JHARKHAND, INDIA: It seems like an innocuous ingredient, a phrase amongst many hidden on the again of the packaging of your eye shadow palette.
Mica: A mineral that may be floor all the way down to make sparkly powders, and located in every little thing from eye shadow to lip gloss to basis. Cosmetic firms worth mica for its properties: Refractive, superfine and naturally occurring in numerous colors.
It will be discovered throughout the world, together with India, which is understood for having some of the world’s largest and best deposits. But in India, there’s a heavy worth to pay for it, the programme Undercover Asia investigates.
Thousands of miners working illegally in the nation’s mica mines shoulder this burden, distant from the vibrant lights of beauty counters.
‘WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING’
Jharkhand, a north-eastern India state wealthy in mineral assets, is the nation’s main producer of coal, copper and mica. But near half its folks reside in poverty.
One of them is 40-year-old widow Basanti Mosamat, who picks and sells scrap mica for a dwelling. It is her household’s solely supply of revenue.
Once every week, Mosamat, her father-in-law and her 5 kids make a 10-kilometre trek into the forest bordering her village to arrange camp, the place they might spend the subsequent few days sifting for the mineral.
“We have difficulty finding food and trying to survive,” she stated. Picking mica from daybreak until nightfall with none protecting gear has left her fingers scraped and bruised.
Her oldest daughter, Karishma Kumari Birhor, has been selecting mica since she was 5 — out of necessity. The extra fingers at work, the extra possible it’s the household can have meals on the desk.
“One person picking mica isn’t enough,” stated the 14-year-old. “My father passed away, so I have to help my mother.”
Each kilogramme of mica scrap sells for seven rupees (S$0.13). On a very good day, her household hope to earn round 150 rupees.
They are additionally much less lucky than most. They are half of India’s 100 million indigenous folks referred to as Adivasis, who reside on the fringes of society with restricted governmental assist in phrases of well being, schooling, job safety and meals.
“We don’t have anything here. We eat only every other day,” stated Karishma. “Dreams don’t come true.”
DANGEROUS AND UNPREDICTABLE
Poverty has pushed some miners to show to deserted caves and mine shafts, the place mica is extra plentiful. But there is no such thing as a lighting or security gear, and so they usually depend on their data of the terrain to information them.
Mukesh Bhulla, who has been going into deserted mines since he was a boy, continues to be afraid. “People could slip and fall somewhere, or stones could fall on their head … It’s very tough,” he stated.
“We have to be aware of our surroundings. Sometimes mines collapse. If one person makes a mistake, many could die.”
In January, there have been at the very least three studies of mine collapses in Jharkhand’s Koderma district. It is estimated that 10 to twenty folks die in such mishaps every month in the nation’s north-eastern mica belt.
But for each accident reported, many extra are lined up for one large cause: It is against the law to mine mica from land beneath the Forest (Conservation) Act, which got here into impact in 1980 with the intention of defending India’s forests.
The miners, nonetheless, don’t have any alternative however to proceed. “If we don’t work here, then we’d all die,” stated Dimpi Devi, a mom of three who mines mica from the forest and from deposits in her backyard.
There are not any different choices for work. What would we do?
She struggles to make ends meet. Her household’s weekly bills can go as much as 2,500 rupees, however they barely earn 1,000 rupees.
This makes miners like her susceptible to exploitation, particularly when confronted with further household or well being bills. Without entry to formal banking programs, they flip to unlicensed moneylenders, whose rates of interest are as excessive as 200 per cent a yr.
“Some miners told us they’re only allowed to sell mica to specific traders, those they’d borrowed money from and at a price decided by that trader,” stated investigative journalist Peter Bengtsen, who has tracked the mica commerce in Jharkhand for greater than a decade.
“That agreement would basically last until they’d repaid that debt to this trader.”
Raids by forest authorities are additionally widespread, and miners typically should pay bribes with a view to proceed working. “The police don’t visit often, but the forest rangers are always after us,” stated Mosamat.
