24 July 2009
The link between child labour in rural India and the global cosmetics industry has been uncovered in an investigation by the Sunday Times.
Accompanying campaigners from Indian child rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), the newspaper discovered children as young as six years old working in mica mines in the jungles of Jharkhand.
Children, often working alongside their families, earn as little as 50 rupees a day (63p) for collecting the mineral, which is a key ingredient in cosmetics.
Bhuwan Ribhu from BBA said: “It is most disturbing that six-year-old girls are involved in mines to beautify ladies all over the world. More action needs to be taken by cosmetics companies, consumers and governments.”
In India, it is illegal for children under the age of 14 to work and in hazardous occupations, including mining, the age limit rises to 18. Anti-Slavery International campaigns to end child labour in dangerous industries.
Some of the mica is bought by the German based Pharmaceutical firm Merck KGaA, which supplies S Black, a company that sells mica products to British manufacturers including supermarket giant Tesco. Merk also sell directly to the UK supermarket Asda.
Merck confirm in the article that they were aware of the use of child labour despite contractual obligations from suppliers not to employ children. The company said that further monitoring along the supply chain was very difficult, adding, “especially since these areas are considered not safe.”
Joanna Ewart-James, Anti-Slavery International’s Supply Chain Co-ordinator, said: “It is disappointing that Merck knew about the existence of child labour but appears to have done little to address it. This case demonstrates that contractual requirements not to use forced or child labour are insufficient and offer no guarantee that neither exist in a company’s supply chain.”