At least half of the mica from Madagascar is mined by minors between the ages of 5 and 17. Working conditions are harsh and children are continuously exposed to fine particles which can damage their health.
Almost all mica from Madagascar goes to China, and research by Terre des Hommes shows there is nothing stopping exported mica being used in products made by Western companies. A minimum price of €0.04 per kilo means that child workers are subject to severe exploitation. Terre des Hommes wants to put an end to children being exploited when mining mica – a shiny mineral used in the electronic, cosmetic and automotive industries.
Terre des Hommes has carried out research into the mica sector in Madagascar, and the supply chain to China and the world market. Researchers found entire families employed in quarrying and processing mica. In Madagascar, mica is mainly mined in the poor south. In the three main mica regions, the percentage of children between the ages of 5 and 17 that are working varies between 56 and 62 percent. The researchers conservatively estimate the total number of mica workers to be 22,000, at least half of which are minors (at least 11,000).
In Madagascar, mica is extracted using artisanal, non-industrial methods. Madagascar is the third-largest mica exporter in the world, and has now overtaken India as the largest exporter of sheet mica – the form mainly used in the electronics and automotive industries. Mica is cut out of the rock by hand, and debris is further processed and split manually. Several of the mica mining sites that were examined did not have a licence.
Child and adult miners alike receive less than half of what is paid per kilo in India. Since 2008, the mica export from Madagascar has increased 30 fold, however the price per ton has dropped significantly. All these factors lead to severe exploitation in the industry.
Export to China
Terre des Homme also analysed supply chains from Madagascar to China. 87 percent of mica from Madagascar is transported by boat to China, and is used in products made by Panasonic (Japan), Fujikura (Japanese wiring and cables company), Prysmian Group (cable manufacturer, merger of the Dutch Draka and the Italian Prysmian), Van Roll and Isovolta (both with a Swiss holding). Customers of these companies also run the risk of being linked to child labour in their supply chain.
Terre des Hommes believes that the business community is failing to conduct due diligence with regard to child labour in its products. Terre des Hommes calls on electronics companies and the automotive industry to find out the origin of the mica in their products. Companies should not accept the risk that their products have been made using the worst forms of child labour.
Government of Madagascar
This responsibility also applies to the government of Madagascar. The researchers met with officials of the responsible Ministry of Mines, who understand the problem but lack the resources and capacity for adequate monitoring. Madagascar is a vulnerable country, which is ranked 161 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index.
Picture: A child helps to mine the mineral mica in Madagascar. ©Jan-Joseph Stok/Terre des Hommes