Do you know what mica is? The likelihood is that most people will have never heard of it before a few weeks ago. The mineral, which is mined extensively in India, is used widely in the automotive sector in paint because it produces a shimmer which reflects and refracts light.
The reason you might have heard of it recently is because an investigation by The Guardian found that the mineral was being mined by children, which forced some of the world’s largest automakers to launch investigations into their supply chains.
The investigation by The Guardian documented illegal mines in the Tisri subdistrict in the Indian state of Jharkhand, where children aged 12 were found to be mining the mineral in hazardous conditions underground. Meanwhile, above the mines, girls as young as 10 were found to be sorting mica from other minerals.
Child rights campaigners have estimated that up to 20,000 children work in hundreds of small-scale mines in northern Jharkhand and southern Bihar.
Many campaign groups call on businesses on their procurement functions to tighten their grip on the supply chain in order to stop such things happening. What, then, can procurement functions do?
Frequent and thorough audits may be cumbersome for both procurement and suppliers but they are a key tool in terms of monitoring what is happening in the supply chain. As such, there needs to be a bit of a mind-set change when it comes to audits so that they are seen as value adding initiatives that benefit both parties.
Communication is important here. Talk open and honestly with your suppliers to make them aware of your priorities to have a safe working environment within the supply chain. Help them understand the audits, what benefits they can bring to them and where needed help them make improvements.
2) Look for alternatives
Even though India may be one of the biggest producers of mica globally there are other sources of supply and these are worth exploring to ensure that one, you reduce risk and two, that you can find other suppliers who comply to your CSR needs.
Finding alternatives is not impossible as companies such as cosmetic brand L’Oréal have demonstrated, where it has sought out synthetic sources of mica supply.
3) Support communities
If you have no alternative other than to source mica or other such minerals from potential trouble-spots then you must make sure it is done properly and that that is made clear to the public and your customers.
Many companies now publish sustainability reports giving added transparency into their supply chains and highlighting the initiatives they are running to improve living and working conditions across the world.
It is the procurement functions responsibility to source good ethically and they are the ones with the power to ensure that suppliers meet these standards. There will always be problems and investigations that uncover abuses but by taking such action the chances of them occurring will be reduced significantly.