Is beauty’s demand for sugarcane packaging fuelling child labour?

Wielding machetes and applying pesticides in blistering heat is not a synonymous scene with beauty’s luxurious aura, but these are the conditions children are being subject to in the sugarcane farming industry – an sector growing in popularity among beauty brands as an eco alternative to its problem with plastic. So, what are beauty’s suppliers doing to stamp out child labour in sugarcane production?

Beauty is usually synonymous with the latest flattering fads or facial fixes, from ‘like skin’ foundations to chew blocks that will improve the appearance of your jawline. Its serenity is often seen as an escape for aficionados to practice their creativity and express individuality.

But beyond the pressed powders, ‘redder than red’ lipsticks and anti-ageing formulas, there’s a link between a movement in beauty’s packaging arena and children as young as five being forced to work in unthinkable conditions; a type of unwilling labour described by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as “one of the worst forms of child labour”.

Working long hours in blistering heat, wielding machetes and cutlasses – a short, broad sabre or slashing sword for those who are unfamiliar – and plunging their hands into rudimentary pesticides, with only a cotton sock for protection: all of these are part of a normal working day for a child harvesting sugarcane. . . .

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