Eradicate child labour in mica mining
Can you describe the goal of the Responsible Mica Initiative?
Fanny Frémont: The Responsible Mica Initiative is a global collaboration in which multiple industries and organisations from civil society jointly commit to work together towards sustainable Indian mica supply chains and to eradicate child labour in mica mining in India within the next five years. This also implies to work on improving communities within a compliant and legal framework. So, child labour is our priority but the global mission is much broader.
When you say broader, what exactly do you mean by that?
Frémont: It means that, if we want to tackle child labour, we have to address its root causes, such as poverty and lack of education. When we talk about India, the working conditions that exist during mica collection are also an issue, not only for children but also for adults. At the moment, mica collection is not really formally organised and consists in artisanal and small scale mining.
Is this only an issue in India or are there other countries and regions with similar problems?
Frémont: At the moment we are focusing on India because it is the main source of mica. But it is found in other countries such as the USA, Brazil, Madagascar and a few others. We have one of our members looking at other countries to see what issues could be important there.
You already mentioned that poverty is a root cause of child labour. So what are you doing to address the poverty problem?
Fanny Frémont is working for the Responsible Mica Initiative to eradicate child labour.
Frémont: For instance, we are developing a number of standards for the industry which are based on international conventions. Companies joining the Responsible Mica Initiative commit to implementing these standards once they have been developed. These standards will – among other – address working conditions, safety, child labour and minimum wages. One of the ideas is that, if adults can earn sufficient income, they won’t have to take their children along to the mines.
We also are working with local partners to empower children and families, inform them about their rights, raise awareness about the dangers of child labour and of course deliver quality education. We want to help them to create a dialogue with the local government to ensure that the children’s, global communities’ and miners’ rights are respected. Furthermore, we are starting to figure out what we can do to help ensure economic empowerment and to find new income opportunities both inside and outside the mica supply chain.
And what is preventing you from reaching these targets in India?
Frémont: Part of the challenge consists in getting the mica sector properly organised and giving small scale miners a voice. And of course you have to get local players to agree to pay a fair price for the miners’ work. The target is also to bring about cultural change, but this will take some time.
You have already enlisted a lot of major companies into your initiative. However, there are also plenty of companies which use mica and are not members. Could this be a major hurdle on the way to reaching your target?
Frémont: Yes, sure. One objective is to get everyone to join forces to bring about long-lasting changes. At the moment, we have more than 35 members from different industries, and the cosmetics industry is already very well represented. But the big players in mica are the automotive and electronics industries. In the automotive industry, mica is used for effect paints and finishes such as many different components. In electronics, it is used as an electric insulator, which is sometimes also used in the automotive industry.
These are the big players which can make a huge difference jumping on board, allowing to address the global issue.
At the moment you only have one car manufacturer taking part in your initiative.
Frémont: Yes. Naturally, major companies have to address many issues and they have to prioritise. But I really hope that they will recognize mica supply as a crucial issue and that more will join us in the future.
And how long has your initiative been active?
According to estimates only 10 percent of mica collection is legal and formalised. (Photo: Fanny Frémont)
Frémont: It was officially set up in January of this year, so it is very new. But the initiative is founded on past commitments and the experiences of individual members. So, we are not starting from nowhere. At the moment, we are in the pilot phase and are currently defining the standards and how we want to work on legal frameworks and Community Empowerment. Next November in New Delhi we will launch the 5-year implementation phase; that is the time-frame within which we want to resolve the child labour issue.
You said the Responsible Mica Initiative is founded on previous commitments. But there has also been some media coverage of this child labour problem, for example, by “The Guardian” in the UK and “Der Spiegel” in Germany. Was this a factor in starting the initiative?
Frémont: No. It wasn’t really linked to media coverage, because some of the members already committed to this issue 8 to 10 years ago. But, certainly, the media coverage pushes companies to join the initiative.
What can small and medium sized companies with limited resources do to ensure that they only get mica which was not mined using child labour? Can they contact your initiative or is there a label they can trust?
Frémont: Naturally, I would recommend that they join our initiative. That’s the idea: everyone should join. And they can implement the standards as soon as we have finished devising them and they can pass them on to their suppliers. That is actually the crucial part, because simply devising a number of standards is not enough on its own – they also have to be implemented.
If dealers or miners have implemented these standards, how will they be able to publicize this?
Frémont: We haven’t discussed this in full, yet. Certification will never happen directly through us, because we are not a certification body and we cannot be both a judge and an involved party. So there could be something there in the future, but it will have to be certified by external bodies.
We’ve already talked about the business side, but what about political will? Are governments cooperating?
Frémont: We naturally need the national and state governments in India to support what we are doing. Local support is particularly important. Plus, of course, any international organisations which could provide support for the initiative in different ways would also be helpful.
At the moment we have regular discussions with the OECD and trying to reach out to different European governmental bodies. All help is more than welcome.
And is corruption a problem in India?
Frémont: Mica mostly comes from the two states of Jharkand and Bihar in northern-east India. And mica is subject not just to national laws but also to local government laws. And there are some issues which make it difficult for us to intervene.
What is the situation regarding regulated and unregulated mica mining?
Frémont: At the moment we have some figures, but it’s quite difficult to know exactly what the situation is. Current estimates are that only around 10 percent of mica collection is legal and formalised.
And are there any attempts being made to improve the legal framework governing mica mining?
The Indian government announced that there would be auctions for new mica mines. But we don’t know the time schedule and we know nothing about the conditions. We think it’s a good step towards legalisation and organization but we don’t know enough details yet. At the moment, this could make things better or worse for small scale minors – we simply don’t know.
The interview was conducted by Jan Gesthuizen
Further details on the Responsible Mica Initiative can be found at www.responsible-mica-initiative.com