the first time, you know you've seen it in some shape or form before.

That's because mica is used extensively in several industries making lots of different consumer products.

As the child held up a large flake of ruby mica it clicked – the glistening tone was familiar. I had seen it before in cosmetic products.

India's illegal mines are run by cartels that make huge profits while workers earn a pittance. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

Koderma district in India's Jharkhand Province has the world's largest mica deposits, according to the British Geological Survey.

It is mined extensively and yet, as far as we can tell, all of the mining here is illegal. The miners have no protection whatsoever.

We found children as young as six working at the mines. Child labour is prohibited under Indian law.

Six-year-old Shamil Murmu breaks rocks to fill his bowl with the prized mineral. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

India produces more than 60% of the world's mica, but official figures tell their own story.

In 2015 India officially produced 19,000 tonnes of mica. But it exported 140,000 tonnes. Illegal production accounts for the huge discrepancy.

The illegal mines are run by cartels that make huge profits. By comparison, the mine workers earn a pittance and their work is extremely dangerous.

Nine in 10 deaths in the dangerous mines go unreported. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

They dig deep into the earth, but there is no shoring up in the mines, so cave-ins are commonplace.

It's estimated that between five and 10 children die in the mines each month.

The number of adult fatalities is higher, but 90% of the deaths are never reported because of the unwelcome attention they might bring.

Mica's glistening properties hold great appeal in the fashion-conscious West. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

Many of the mines are deep in forests that are designated conservation areas.

Bureaucracy and competing laws prevent the Indian government from legalising mining – and so it goes on unchecked and unregulated.

Mica is in vogue in make-up because it's a natural product and its extraction is supposedly environmentally friendly. But mining it is anything but people-friendly.

Young children accompany their mothers at the mines. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

India produces most of the world's mica. More than 75% of India's mica production is illegal.

All of which means it's impossible for the cosmetics industry to guarantee that illegally produced mica is not contained in the make-up sold worldwide. It's hardly a pretty picture.

One young child, not yet old enough to dig or break rocks, still knows the mine as home. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan