Sourcemap’s mission is to map the world’s supply chains, and as part of that mission, we engage with leading practitioners of supply chain transparency to bring attention to their issues and approaches. We start this series with Fanny Fremont, Executive Director of the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI). The RMI is a non-profit organization committed to establishing a fair, responsible and sustainable mica supply chain in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar in India that will eliminate unacceptable working conditions and eradicate child labour by 2022. RMI currently has 55 members including companies like L’Oreal, Merck, Shiseido, Coty, BASF, LVMH, PPG and many more. Mica is a versatile mineral with a wide range of applications across electrical, paints, heavy industries, electronic, automobiles, plastic and cosmetics, among others.. As much as 25% of the world’s mica is sourced from informal mines in India where working conditions are harsh and systemic problems endure, including child labor. Below are excerpts from the conversation between Fanny and Sourcemap’s Director of Business Development Juliette Barre.
JB: Can you tell me how the Responsible Mica Initiative came about?
FF: The RMI was officially created in January 2017, building on several existing individual initiatives regarding mica mining in India, with the ambition of aligning the efforts of all the stakeholders, building common standards and programs and scaling up impact from the mines to the end-users. The RMI uses a multi-stakeholder and holistic approach that engages companies, civil society organizations, industry associations, and governments to develop and implement three integrated program pillars that will establish responsible workplace standards, empower local communities and establish a legal framework for the mica sector. That’s to us the only way to leverage a positive impact on local communities, children and their environment, and to drive a long-lasting change.
JB: Issues around Mica aren't new, but lately we’ve been hearing more about them in the news. Why do you think that is?
FF: I guess it’s a combination of growing public awareness versus issues linked to mica sourcing and request for increased transparency; of development of hard and soft regulations focusing on respect of human rights within supply chains - including of minerals supply chains; and - I hope - of our efforts as Responsible Mica Initiative to raise awareness and federate different stakeholders around our mission and activities.
JB: Based on your experience and work with your members, what do you think are the three biggest challenges regarding Mica traceability at the moment?
FF: The 3 main challenges we are facing are (i) the mapping as a pre-requisite, (ii) the lack of clear legal framework regarding mica collection in India, and (iii) the cost. For mica-using industries like automotive or electronics, components using mica can be numerous and supply chains complex. Finding out who are the exact tiers 1, 2, 3… suppliers till the mica mines is already a challenge. Then, to date, feedback from the field indicated that no single mine in Jharkhand and in Bihar (India) can be considered legal, meaning with a valid government license. Based on this, our assumption is that it would be very complicated to have very upstream actors entering identification and volume information into a shared tool. And finally, mica is a low-value mineral in comparison to gold or even other minerals. Bearing the costs of new traceability technologies could represent a barrier to some actors if the ROI is unclear.
JB: What are the frameworks and/or best practices available to the private sector at the moment?
FF: Right after its creation in January 2017, the RMI started work to develop responsible workplace standards which provide a central resource for preventing child labor and improving overall working conditions at mica processors and mines in India. Workplace standards address five dimensions of operations at mines and processors: legal requirements, social obligations, OHS provisions, economic requirements, and environmental standards. To my knowledge, there is no other equivalent standard focusing on mica.
JB: What first step(s) should any company using mica start implementing?
FF: The first step would be to map their mica uses, and right after that, to take action. Risks linked to mica sourcing and processing activities have already been identified and assessed, and there is an urgent need for action. We are talking here about the worst forms of child labor and globally harsh working conditions. I would, of course, encourage joining forces with the Responsible Mica Initiative through active membership.