Tag Archive for: Madagascar


Ending Child Labor in Mica Mines in India and Madagascar

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk 

Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Most people use products containing mica daily, without realizing what the story behind their production is. Mica is a mineral commonly found in products such as cosmetics, paints, and electronics. For most people living in the West, mica is simply something that makes these products shiny. However, extracting mica is often linked to the worst forms of child labor.

India and Madagascar are the two largest exporters of sheet mica globally, with most mica mining happening in illegal mines. The two countries are also the most associated with using children to extract the mineral.

Areas where mica mines are located struggle with high poverty rates, so mining mica is often the only thing that lets families put food on the table and survive. With families struggling to earn a living, children often have to supplement their parents’ income.

As mica mining is unregulated and, for the most part, thrives in hiding, there are many dangers associated with it.

The scale of the problem

The majority of illegal mica mines in India are located in just two states Bihar and Jharkhand, which are among India’s most impoverished. The governance there is weak, so the industry is subject to few, if any, regulations and labor exploitation of both adults and children occurs frequently.

It is estimated that 22,000 children work in mica mines in Jharkhand and Bihar, but as mines that employ children do not report it, giving the exact numbers is impossible.

According to the findings of the US Department of Labor, in Madagascar, around 10,000 children work in the mica sector.

Most of the mines are located in the southern region of Madagascar, where children are charged with tasks ranging from building the mines to extracting and sorting the mineral.

In the country, children ‘make up half of all workers in mica mines’, research by Terre Des Hommes revealed.

Even though the respective governments are aware of child labor being prevalent in mica mines, they lack appropriate resources to address and solve the issue. Moreover, as unemployment rates are high and professional opportunities are limited, mining mica is often the only income-generating activity for families living in the mines’ vicinity.

In India, for their labor, children who mine mica get around fifty rupees a day, equivalent to less than seventy cents. The rates are similar in Madagascar. As the mica goes through a supply chain, however, wholesalers can get more than a thousand US dollars for a kilogram of it. That illustrates how unjust the industry is and how severe human rights violations happening in mica mines are.

Dangers for children

Mining mica is a labor intensive process that requires going into narrow shafts that frequently collapse and trap children under the rocks. To find mica, children are forced to go underground, where they often find themselves in complete darkness.

The tunnels caving in is not the only threat to children mining mica, however. They are constantly exposed to dust, which can lead to pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. In addition to that, lacking appropriate tools, most children use their bare hands to mine mica, which frequently results in cuts and skin infections.

Working in illegal mines puts children at risk of further problems such as physical abuse or modern slavery. ‘Young girls are also vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation around mica mining sites’, US Department of Labor wrote in the Report on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.

To get paid, children need to fill in an entire basket with flakes of mica. That often requires them to spend a whole day in the mine, which means they do it instead of going to school. Growing up mining mica instead of getting an education traps children in a never-ending cycle of abuse and suffering and limits their future employment opportunities.

Ending child labor in mica mines

Knowing how exploitative the mica supply chain can be, some end-users decide to abandon products containing the mineral altogether, and others turn to synthetic mica. In theory, it can seem like a sustainable solution – if the demand for mica decreases, fewer children will be involved in mining it. In practice, however, the production process of synthetic mica often lacks transparency, making it impossible to state that this alternative is entirely child labor-free. Furthermore, if we completely stopped using mica products, we would deprive thousands of families of their only way to get money.

Without mica, entire communities in India and Madagascar would be forced into extreme poverty. The moral dilemma of whether to use mica or not is evident, and finding a solution to the problem is challenging.

Merely boycotting products containing mica is not the right answer. Instead, empowering children and their parents, teaching them about the importance of education, and providing them with professional training and skills that would allow them to find employment elsewhere is essential. Thanks to that, their dependence on illegal mica mining would be reduced, and Indian and Malagasy children could live a happy childhood, free from exploitative labor.

Author’s bio:

Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, a media platform affiliated with Immigration Advice Service. Through her articles, she aims to raise awareness about security threats worldwide and the challenges facing communities living in developing countries.

Editor’s Note:

In February 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $4.5 million in grant-funding to reduce child labor in Madagascar’s mica-mining communities. We urge you to watch this compelling 2019  NBC News video about mica mining in Madagascar from the Today Show:


A dozen nations added to U.S. Government child, forced labor list (AP)

WASHINGTON — The Labor Department is adding a dozen countries to the list of nations that use child labor or forced labor, as officials warn the global economic crisis could cause an upswing in the exploitation of children and other workers.

From coffee grown in El Salvador to sapphires mined in Madagascar, the agency’s latest reports, to be released Wednesday, identify 128 goods from 70 countries where child labor, forced labor or both are used in violation of international standards.

“Shining light on these problems is a first step toward motivating governments, the private sector and concerned citizens to take action to end these intolerable abuses that have no place in our modern world,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

New to the list are Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Read more


Bitter plight of the vanilla trade children

From The Sunday Times

March 14, 2010

Bitter plight of the vanilla trade children

Dan McDougall in the Vanilla Coast, Madagascar

 The pods used in ice cream made by some of the world’s best-known brands is produced with the help of children working on plantations in remote regions of Madagascar

NOARY’S fingers are stained a thin, luminous yellow by the sweetest spice of all. Close to exhaustion, his tiny body is pouring with tropical sweat.

At eight years old, he has been tending the vanilla orchids since before first light after walking to work, barefoot and in darkness, alongside his brother, Ando, just a year older.

