Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

CleanTechnica

Cars

BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, & Vauxhall Utilizing Mica Suppliers Linked To Illegal Child Labour & Debt Bondage Mines

BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, and Vauxhall have been linked to mica suppliers that make use of child labour and debt bondage on a large scale by a recent investigative piece published by the Guardian.

The piece documented children as young as 10 working in illegal mines that sell to Indian exporters that in turn sell to middle-men firms that in turn sell to some of the top car-paint firms in the industry (PPG and Axalta).

Mica flakes are, of course, used in many car paints — as well as cosmetics and electronics, amongst other things — to provide a shimmery, luminescent quality, or for its conductive properties, amongst other things.

While the Indian government has publicly pledged to end child labor in the mica mining industry, given the scale and costs involved, enforcement is difficult. Though, a limited portion of the industry is now monitored for labor and environmental infractions. Common estimates place the number of children working in small-scale mica mines in northern Jharkhand and southern Bihar at around ~20,000.

The Guardian provides more, noting that, “on visits this year to illegal mines in the Tisri subdistrict in the Indian state of Jharkhand, the Guardian documented children aged 12 mining mica underground in hazardous, leaking mineshafts, hammering glittering rock flakes from walls and carrying heavy loads through slippery tunnels. Above ground, girls as young as 10 were sorting mica from other mined material.”

Continuing: “The Guardian has traced mica from three mines in Tisri subdistrict to three Indian exporters: Mohan Mica, Pravin and Mount Hill. One of their biggest customers is Fujian Kuncai, a Chinese company, whose website listed (pdfs now removed) customers including cosmetics giants L’Oréal and Proctor & Gamble as well as PPG and Axalta, two of the leading companies in the world’s $19 billion car paint industry. Many of these children work in mines alongside their parents and siblings, for whom the mine is the only source of income. Many families are bonded to the mines by large debts owed to local moneylenders or mine owners who charge up to 200% annual interest.”

The children’s rights officer of the Dutch NGO Terre des Hommes Netherlands, Aysel Sabahoglu, commented: “Natural mica goes into numerous products without anyone realising, since it is not listed as ingredient in car paints, decorative paints, plastic products, hairdryers, toasters and much more. Child labour is a part of our everyday life but no one knows about it.”

As there is no real way to differentiate between the mica mined at legal and illegal small-scale mines in India, most of the mica mined in the region may as well be assumed to be the result of illegal activity.

To explain, India officially “produced” (“extracted” would be more accurate) around 19,000 tonnes of crude and scrap mica in 2013–2014, and yet actual exports were around 6 times higher during that time period — with around 128,000 tonnes exported, according to the Ministry of Mines. So what made up the difference between official figures and actual exports?

And, for that matter, why source from India rather than from other better-regulated mica-mining regions? A good question, but probably one that simply relates to pricing and costs.

Here’s more on the labyrinth course that mica takes from illegal mines to luxury car paints:

“Mica from illegal mines is sold to networks of local traders, who sell the mineral to Indian export companies. The mica is next transported to Kolkata and shipped to foreign companies who then transform the mica into the pearlescent pigments used in industry.

“Axalta and PPG confirmed that they use natural mica in their paint products. Axalta also confirmed that it sources pearlescent pigments from Fujian Kuncai. PPG declined to say whether it is a Kuncai customer… PPG and Axalta sell to leading car companies.”

As one would expect, following being made aware of the link, most of the auto manufacturers in question have issued statements revealing that internal investigations will be launched….

Simple PR damage control?

As noted by the executive director of the Business & Human Rights Centre, Phil Bloomer: “There is a huge gap in what India apparently produces and actually exports — clearly indicating existence of illegal mining and operations. Nobody wants the curse of forced and child labour in their supply chains, but, with large-scale hidden production, it takes a lot more than a simple audit of your apparent ‘supplier’ to eliminate modern slavery from your supply chain. Too many companies are buying with one eye open to the price, and the other closed to the abuse.

Here was BMW’s response to being informed of the link: “Our supply chain response team is investigating your claim. Initial findings suggest that two of our suppliers may indeed obtain materials indirectly from Fujian Kuncai Fine Chemicals Co Ltd. In accordance with our guidelines, we have asked these two suppliers to respond to these allegations.… The BMW Group does not tolerate child labour in its supply chain. If the allegations are substantiated, we will do everything to ensure that the company involved is no longer part of our supply chain in the future.”

 
Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
 
 

Advertisement
 
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

Comments

You May Also Like

Cars

Volkswagen ID.3 beats Tesla Model 3 in August in Germany

Batteries

Solid Power will have prototype solid state batteries available for testing next year.

Cars

The French plugin vehicle market took its usual holiday in August, with last month’s plugin registrations ending at 17,404 units, divided between 9,916 BEVs...

Cars

If I was sitting in the front row waiting for an orchestral concert, I would be listening to the players tuning up. At first,...

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.