The Ministry of Labor has identified mica mined in Madagascar as a child labor product. That distinction will put pressure on companies to change their supply chains, according to proponents.
The move came after an NBC News investigation in 2019 that found that children as young as 4 were working in underground pits to mine mica in Madagascar. Much of the minerals go to China, where they are made into products that are shipped to the United States, including hair dryers, batteries, and even train parts.
Children who work in mica mines have back problems and breathing problems because they went down into dark pits without safety equipment to collect mineral fragments for a few cents an hour. Others work in mica processing centers, where they spend hours a day hitting mica sheets with socket wrench-like tools.
In its report, “List of Goods Produced by Children or Forced Labor 2020,” the Department of Labor’s International Affairs Bureau referred to reports, including NBC News, that young children were working in dangerous conditions to produce mica in southern Madagascar.
“Adolescent boys dig mines and risk injuries from falling rocks as they use sharp tools to extract mica from the underground without protective equipment,” said the report published in September.
“Both boys and girls work long hours in the hot sun and carry heavy loads. They are exposed to mica and sand dust throughout the production process. Child laborers typically do not attend school, and girls who work in the mines are particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. “
Mica is particularly valued in the electronics and automotive world because it acts as a natural insulator that does not overheat even at extreme temperatures.
NBC News checked hundreds of shipping records and traveled more than 400 miles through Madagascar’s remote southern region with Dutch child protection group Terre des Hommes to document the mica river mined by children.
Terre des Hommes estimates that at least 10,000 children work in Madagascar’s mica sector.