A New Documentary Linked Two Major Fragrance Brands to Child Labor

Revelations about the use of child labor have become all too familiar across any number of industries but are particularly troubling when it comes to luxury goods marketed to rich countries. Child labor practices, which are typically shrouded by opaque supply chains, are a scourge of many developing nations and are often the result of systemic economic injustices with which consumers are complicit.

In recent years, the apparel, beauty, and wellness industries have come under fire for child labor practices, including instances of children as young as four working in mines to source and gather mica (often used in shimmery cosmetics but also electronics and automobile parts, among other things) and the mining of “healing” crystals, which is sometimes done by children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Myanmar, and other locations.

Now, labor policies in the fragrance industry have come into question. Children were reportedly working to harvest ingredients used in fragrances from two major brands, Lancôme and Aerin Beauty, the BBC found in an investigation that began last year. While researching perfume supply chains, the news outlet discovered that jasmine flowers, a popular fragrance ingredient, were being “picked by minors.”

The fragrances in question are Lancôme’s Idôle L’Intense and Aerin’s Ikat Jasmine and Limone Di Sicilia; both scents contain jasmine sourced from Egypt, which, as the BBC reports, “produces about half the world’s supply of jasmine flowers.” Both brands’ parent companies—L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, respectively—have codes of conduct designed to prevent the use of child labor in their manufacturing processes.

The findings were included in the BBC‘s new documentary, Perfume’s Dark Secret. “The BBC visited Egypt’s jasmine region during the harvest season in the summer of 2023 and found children—some as young as five years old—working in the jasmine fields that were supplying some global brands through factories in Egypt,” the BBC shared in a statement timed to the documentary’s May 28 release.

The news outlet noted that “it is difficult to say exactly how many of the 30,000 people involved in Egypt’s jasmine industry are children” but shared that while filming the documentary, they “spoke to many [adult] residents who told us the low price for jasmine meant they needed to include their children in their work.” Local factories set the prices for picked jasmine, which is extracted into oil used in perfumery by major fragrance houses. Workers are paid according to how much jasmine they pick, and low prices create the need to work long hours and pick high volumes, which is why many adult workers include their children. One worker featured in the documentary takes home just $1.50 USD for a night’s work after paying a portion of their earnings to the land owner.

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