The investigation, published yesterday in the UK newspaper, claims that children as young as six are involved in mining mica in the Jharkand state of Eastern India.
Material from the mine is exported and used in various products, including cosmetics pigments, paints and electrical goods.
The Sunday Times investigation was conducted with child rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), which estimates tens of thousands of children may be working in mica mines in the region.
According to the report, the mica passes through the hands of local exporters who then sell it on to international companies.
The Sunday Times named two Germany-based companies, Merck KGaA and Mahlwerk Neubauer-Friedrich Geffers, as alleged purchasers of mica from a Jharkand exporter who was aware of children’s involvement in the mining.
Mahlwerk Neubauer-Friedrich Geffers was quoted in the newspaper as acknowledging the problem while saying “children worked playfully in a family setting”.
The family nature of the work was also referred to by a Merck spokesperson who told the Sunday Times that a study had shown children were involved in the collection of mica but only work in family groups. “It is an important result for us that no cases of permanent work, bonded, or slave labor were found,” as quoted by the newspaper.
Difficult to verify supply chain
Nevetherless, the company added its suppliers were contractually required not to employ children, although it said it was difficult to verify the supply chain in some regions.
However, according to BBA founder Kailash Satyarthi, international corporations need to do more work and take more responsibility in their supply chain.
“Leaving an area or changing one supplier after child labour is found is not the solution. Corporations must ensure that their profits are not made at the cost of children and should work towards elimination of child labour,” Satyarthi said.
“Corporate Social Responsibility lies in a firm commitment throughout the supply chain if we want to eliminate child labour.”
In addition, Satyarthi called on governments, both Indian and those of importing countries, to play a more active role in the elimination of child labor.