Jharkhand’s mining areas are additionally run by totally different syndicates.
“There’s a whole network of people who make this mining happen, and they’re very powerful,” stated Deepak Bara, a contract journalist primarily based in Jharkhand. “It can be very dangerous — it can be life-threatening — because there are so many stakeholders.”
It is estimated that 70 per cent of India’s mica output is illegally mined.
‘A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM’
Mica’s controversial status began to emerge in the mid-2000s, following investigations into the use of little one labour in the industry.
According to the International Labour Organisation, India has greater than 10 million working kids. And with worldwide organisations shining the highlight on the subject, the plight of kids in the mica industry attracted the worldwide media’s consideration.
“The stories came out — children going to mica mines, helping out their parents. So many documentaries were made (on) the issue of child labour,” stated Bara.
But native journalists and politicians argue that these studies fail to deal with one essential element: The marginalisation of the Adivasis. Children rising up round mica mines “have only one option”, famous Bara: To choose mica.
“They have to earn their family some income,” he stated. “There’s no childcare support from the government. If there’s any, it’s not functioning.”
The drawback round mica is a systemic drawback. It’s not such as you do a small marketing campaign and issues would get sorted out. The floor actuality may be very totally different.
In response to the rising public concern, a number of international coalitions had been shaped. One of them, the Responsible Mica Initiative, intends to eradicate little one mining in Jharkhand by subsequent yr by way of higher regulation and practices. Its members embrace Chanel, L’Oréal and Sephora.
Several manufacturers have additionally pledged stricter compliance of their provide chains. But some additionally acknowledged the issue in tracing their mica and checking whether or not it’s free of little one labour.
In 2019, India exported greater than US$37 million (S$49 million) price of mica powder, in accordance with World Bank information. Given the huge portions purchased and traded, it may be inconceivable to trace the place a model’s mica comes from precisely.
Nonetheless, traceability has turn into a key subject for some producers.
In January, European Union regulation of gold, tungsten and tin as battle minerals took impact, so firms are actually obliged to supply these minerals responsibly. But comparable laws for mica has but to be addressed.
“Mica is quite a cheap raw material to produce,” stated Yue Jin Tay, the enterprise growth director of Circulor, a accountable sourcing firm that makes use of blockchain to confirm the origin of items and minerals in provide chains.
“The cost of making sure that it’s been responsibly sourced as a proportion of the cost of the product sometimes does not make economic sense compared to other raw materials like gold or cobalt.”
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Technology will be half of the resolution, he added. But extra work is required to make moral buying and selling a typical follow.
“To ensure that responsible sourcing practices are happening, they might have to be legislated for, and organisations will need to build the cost of compliance into their value chains,” he stated.
“And we consumers need to accept that there’s an increased cost to us.”
WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?
Back in Jharkhand, demand for mica has not let up, and the state authorities is pushing for mining to be one of its financial progress initiatives.
With the issues confronted by mica pickers turning into too grave to disregard, increasingly more group rallies are being organised to provide them a voice. At some rallies, calls to legalise mining are rising louder.
Sudivya Kumar, a legislative assemblyman from Jharkhand, is utilizing this momentum to proceed lobbying for the legalisation of mica mining.
“Jharkhand has always been covered with forests, and its protection and welfare have been in our DNA forever,” he stated. “We must find a way to save both the community and the forests.”
Mica was as soon as labeled as forest produce, however the Forest (Conservation) Act made mica selecting a non-forest exercise. India’s indigenous individuals are hoping its standing will likely be restored.
“If picking mica is our only option, then the government should legalise mining here so that we can work without any fear or pressure,” stated Devi.
Former mine proprietor Deepak Kumar Singh agreed, saying: “Mica scraps are basically residue from previous mining activities. It doesn’t harm the forest, but it’s still not legal.”
But with none actual motion being taken, mica pickers like Devi and Mosamat proceed to work amid uncertainty for now.
Watch this episode of Undercover Asia here.