Paintwork: mica and our commitment to industry initiatives
Mica is a mineral that is ground down and used in coatings to give them a fine sheen. In Northwestern India, in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, whole hillsides shimmer with shards of mica. The larger chunks of mica are mostly underneath, buried in the soil. Entire villages in Jharkhand and Bihar live from mining. Around a quarter of the world’s mica is mined here: the people of these regions excavate about 125,000 metric tons of mica every year.
On the mica market
On the markets of Jharkhand – for example, in the legendary Indian mining town Jhumri Telaiya – mostly old men cut the layers of mica from the rocks with special shears and fill them in bags, which they then stack in the back rooms of the dealers. Middlemen ship the material to their customers in Europe – cosmetics manufacturers, chemical companies, paint manufacturers. Depending on the quality, mica sheets or powder can cost several hundred euros per metric ton.
Processing in coatings
Before the mica is used in automotive coatings – or also in cosmetics – the mined mica plates are ground into a fine powder. The particles are just a few micrometers big. Mica makes colors shimmer and shine. However, the pigments have many additional positive properties: coatings with mica pigments provide painted surfaces better protection from sun, heat, cold, and moisture.
Challenge and approach
Children in the mines
In some Indian mica mines, children dig the rock too – using simple chisels and hammers or sometimes just their bare hands. Many mica mines are little more than pits or primitive tunnels which can easily collapse. The supply chains for mica are ramified and nontransparent. Up until 2016, suppliers hardly ever checked where the mica came from.
An eye on the work
When the human rights organization Terre des Hommes publicized what is happening in many mines in 2016, a number of Volkswagen suppliers ended their collaboration with several companies selling mica of undetermined origin. In early 2016, the most important companies in the mica sector from the chemical, cosmetics, and paint industries founded the Responsible Mica Initiative. Within a period of five years, the initiative wants to ensure that there is no more child labor in the mica supply chain. To achieve this, they want to introduce a monitoring system that will allow them to seamlessly track the origin of each gram of mica. And they want to certify mines in order to exclude child labor. In the process, the initiative is working with the village communities as well as with the Indian Government.
More on this topic: The „Responsible Mica Initiative“