Every seat was taken. Akzo Nobel, Hema, Kuncai, Philips, Surdashan, Merck, L'Oreal, all companies that import or process mica in their products and have the greatest influence on the mica industry were sitting round the table. Mica is a mineral that gives a sparkling effect, it has heat retentive and insulating properties. It is used in many products. More than 22,000 children currently work in India’s mica mines.
A program to address the causes
Sander Hanenberg, Marketing Manager and mica Project Manager for Terre des Hommes, presented the new Terre des Hommes holistic program where companies can work together to shorten the supply chain by reducing the use of intermediaries. The children's rights organization also helps in finding alternative livelihoods for the parents who now take their children to work in the mica mines. In addition, Terre des Hommes educates families about the dangers of child labour and encourages mica miners to work in cooperatives. Hanenberg says: "Together they can negotiate a better price, they now have no idea how much the mica that they have mined is worth."
Mike Tijdink of Kuncai, one of the largest importers of mica, explained how they tackle the problem. Kuncai already entered into a dialogue with Terre des Hommes previously donating 500,000 Euro to Terre des Hommes to create more child-friendly villages. In addition, it founded a Indian Kuncai which then purchased mica directly from the mica mines. Lastly they allowed independent auditors to audit and they also initiated unannounced audits to be done and implemented an annual accountability report. Tijdink: "Only if we work together can we remove child labour from the mica industry. So we invite everyone, especially our business partners, to join us as partners in this important programme run by Terre des Hommes."
Sonia Smits from Philips recounted the experiences they had encountered in the broader working group whose aim was to clean up the tin supply chain. The main lessons were figuring out the source of the mineral, establishing direct contact with suppliers, pooling of influence with other stakeholders, the indispensable collaboration with the government and NGOs and seeking responsible suppliers.
Cooperation with the government in India
Dirk Jan Koch from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to the Kinderarbeidfonds a fund that finances initiatives to combat child labour. The Indian government has also been willing to cooperate.
Mica is everywhere
This cooperative effort has been in response to Terre des Hommes’ ‘Beauty and a Beast’ study into child labour in mica mines in India. The convenient mineral is found in all kinds of products such as: telephones, cosmetics, cables, paint, toasters and car paint. The consumer is constantly surrounded by it.
Child labour in micamines
In the states of Jharkhand and Bihar in India there are over 22,000 children who are involved in work in the mica mines. They perform heavy physical labour under hazardous conditions. There is a great risk of mine collapse and children are continuously breathing in harmful dust, which can lead to a deadly lung disease (silicosis). Child workers do not attend school, so there is a vicious circle of exploitation. Children and adults that work in illegal mines are being paid only 45 percent of the income that workers earn in legally operating mines.