What is mica?
Mica is an umbrella term for 37 minerals rooted in the Latin word micare, which means shining and sparkling. It is able to reflect and refract light and is extremely heat-resistant. Mica is used to make products like cosmetics and paints shimmer. But its other extraordinary qualities including perfect cleavage, flexibility, elasticity, chemical inertness, infusibility, low thermal and electrical conductivity, and high dielectric strength explain the wide use of the mineral across many sectors. Mica is particularly essential for the electronics industry and automotive industry.
Where does mica come from?
Mica is mined in several countries around the globe, but especially in India, Madagascar and China. In India about three-quarters of the mica is mined in the regions of Jharkhand and Bihar. These regions produce approximately one-quarter of the world’s total mica production. Only one in 10 mines is legal.
The Jharkhand and Bihar regions are among the poorest in India. The local population is Dalit. They are “untouchables” and are at the bottom of the social ladder. Children are very vulnerable to exploitation due to their weak social position. Child and human trafficking often occurs in these regions. There are also far fewer enrolled children who actually go to school compared to elsewhere in India.
What are the detrimental effects of child labour?
- Children in mica mines perform heavy physical labour under dangerous conditions. There is a big risk of mine collapse and children continuously breathe in dust, which can cause a deadly lung disease (silicosis).
- Child labourers do not go to school, which creates a vicious circle of exploitation.
- Children and adults working in illegal mines are only paid 45% of the wages earned by workers in legal mines.
How many children work in the mica mines?
During a field study 22.000 children were physically counted when approximately 40 percent of all mica villages in Jharkhand and Bihar were visited. Indian law prohibits children under 14 from working in mines, but this is not monitored in the illegal mining industry.
Does mica from India make its way to The Netherlands?
Yes. The chain begins with the extraction of mica in the mines of Jharkhand and Bihar. This mica is bought by intermediaries, resulting in the mixing of legal and illegal mica, and sold to processing companies. These companies process the mica and sell it to companies who use it as an additive to paint and cosmetics, for example, such as Akzo Nobel, HEMA and Ahold.
Would you like to learn more about child labour in mica mines, download our reports.