WATCH: Child labour: The dark side of the luxury perfume industry revealed

Children as young as five are reportedly working to harvest ingredients for fragrances from two major brands. Picture: AP/Norbert Schiller

Children as young as five are reportedly working to harvest ingredients for fragrances from two major brands. Picture: AP/Norbert Schiller

Published Jun 5, 2024


Revelations about child labour are common across various industries, but they are especially prevalant in the context of luxury goods.

The issue of child labour, often hidden within opaque supply chains, plagues many developing nations, making consumers unwittingly complicit.

The fragrance industry is now under scrutiny for its labour practices. An investigation by the BBC, which began last year, revealed that children were reportedly working to harvest ingredients for fragrances from two major brands, Lancôme and Aerin Beauty.

These findings were featured in the BBC's documentary, Perfume's Dark Secret. The documentary reveals that during the jasmine harvest season in the summer of 2023, children as young as five were found working in the jasmine fields that supply some global brands through Egyptian factories.

The BBC discovered that jasmine flowers, a widely used fragrance ingredient, were being picked by minors.

The fragrances implicated are Lancôme's Idôle L'Intense and Aerin's Ikat Jasmine and Limone Di Sicilia; both contain jasmine sourced from Egypt, which produces about half the world's supply of jasmine flowers, according to the BBC.

Both brands' parent companies—L'Oréal and Estée Lauder, respectively—have codes of conduct designed to prevent child labour in their manufacturing processes.

The BBC noted the it is dificult to determine how many of the 30,000 people involved in Egypt's jasmine industry are children. However, during the filming, many adult residents reported that low jasmine prices forced them to include their children in the work.

Local factories set the prices for picked jasmine, which is extracted into oil for use in perfumery by major fragrance houses.

Workers are paid based on the amount of jasmine they pick. Low prices necessitate long working hours and high volumes, leading many adult workers to involve their children.

One worker featured in the documentary earns just $1.50 USD (R28,32) for a night's work after paying a portion of their earnings to the landowner.

Both L'Oréal and Estée Lauder responded to the BBC's findings on the cosmetics platform, Allure acknowledging the issue and reiterating their commitment to preventing child labour within their supply chains.

A representative for Estée Lauder said; “We believe that the rights of all children should be protected and have contacted our suppliers in the region to investigate as a matter of urgency. We recognize the complex socio-economic environment surrounding the local jasmine supply chain and we are taking action to gain better transparency and work toward improving the livelihoods of sourcing communities. We endeavour to work with suppliers who share our strong values and demonstrate the same commitment to operating responsibly and ethically across all facets of business across diverse legal and cultural environments throughout the world."

The company referred to its Supplier Code, which sets basic requirements expected of its suppliers. It is based on internationally recognised standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Labour Organisation’s Conventions.

L'Oréal responded to the documentary via a statement on its website.

The company, it says, is “deeply committed to respecting and protecting human rights and we believe that all forms of child labour are completely unacceptable. We expect all our suppliers, including fragrance houses, to act in a responsible and ethical way. We always act immediately if we identify any problems in our supply chain. And this is exactly what we are currently doing in Egypt, where we indirectly source a small percentage of the jasmine used in some of our products. Thanks to our ongoing monitoring process, in October 2023, after the last harvest and before the BBC reached out to us, we first identified potential human rights issues, including child labor."

Per this statement, L'Oréal “decided to take immediate action” and has “worked to put concrete actions in place ahead of the next jasmine harvest in June.”

IOL Lifestyle