Our chance to tackle abuses in mica industry after years of violence, secrecy

by Catherine Peyreaud, Natural Resources Stewardship Circle
Wednesday, 3 August 2016 10:30 GMT

A girl show some of the mica flakes she has collected whilst working in a open cast illegal mine in Giridih district in the eastern state of Jharkhand, India, January 22, 2016. REUTERS/Nita Bhalla

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The Natural Resources Stewardship Circle (NRSC) has been working for several years in the mica producing regions of India with the support of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an NGO founded by Kailash Satyarthi (2014 Nobel Prize). Although the cosmetic industry has been an end-user focus for the media, rather than change our souring practices and suppliers, we decided to focus on this systemic challenge and work with BBA on local interventions to address the issue and its very complex roots causes. Given the sensitivity and complexity of the problem, and our need to demonstrate tangible and quantifiable results, we decided not  to publicly communicate about our work with BBA, until recently.

Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation: Deaths of child workers in India's mica "ghost" mines covered up to keep industry alive

Why not people ask us? It was really a matter of timing and the need to first develop and implement a pilot program, and then to test it on a larger scale   to make sure it works. The NRSC and its members (Chanel, Yves Rocher group, Estee Lauder Cies, Clarins, P&G) aligned behind a very concrete program in the field with BBA since 2010, with the objective of building a model to eradicate the issue. 

A recent study commissioned by the US Department of Labor has identified the pattern experienced by BBA over more than 100 villages as one of the most exemplary and relevant initiative to eradicate child labor. Working behind the scenes,  has provided us with the opportunity to build and test a sustainable model. Once we had a tested and proven approach, we needed to add more scale and reached out to a larger community of cosmetic companies and suppliers to collaborate on a solution. Joined by L’Oréal, Merck, Sudarshan, companies that also developed proprietary programs to address challenges in this supply chain, the NRSC organized a multi-industry summit and asked  representatives from companies in other industry sectors to join forces (the cosmetic industry accounts less than 3% of global mica supplies).

In February 2016, with the support of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) we convened a group of industry players together in Delhi for 2 ½  days – from exporters, to producers, collectors from the villages – which led to a mica declaration and a commitment for each participant to collectively take action in the field. We estimate that up to 80 percent of mica is illegally mined so a broader cross-section of stakeholders was required. Child labor is the consequence of dramatic poverty  which is exacerbated by infertile land, absence of clean drinking water, no electricity, remoteness, limited access to education, no health center, etc, etc… Often for many families,  mica collection is their only one source of revenue. Although the mica summit was productive and served to align key stakeholders on the challenges and potential solutions,  with clear next steps, industries that are larger source materials users, were not present.

The NRSC remains very active on this issue and is at present time is developing an international mica "actions oriented” platform with concrete steps to be taken in the field. This will be ready by the end of the year and our goal is to have all the major supply chain actors and end users of mica, join the platform. We are on the way to set out a clear path in terms of legal structure, budget and economic (traceability of the supply chain), social involvement to eradicate child labor within five years and improve living conditions – access to water, electricity, education, capacity building, develop other sources of revenue,..   - so that these communities have other options other than mica mining. The local governments have been very helpful with us on this but we would like to make all the mining legal, install proper machinery and equipment to improve standards at the mines and protect workers.

Without a broader multi-stakeholder approach little will change. This is a systemic issue and requires the collective action of all parties involved in the supply chain, especially the end users.

Catherine Peyreaud is the Executive Director of NRSC. The organisation was founded in 2008 in Grasse, France, by representatives of beauty, fragrance, and flavors companies, farming communities, and the Indigenous cause.