The Dark Secret Behind Mica Mining
Mica is a highly sought after mineral due to its resilience properties and is present in more and more everyday products. We find it in nearly all eyeshadows and glow-enhancing cosmetics, even more so now that more consumers seek natural ingredients.
The trend of pearlescent paint finish in the car industry is also driving increased demand.
Mica is a component of innocuous electrical products like toasters or hair-dryers and has become a resource of choice in electronics, such as drones, phones, high-res cameras and equipment that requires important data storage capacity. As Jason Cole of the University of Canada confirms “[Mica’s] high resistance to the passage of electricity and heat are so great that no substitute, artificial or natural, has proved to be economically suitable to replace it.”
As a result of the sharp increase in demand for mica minerals, some countries are burdened with the chore of supplying brokers, manufacturers and end-user industries, namely India and Madagascar.
As we go about applying make-up or testing our new connected gadget, we are not aware that the shiny speckles it contains may have put the lives of children at risk, or at least contributed to child labor, human rights abuse, and dire work condition for miners of all ages. Neither are many brands that have mica in their supply chain.
The Need for Legislation on Mica Minerals
We’re all familiar with US due diligence and disclosure regulations and their focus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, but other high-demand mineral resources like mica and cobalt are extracted under conditions that are less than safe as well. Groups and organizations are currently pushing to add cobalt to the list of conflict minerals, and are beginning to fight for mica due diligence measures as well.
The Dangers of Illegal Mica Mining
In an effort to limit deforestation, India enacted a forest law in 1980. In 20 years, mica mining came to a halt. Unfortunately, demand for natural mica didn’t stop and closed mines have been taken up by contractors who send locals scavenging the precious sheets.
Women and children are especially exploited to keep labor costs close to nothing and their hands handle the delicate work better. Without equipment (mining is performed by hand) nor safety measures in place, miners (including children as young as 4 years old) face danger and health hazards daily:
- Little oxygen in mine shafts
- Infections and lung diseases due to inhalation of fine dust particles
- Cuts and bruises sustained in filthy environments
- High risk of shaft collapsing on workers and trapping them under rocks
Terre des Homes and Somo reported in 2018 that 22,000 children slave in mica mines, dropping out of school to help their family survive.
When incidents occur, they are rarely reported since mining is their only hope to earn an income. In a chilling article, Refinery29 tells the story of 11-year-old Pooja, shocked by the death of a boy her age; the story of Surma and her two broken feet, fractured leg and spine damage. The Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation conservatively estimates there are 10 to 20 deaths in mica mining accidents every month.
Not all mica mines are hiding dark secrets, but it is more important than ever to address the issues and raise corporate awareness. Companies can take action to track the origin of mica in their supply chain and implement ethical sourcing practices without waiting for lawmakers to lead the way.
Cleaning up the Mica Supply Chain
Legislation may not exist to regulate mica supply chain transparency, but groups and brands are actively trying to tackle the dirty business while multiplying initiatives and programs to get children back to school and ensure families will have access to a new source of income. Closing illegal mines without a backup plan in place would only worsen their life. Here are some organizations that are rallying to raise awareness for mica sourcing.
The Responsible Mica Initiative
In 2017, Terre des Hommes teamed up with NGOs and actors from mica-using industries to form the Responsible Mica Initiative. It has launched several programs designed to implement fair and sustainable mica collection and create long-lasting change through supply chain mapping, work safety standards, community empowerment and advocacy for legal frameworks.
Over the past few years, news media started to report on “blood mica,” relaying field investigations, articles, and documentaries, all of which lead to raising awareness among industries and consumers.
When asked about mica sourcing used in their products, many brands will argue making such determination is almost impossible. While there are obstacles to gaining a clear view of the supply chain, several major brands demonstrated their commitment to ethically source mica.
Other brands feel it’s too difficult to stay and actively engage in promoting better work conditions. Lush switched to synthetic mica in 2014 (although synthetic mica contains traces of natural mica).
If demand for silicate minerals increases as forecasted and if natural mica is the only option, companies will face the challenge of ensuring traceability and transparency in their sourcing practices.
How to Ethically Source Mica
Multi-tiered supply chains are challenging. When in doubt, due diligence is the answer exactly like it is under the conflict minerals regulation framework. Knowledge is power; a statement Source Intelligence lives by. We have made ethical sourcing solutions a priority to support businesses in their corporate social responsibility efforts.
With our platform, you can easily collect and access data on high-risk areas, sort out the complexity of your supply chain data, incite your suppliers to a higher engagement level, and keep track of the reports and documents relevant to the origin of your raw materials. Allow us to take you on a tour of our platform features by requesting a demo today!