A year-long investigation by Terre des Hommes Netherlands found that children as young as five make up more than half the number of miners scavenging for mica in Madagascar.
At least 11,000 children between the ages of five and 17 are employed in quarrying and processing the shimmery, heat-resistant mineral, which is used in everything from makeup to car paint and hugely prevalent in the automotive and electronics industry.
Children comprise as much as 62 percent of the overall mining workforce, researchers found, with miners descending deep into the ground to cut the mica by hand.
The work is dangerous, with children complaining of aching muscles, open sores and respiratory problems, according to the report, published this week by Terre des Hommes and the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations.
“The fact that more than half of all the miners are under-age is shocking and should be seen as a global call to action,” said Jos de Voogd of Terre des Hommes.
“Nearly 90 percent of all the mica mined in Madagascar is being exported directly to China, and our research found that none of the companies involved are doing their due diligence to find out where their product is coming from or what working conditions are like. They need to take responsibility and stop child exploitation.”
Drought, instability and extreme poverty in Madagascar’s southern regions, where the mica mines are located, force entire families to descend to the mines together to scavenge, dig and process the mineral artisanally, according to the report. Of the 13 mines visited by researchers, only two had valid licenses.
Adult and child miners alike are paid just 34p a kilo – less than half of what is paid in India, despite exports having jumped by a factor of 30 since 2008, according to the report.
Madagascar is the third-largest mica exporter in the world, with earnings worth an estimated $6.5m (£5m) in 2017, according to the report. The impoverished island nation has surpassed India as the largest exporter of sheet mica, which is used in cars and airplanes for electrical and thermal insulation, yet three-quarters of Madagascar’s 25.6 million inhabitants live on less than $1.90 a day.
Researchers found that even if the young children scavenging for mica worked a full day, their salary was never enough for them to afford more than one meal.
“Sadly this kind of appalling abuse is all too common in mineral supply chains,” said Eniko Horvath of the international corporate watchdog Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.
The NGO is calling for companies to investigate all aspects of their mica supply chains and get involved in programmes aimed at improving working conditions for miners, such as the Responsible Mica Initiative in India.
“We are not calling for a boycott on mica from Madagascar, because the people in the region where it is mined are very poor and they depend on mica and the income it provides,” said De Voogd.
“But the exploitation of children must stop, and companies need to take action to pay adult miners higher prices so they can earn a proper living wage as well.” (Source: The Guardian)