Challenges linked to mica sourcing

In India mica is sourced in a number of states including principally Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Both states Bihar and Jharkhand, straddled by the so-called “mica belt”, account for a significant share of Indian mica*.

This same region is prone to labor abuses and the use of child labor. Hence the current scope of the Responsible Mica Initiative is focused on mica sourcing and processing in Jharkhand and Bihar, India.

Mica also is mined on every continent. In March 2018, Terre des Hommes published a second report on mica, this time focused on the use of child labor in the global mica industry. The report prepared by SOMO, Global Mica Mining and the Impact on Children’s Rights, asserts that child labor is employed in mica collection in Madagascar and is suspected of being used in China, Brazil, Pakistan and Sudan among other countries. The underlying factors associated with child labor in these countries are similar to those found in India.

The presence of child labor and poor working conditions is the result of a variety of interconnected underlying causes:

  • Unclear and weak enforcement of a legal framework for the mica mining sector,
  • An underrepresented and underserved demographic,
  • Lack of health and education services and infrastructure,
  • Remoteness and poverty,
  • Political instability.

One cause of the prevalence of child labor, poor working conditions and poor livelihood situation stems from the loss of a legal framework for the mica mining sector. Many of the region’s mica mines are located in forests. India’s Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which was enacted to protect the environment and forests, had the unintended consequence of effectively ending legal mining. It became difficult to obtain leases to continue or start a new mine located in a regulated forest. However, an informal market continued which relied on villagers to collect mica from inside mines or piled nearby in dumps (dhibra) adjacent to mines that have formally been abandoned and lack any enforcement of responsible and sustainable workplace practices*.

Social and demographic forces also contribute to poor labor conditions. The state of Jharkhand was spun off of Bihar in 2000 in part to grant greater autonomy to the area’s concentration of Adivasi, tribal ethnic peoples who were historically underrepresented in the larger Bihar and poor. However, even after the creation of a separate state, the communities that provide the mica workforce remain a minority who are not empowered to affect working conditions.

The region lacks vital health resources such as access to drinking water and basic medical services. Literacy and school attendance rates are below the national average. Quality education is hard to ensure. There are too few rural schools, especially secondary schools, and they are often insufficiently equipped, often lacking the most basic supplies. There are not enough teachers and they may be poorly trained or monitored.

The territory ceded to Jharkhand is rich in mineral deposits including mica. However, it is a remote part of the country largely cut off from development opportunities evident in other regions. Bihar and Jharkhand have among the highest poverty rates in India. Moreover, soil acidity and irrigation challenges have prevented local populations from developing viable agricultural activities for food and greater economic self-sufficiency. Absent a legal framework for mining, some operators of illicit mines and/or middle-men take advantage of villagers whose poverty makes them dependent on the informal and unregulated mica market for their livelihood.

Political instability is exacerbated by the local Naxalite insurgency who purport to represent the interests of the poor underclass. Their presence and conflicts with government authorities serve to further weaken the rule of law in the region and also make it difficult for the government to offer services to the village communities.

*Indian Minerals Yearbook 2014, (Part- III: Mineral Reviews), 53rd Edition, MICA.