Child labour widely used in automotive and electronic industry

Research by Terre des Hommes on the global mining of mica, a mineral with unique glimmering, heat-resistant and insulating properties, shows that this mineral is widely used in the automotive and electronics industry. At the same time, producers are not or barely aware of the wide use of mica in their products, or of the conditions under which it is extracted. Mica mining involves large-scale child labour and the demand for mica only increases. A joint approach of governments, companies and NGOs is much needed, according to Terre des Hommes.

Child labour

Investigation into worldwide mining

In its report ‘Global mica mining and the impact on children’s rights’, Terre des Hommes investigates the mica production volume in 20 countries and the violation of children’s rights during its extraction. Mining of sheet mica, the type of mica used in electronics, is labour intensive and the work is carried out by the poorest people and their children. The greatest risk of violation of children’s rights in mica mining is seen in India, Madagascar, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Brazil. India and Madagascar, with up to 90% of illegal mines, are the main sheet mica exporters globally. In India alone, over 22,0000 children are involved in mica mining. Working conditions in illegal mines are harsh. Collapses are not uncommon. Mica dust that is released during hammering cause the lung disease silicosis.

Mica in 15,000 car parts

With 26%, the electronics industry (including car electronics) is the largest purchaser, followed by paints and coatings with 24%. Mica is used in electrical devices such as hairdryers and shavers, but also in smartphones, laptops, computers and anything that contains printed circuit boards. One of the interviewed car manufacturers identified 15,000 car parts they use that contain mica. 10% of the market consists of synthetic mica, which is mainly used in the cosmetics industry. Analyses show that synthetic mica, for the time being, does not constitute a viable alternative for natural mica.

Private sector

Aysel Sabahoglu of Terre des Hommes: ‘It is shocking to see that companies are barely aware of the fact that their products contain a raw material that is chipped away by children. The few companies that are aware have no strategy in place on how to handle this. Far more pressure and efforts are needed to create legal mines where adults can work under safe conditions and for fair pay, so their children are able to attend school.’

It is time for companies, and the electronics and automotive industry in particular, to make a move now. Terre des Hommes calls on companies to conduct supply chain due diligence and to know the source of the mica in their products. Companies should not accept the risk of child labour and should ban child labour together with their suppliers.

Terre des Hommes commissioned Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen (SOMO) to execute the research, which was done in collaboration with Terre des Hommes. 

Read the report Global mica mining and the impact on children's rights >>

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