Responsible Mica Initiative Addresses European Parliament and UN Events on Child Labor

Between November 19th and November 26th the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI) participated in two key events focused on human rights and child labor. The first event took place at the European Parliament the day before the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and was hosted by MP Hilde Vautmans in collaboration with RMI and Terre des Hommes International Federation. The following week, RMI took part in a constructive panel discussion at the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva alongside Terre des Hommes Netherlands and the Kailash Satyarthi Children Foundation.

EP Parliament session

MEP Hilde Vautmans (Belgium – Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten) welcomed participants with touching yet compelling words about her commitment to end child labor. She stated that more than 152 million children are still working, among which 72 million are involved in dangerous work and sexual exploitation. She made a plea for a “wake up call,” insisting on the importance of setting up a comprehensive legal framework to address this global crisis. Following Ms. Vautmans’ moving introduction, MEP Heidi Hautala (Finland – Vihreä liitto) shared her goal to harmonize human rights due diligence policies that are in place among various European countries. While emphasizing that “due diligence won’t be the silver bullet to solve child labor issues,” due diligence remains an essential step.

The introductory remarks were followed by a panel discussion, facilitated by Delphine Moralis, Secretary General at Terre des Hommes International Federation, which set the background for the discussion of child labor.

  • Thomas Wissing, Head of Advocacy and Partnerships Unit, Fundamental Principals and Rights at Work Branch at the ILO, presented the two ILO conventions that define the limit of child labor and provide a clear framework for drafting legislation. He emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of child labor by carrying out comprehensive due diligence and fostering a community-based approach that would go beyond any one sector. A broad approach can prevent the displacement of child labor from one industrial sector or one community to another…
  • Jordi Curell, Director of Labor Mobility at the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission, highlighted the importance of maintaining the “zero-tolerance” policy towards the worst forms of child labor, the necessity of promoting transparency and understanding the causes of child labor, and the importance of enforcing key policies to eradicate child labor.
  • Madelaine Tuninga, Head of the Unit in DG Trade of the European Commission, discussed the importance of policy integration among countries and raw material buyers, as well as the necessity of developing several bodies to monitor regulatory enforcement.

A second panel, organized around several key players of the fight against child labor and facilitated by Fanny Frémont, Executive Director of the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI), explored in more detail ways to remedy this crisis.

  • Nils Oldenburg, President of RMI, explained that on behalf of its 55 members RMI employs a multi-stakeholder approach applying key programs in India’s eastern states of Bihar and Jharkhand. RMI has developed its own Workplace Standards protocol and implements them on the ground. In addition, RMI is implementing Community Empowerment programs that benefit approximately 30,000 people in the mica region. Despite RMI’s success to date, Mr. Oldenburg stated that key challenges for remain. Better quantitative program assessment will ensure that the adoption of Workplace Standards is scaling-up properly. Well implemented scale-up will ensure that businesses will not bear competitive or financial disadvantages from adhering to proper workplace practices… Creation of a clear regulatory framework governing mica activities in India will provide additional means to prevent child labor and address its root causes.
  • Carel Kok, CEO of Terre des Hommes Netherlands, emphasized the necessity of approaching child labor situations with a multi-stakeholder approach, as well as the need for legislation, especially when voluntary actions do not occur. Mr. Kok noted that the next challenge is to provide evidence that the multi-stakeholder approach works and should become standard practice to scale up the approach across the mica belt and then bring it to other regions and raw material sourcing which continue to use child labor and allow inadequate workplace health and safety practices.
  • Olivier Laboulle, Head of Program at the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), took a deep dive into the actions which have been undertaken by the ICI since 2000, emphasizing the struggle to implement sustainable solutions. Mr. Laboulle stated that the key to change lies in being supportive and not punitive, and taking into account all of the players in the supply chain, from the cocoa collectors to the end consumer. He also mentioned that certification should be handled with caution because it might lead to raw material certification even if some issues have not been entirely addressed.
  • Gangamma Chengappa, Sustainability Program Manager, H&M, took the opportunity to present the industry approach that was pursued to fight child labor in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan.
  • Sandie Blanchet, Director, Office for Relations with EU institutions at UNICEF, concluded by emphasizing the importance of building a budget around newly created regulations, ensuring access to quality education, and establishing fair prices to ensure a decent revenue for raw materials collectors. Ms. Blanchet concluded by expressing her wish to see key institutions and governments support work initiated by multi-stakeholder initiatives or NGOs.

UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

The 2019 meeting of the UN Forum on Business and Human rights hosted a panel on mica mining in India which included RMI Executive Director Fanny Frémont and other experts in the sector. The session offered case studies on multi-stakeholder collaboration over several years designed to eliminate child labor in the sector. 

The session was facilitated by P. Nagasayee Malathy, Executive Director, Programmes, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and was opened by moving testimony from Mohammad Manan Ansari, a youth rescued from mica mines, who emphasized the importance of allowing children to go to school and have dreams for their lives. He called on global agencies to support work in India and ensure a future for children who today work in mica mines.

Fanny Frémont explained RMI’s multi-stakeholder, impact oriented and holistic approach, and demonstrated how that approach is addressing global mandates – including those set forth in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Global Compact and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Membership in RMI helps companies meet their due diligence obligations and implementation programs. Fanny Frémont also reminded the audience that RMI’s approach has been recognized as good practice by the International Labor Affairs Bureau of the US Department of Labor and also received an award for best practice at the UN Forum in 2018 as the most innovative approach to taking the UN principles from paper to practice.

RMI will continue to promote and engage in multi-stakeholder events such as those sponsored by the European Parliament and UN. They provide critical opportunities to raise the visibility of the child labor problem in the mica sector and generate interest and engagement among private sector members of the mica supply chain, government, multilateral global agencies and NGOs whose membership in RMI can continue to strengthen its programs.