Laxity of industry on child labour in mica products

Dutch consumers can not trust that mica-containing cable, paint and cosmetics are child-labour free. Children's aid organisation Terre des Hommes Netherlands has investigated the entire production chain of the shiny mineral, from the largely illegal mining in India to the Dutch shop shelves. Only half of the companies surveyed practise careful research into the origin of the raw material. Retailer HEMA undertakes no demonstrable action to prevent child labour in the mica chain and cable manufacturer Draka does not even have an internal ban on child labour, despite the fact that already in 2014, there were clear signs about the widespread use of children in mica mining. Terre des Hommes Netherlands demands that companies hasten recognising their involvement in child exploitation and bring a halt to it.

Twenty thousand children

The world's largest source area of the mineral mica is the Indian regions Jharkhand and Bihar. Only 10% of the mica from this area originates from legal mines with strict supervision of working conditions. The other 90% comes from illegal mines where an estimated twenty thousand children work, often with their entire family. They cut mica from the rocks or sort mica flakes. The work is hazardous and unhealthy, with the constant danger of collapse and continuous inhalation of dust. The children have to work for long hours and do not go to school.

Dutch heavy users

Mica - sought-after for its unique shiny, insulating and heat-resistant properties - is used in gloss and car paints, as well as cables and cosmetics, among other products. Dutch companies widely apply the mineral. Terre des Hommes Netherlands investigated the origin of mica in the products of eight major users in the Netherlands: AkzoNobel, Prysmian Draka, Unilever, Royal Philips, DSM, A.S. Watson, Ahold and HEMA. The presence of an active due diligence policy has been assessed - whether these companies conduct structural investigation of business processes on child and human rights violations, specifically regarding mica mining in India.

Laxity

Four of the eight companies which were assessed lack a solid due diligence with regard to child labour in mining and processing mica as a whole. Prysmian / Draka, the largest supplier of cables for the energy and telecom industry, does not even prohibit child labour in their production but "supports" efforts of employees and suppliers to ban child labour. A.S. Watson Benelux, parent company of chemist and perfumery chains Kruidvat, Ici Paris and Trekpleister, does have a printed code of conduct in which child labour is prohibited, but does not exhibit an active policy to prevent child labour in the production of mica.

HEMA and Philips do have a general internal ban on child labour, but are in practice lax with their own research into violations of children's rights in the mica production. Prysmian / Draka, A.S. Watson, HEMA and Philips did not disclose any information on the origin of processed mica in their production chains to the Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ researchers or do not have this information themselves.

Immediate action

Terre des Hommes Netherlands urges the companies involved to take immediate action  to prevent the exploitation of children in the production of mica. "We are talking about one of the worst forms of child labour. Dutch companies have to take their responsibility. We therefore call on them to clean up their supply chain and to show a social face by providing assistance to children and their families in Jharkhand and Bihar," says director Albert Jaap van Santbrink of Terre des Hommes Netherlands. "And if companies do not speed up, then the government must intervene."

Despite clear guidelines from both the UN and OECD for corporate social responsibility, there is still lack of monitoring and sanctions. Therefore Minister Ploumen of Foreign Trade and Development should compel companies to execute due diligence, according to Terre des Hommes Netherlands. Starting today, Dutch consumers can also call upon the Minister to do so through the petition on the Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ website. Finally, Terre des Hommes Netherlands urges the Dutch Social and Economic Council (SER), the body that advises Dutch government and parliament on international Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), to put pressure on stakeholders to prioritise addressing child labour in general and in the mica industry in particular.

 

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