Here, in the remote Sava region of Madagascar, tens of thousands of children are being forced into the trade in black vanilla pods that sell for up to £4 each in British supermarkets.

Such is the dire state of the small farms in northern Madagascar, the vanilla capital of the world, that children are increasingly involved in production of the pods, a key ingredient of some of the world’s most famous ice cream brands.

Vanilla from the island, off the southeast coast of Africa, flavours everything from Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s to Marks & Spencer desserts and numerous items on the shelves of supermarkets.

In an impoverished settlement near Sambava, the district capital on the Vanilla Coast of northeastern Madagascar, small growers sell their pods to the Société Vanille de Sambava, a consortium that supplies big exporters through auctions held twice a year.

“We work for six to seven hours a day from dawn,” Noary said at his tiny family plantation in Anjombalava, 12 miles to the south of the city.

Each morning, seven days a week, the brothers tend a patch of land no larger than a few tennis courts.

“Many of my friends work in the fields around here. We don’t go to school. I work with my family. Close to the harvest time we all have to sleep alongside the plants to protect them. Ants cover our bodies.”

In the nearest plantation, 500 yards away, three more children toil in the heat. Jarro Claude, 12, has been working the vanilla since he was five: “Most of my friends in the villages here work in the fields. As a family, we all have to work. My brothers never went to school and I don’t think I ever will either.”

According to the UN’s International Labour Organisation and the US Department of Labour, nearly 2m children are at work on the island when they should be at school. A Department of Labour report last year said the vanilla children earned on average less than 8p per day.

Unicef, which is working in Madagascar to promote children’s rights, estimates that 28% of children between five and 17 work, mainly in fishing and agriculture.

“Many of these children are being denied their right to an education and are losing their childhoods. This is wrong,” it said.

Madagascar’s government is weak and corrupt. Many foreign governments refuse to recognise the military-backed regime in Antananarivo, the capital. In its coastal areas, the country seems to be in a time warp, the fishermen returning by dugout canoe to huts of mud and reeds, lit by lanterns and without running water.

On the land, vanilla is no longer regarded as a guaranteed source of healthy income. Despite the international demand, prices have fallen from $600 a kilo six years ago to around $20 a kilo today in a flooded market and small growers are seeing their living standards plummet.

Two dozen growers interviewed in Sambava claimed they had been forced to rely on their children for unpaid work in the fields.

“We still haven’t been paid for last year’s crop,” said Dhiarry, the father of Noary and Ando. “My children must work. This is a small plantation, we have to work as a family to put money on the table. Perhaps we can sell 10 kilos at $300 — less than a dollar a day to feed a family of seven.”

Their plight is all the more acute because vanilla cultivation is so labour-intensive.

Vanilla flowers are hand pollinated by fécondeuses, women and children whose task it is to pass between the rows of vines daily, no matter what the weather. Their diligence can make or break a crop. The transformation of these green, scent-free pods into glossy, aromatic beans involves a string of painstaking procedures.

For about five months the pods are alternately baked, sweated, wrapped in woollen blankets and laid out in the sun before being readied for export in metal boxes lined with greaseproof paper.

According to Stephane Ramananarivo, of Foko, a charity that highlights the plight of small farmers, vanilla growers should be reaping the benefits of the West’s hunger for their luxurious product.

“The poor vanilla farmers are suffering more than ever,” he said. “Yet they should be emancipated by the startling popularity of the pods. Their children should be going to school and not going to bed hungry.”

Real vanilla has never been more popular in the West. Marketing by leading UK supermarkets, including Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, has turned Madagascan vanilla into a symbol of quality, distinct from synthetic flavouring in cheaper foods.

But although leading retailers and manufacturers impose strict ethical standards on their suppliers, many in the trade believe they cannot monitor the work of farmers further down the chain who might be resorting to child labour.

Madagascan vanilla can be found in 25 Marks & Spencer products from yoghurts to biscuits. An M&S spokeswoman said the supply chain was highly complex but would be investigated. “M&S is a tiny user of vanilla,” she said. “Nonetheless, we are determined to do everything we can to bring fair sourcing principles to all stages of our supply chain.”

Spokesmen for Waitrose, Sainsbury and Tesco also promised to investigate, insisting that their suppliers guaranteed not to rely on children.

Tesco said: “Child labour is completely unacceptable and we make it clear to all our suppliers that it will not be tolerated in our supply chain.”

A spokeswoman for Unilever, which uses Madagascan vanilla pods for both Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s, two of Britain’s most popular premium ice creams, said it had no direct responsibility for auditing vanilla production on the island but child labour was unacceptable.

She said: “Ben & Jerry’s recent announcement about using all Fairtrade-certified ingredients by the end of 2013 demonstrates Unilever’s commitment to implementing values-led sourcing.”

Sweeping in from the grey-green swell of the Indian Ocean, a violent cloudburst opened up above Sambava. In its wake mothers and daughters in their floral Sunday best skipped through red-earth puddles to church, their straw hats and fancy French parasols flapping hopelessly in gale force winds.

As we walked through their vanilla plantation later, Dhiarry shouted at his sons to hurry up and stop talking. He knows that if his vanilla crop fails, his family will be plunged even deeper into debt.

Next month is the Famadihana — the Malagasy turning of the dead, when the bones of ancestors are removed and wrapped in a fresh shroud before being taken around the village to assure the living that all is well.

According to Dhiarry, this year’s ceremony will be fraught with sadness: “Life is harder for us than our ancestors. There are so many outsiders here now. Our livelihoods are stolen from us by vanilla suppliers who cheat us. We have nothing to celebrate.”