Glittery mica paint used by car makers including Vauxhall, BMW, Volkswagen and Audi linked to illegal mines in India reliant on child labour and debt bondage.
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.
Glittering clouds of tiny mica particles swirl around 13-year-old Dharini* as she carries rocks of mica from the mineshaft to where groups of younger children are sorting through piles on the ground.
She says she has worked at mines, carved out of the mountainous hillside, for as long as she can remember and has never gone to school.
“I’ve been helping my mother here at the mine every day because they need my help for the money,” she says. Along with her mother, Dharini gets paid about £5 a week for six days of work.
Her mother, Basanti, has also spent her life working at mines. “Every evening we feel ill after work with nausea and it is difficult to breathe because of the dust but we have no choice, this is the only work.”
When asked if her child goes to school, she said: “My daughter works with me because we need the money to keep the family going.”
A few hours away, at another mine, more children are working alongside their families. Simitra, a 45-year-old mother of two, says the family are all working simply to try to cover the interest on a £200 loan they took out in 2014 after her husband contracted tuberculosis.
None of the families who work here know where the mica they scrape from the rock walls ends up, nor that they are the first link in multiple complex global supply chains stretching around the world.
“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,” said Aysel Sabahoglu, children’s rights officer of Terre des Hommes Netherlands, a Dutch NGO that works to protect children’s rights.
Campaigners say it is impossible to differentiate between mica from legal mines and from the hundreds of small-scale illegal mines in northern Jharkhand and southern Bihar.
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