Using Child Labor To Mine MicaMohammed Salim Ansari, 12, mining in Jharkhand, India. Photo: Ben Doherty
When we put on our face powder, glittering eye shadow and nail polish; chances are we are using mineral ingredients mined by children as young as 6 in India.
Mica is a mineral found in the ground and in caves that is prized for its luster and sparkling effects. Used not only in the cosmetic industry, it is also used for the automotive industry (the metallic like paint), electronic goods and insulation.
In the remote district of Nawada in Jharkhand in India, young boys such as Salim (pictured above) works grueling long hour days for scrap mineral dug from the jungle. For their efforts, they are paid 8 cents a kilo of mica.
“Mica pieces are spread all across the ground so we have to remove the mud and sieve the mica particles” he explains. “We have to walk three to four kilometers deep into the jungle to find mica. It is very dangerous and many times I have been stung by scorpions whilst digging, and I also get cuts and bruises from sharp stones. Nobody in my family is educated therefore we have no other means of earning money.”
The mica industry is ‘regulated’ but when 130,000 tonnes of the mineral is exported against what the Indian ministry’s official claim of 15,000 tonnes; the gaping discrepancies speaks volumes about the illegal trade.
Cosmetic groups such as L’Oreal (Maybelline, YSL), Estee Lauder (MAC, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Aveda) and other smaller cosmetic brands are all aware that child labor and the black market for mica exists, but few do anything substantial to curb the practice. (Although the Estee Lauder group is working with the NGO group BBA).
In the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) leaflet on mica child labor, it fears for the children’s well being and are working towards giving children the education they deserve to lift them out of the poverty cycle.
The dangers of open-cast mica mining are multiple and in some cases fatal. Scavenging in the rocky ground, child miners risk snake and scorpion bites, whilst digging holes they risk being buried alive by collapsing slag piles, they also regularly suffer from cuts and skin infections and the mica dust can cause respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, silicosis and asthma.
Furthermore, the longer term effects of child mica mining are gloomy for the whole community in so far as their children are being denied their right in Indian law to an education which could lift them out of the poverty trap and prevent the ongoing cycle of child labour.
Thanks to The Sunday Times, awareness was raised about child slavery in mica mining and the international community took note. In June 2009, former 14 year old child slave Manan Ansari spoke about his plight in the International Labour Conference in Geneva.
“My work required me to collect ‘dhivra’ (mica) pieces from ten in the morning to six in the evening. Sometimes, I couldn’t get any dhivra for earning…,” the young boy recollects.
“We had to dig up pits and sometimes, those pieces used to pierce into open wounds which would later result in infections.”
Is beauty worth this price?
As consumers we need to ask more questions about where the ingredients of our cosmetics and skin care products comes from. We need to be more aware, ask more questions and be ready to vote with our feet if the brand does not measure up.
Glitter is alluring and beautiful, but not at the expense of child slavery.