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Tech industry unaware of mica’s shady origins

Thomson Reuters Foundation / Share:
A girl show some of the mica flakes she has collected whilst working in a mine in Jharkhand, India. Reuters

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tech companies are increasingly reliant on mica to make products from televisions to mobile phones, yet the electronics industry is largely unaware of the origins of a mineral mined globally by children in dangerous conditions, campaigners said yesterday.

The sector is the main global buyer of mica and uses far more of the prized mineral than was previously thought, yet many companies have little knowledge about its sourcing and use in their supply chains, said rights group Terre des Hommes (TdH).

“The possibility of child labour in electronic products and in cars is very high,” Aysel Sabahoglu, a senior technical advisor at TdH, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In August 2016, a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation found several children in India had died in the depths of illegal mica mines – but that their deaths were covered up.

The discovery that seven children had died in two months alone prompted pledges by multinationals sourcing mica from India to clean up their supply chains, and state authorities vowed to accelerate plans to legalise and regulate the sector.

While companies in industries from cosmetics to construction source mica from India, they also import the mineral from nations such as Brazil, China, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka and Sudan where children are believed to work in mines, TdH said.

The electronics industry was the biggest purchaser of mica in 2015, buying a quarter of global supplies, and demand in the sector is set to grow by 3.2 percent per year, the report said.

The prized mineral not only puts the sparkle in make-up and car paint, but is highly flexible, elastic and durable – which makes it vital for several sectors including electronics and increasingly the automobile industry, according to the research.

The Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI) – set up last year and backed by multi-billion dollar companies to end child labour in India’s mica supply chain by 2022 – said it was aware of the use of the mineral in the electronics sector, and beyond just India.

“If electronics, automotive or plastics industries are not much represented within RMI yet, it’s for the only reason that … they have not committed at this stage to take collective action regarding mica,” said the RMI’s Fanny Fremont.

The electronics sector has made some strides towards supply chain traceability and accountability, said Bobbie Sta. Maria, head of labour at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

“But there remains a wide gap between companies taking this seriously and those who appear reckless,” she said.

“Laggards should look to improve their efforts urgently to avoid more children falling victim to this perilous work.”

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