Leading UK hard landscaping company Marshalls is taking steps to tackle endemic exploitation and child labour in Indian sandstone production...
Every year, around 250,000 tonnes of sandstone are shipped from Rajasthan in northern India to the UK, ending up in our driveways, patios and pavements.
But conditions in the stone quarries that are scattered across the region are notoriously harsh, as highlighted by a recent ITN report.
Often working without appropriate safety equipment, workers are vulnerable to serious accidents and health problems, including silicosis, which can lead to premature death.
Child labour is endemic - UNICEF estimates that nearly 20% of the workers in a typical Indian quarry are children, some bonded to gangmasters and working to pay off their families' debts.
The vast majority of stone quarry workers are migrants, many of them ending up in bonded labour after being forced into taking out loans by gangmasters.
The traceability challenge
There's no point signing up to ethical principles in your supply chain if you don't know how you are going to implement them.
Companies typically buy their stone from local agents rather than directly from quarries or stone processing yards, so have little way of knowing where their stone comes from.
Companies sourcing sandstone from India have a clear responsibility to use their influence to tackle the endemic exploitation in the industry.
But as they typically buy their stone from local agents rather than directly from quarries or stone processing yards, they have little way of knowing where their stone comes from, which means the influence they can bring to bear to improve conditions is very limited.
Marshalls - working in partnership to tackle endemic exploitation
One company that has tackled this problem head on is Marshalls, the first stone company to join ETI in 2006 and which began sourcing sandstone in quantity from India in 2005.
Group Marketing Director Chris Harrop says "We were acutely aware of the need to source our sandstone responsibly, and knew that the only way we could do so was to make sure our supply chain is completely transparent.
"We decided to develop an exclusive partnership with StoneShippers India, a stone processing company, which sources its stone from its own, plus a managed number of legal quarries, all of which we know."
Harrop says the decision to develop an exclusive partnership with StoneShippers India was a straightforward one: "There's no point signing up to ethical principles in your supply chain if you don't know how you are going to implement them.
"I am proud to say that StoneShippers India has adopted the ETI Base Code as company policy, and we work closely with it to continually improve working conditions."
Marshalls' staff regularly visit the quarries and production facilities that supply StoneShippers India, and commission independent audits against the ETI Base Code, to check that proper protective equipment is being used, working hours are reasonable, adequate wages are provided and there is no child labour.
Says Harrop, "Our relationship with Stone Shippers is based on a mutual sharing of goals, a focus on quality and productivity and on the understanding that cultural or endemic issues should not be an excuse to do nothing."
Partnering with an Indian NGO
The company also works with Hadoti Hast Shilp Sansthan, an Indian NGO helping to improve the lives of vulnerable families working in the quarries around Bhundi and Kota in Rajasthan.
Going beyond their responsibility to implement the ETI Base Code, and working with Hadoti for the past three years, Marshalls has funded a range of health and educational programmes in the region.
This includes regular health camps, which so far have benefited 2,356 quarry workers. Some 436 people have attended seasonal disease camps and 210 children have received polio vaccinations.
In addition, the company has opened four schools for labourers' children, each providing free schooling and a midday meal for 50 children. It is also working on raising workers' awareness of the need for social insurance protection.
Walking away from the problems is not an option.
Walking way from the problems is not an option, says Harrop. "We all need to engage in the process of improving standards progressively in the supply chain by tackling human and workers' rights abuses and improving conditions for the communities who depend on this industry for their living."
ETI member companies represent a significant proportion of natural sandstone imports into UK. Together with our NGO and trade union members they are developing initiatives to help tackle endemic exploitation in the industry. We urge other companies sourcing sandstone who are not yet members of ETI to get involved in this urgent work.