A BBC investigation has found that luxury perfumes produced by major brands such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder are linked to child labour.

The report revealed the use of child labour in the jasmine supply chains of Lancôme and Aerin Beauty, owned by L’Oréal and Estée Lauder.

Basmalla,10. and her siblings pick jasmine through the night to help their mother make ends meet.
Basmalla10 and her siblings pick jasmine through the night to help their mother make ends meet Image Source BBC

Unveiling the Exploitation

The BBC’s new documentary, “Perfume’s Dark Secret,” exposes child labour in the jasmine fields. During the summer 2023 harvest season, the BBC investigated Egypt’s jasmine-growing region and discovered children as young as five working in flower fields, supplying global brands through Egyptian factories.

These children work picking jasmine throughout the night and earn, on average, as little as $1 a day.  The investigation followed families in Egypt who picked jasmine for local factories that extracted jasmine oil and supplied it to international fragrance companies like Givaudan and Firmenich.

These companies, in turn, supply beauty brands that use the oil in their perfumes. Jasmine from Egypt is used in L’Oréal’s Lancôme Idôle Intense and Estée Lauder’s Aerin Beauty scents Ikat Jasmine and Limone di Sicilia. These Premium perfumes can cost as much as $300.

 

Child Labor in Focus

The investigation revealed exploitation in the luxury perfume industry. Workers, particularly jasmine pickers in Egypt, are forced to involve their children due to low wages driven by cost-cutting measures from a handful of companies controlling numerous luxury brands.

According to an industry insider, luxury fragrance companies prioritise getting the cheapest jasmine oil possible. They don’t directly control wages, but their tight budgets force pressure down the supply chain, ultimately leading to low pay for the jasmine pickers.

Egyptian jasmine pickers say this forces them to involve their children. These children are involved in flower picking, working long hours under harsh conditions, and often missing out on their education.

Image Source BBC

According to the investigation, undercover filming confirmed that the pickers aged 12 to 14 worked long hours. In Egypt, it is illegal for anyone under 15 to work between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Therefore, this creates a disconnect between the expensive image these perfumes project and the reality faced by the workers who harvest the key ingredients.

Ethical Concerns

In response, BBC also reported that both Estée Lauder and L’Oréal have expressed their commitment to addressing these issues. They have emphasised their zero-tolerance policies towards child labour and pledged to strengthen their oversight and support for affected communities.

Despite the brands’ claims of zero tolerance for child labour, the investigation highlights significant issues in their supply chain auditing.

Moreover, this report not only raises serious ethical concerns about the supply chains of famous cosmetic brands​, where children produce key ingredients used in various beauty products, but the report also calls for greater corporate accountability and systemic changes to protect workers.

Dark Secrets of Beauty

A dark side lurks behind the glamorous facade of the apparel, beauty, and wellness industries, is not new. These sectors have faced growing scrutiny in recent years due to child labour practices.

For instance, shockingly, young children as young as four are forced to work in mines to source ingredients. This includes mica, a mineral used in cosmetics and various other products, and even ‘healing’ crystals mined by children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Myanmar, and other locations, as stated by Allure.

Therefore, there is a call for these luxury beauty brands to prioritise ethical sourcing and fair wages throughout the supply chain. Besides, regulatory bodies need more vigorous enforcement to ensure child labour is not in our perfumes. Only through collective action can we ensure the fragrance industry reflects the values it projects – beauty, luxury, and respect for all.

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