Arid and dusty, Rajasthan is India’s largest producer of sandstone. Over the years, concerns have grown about working practices in the state’s quarries and stone processing yards, in particular around the use of child labour and the health and safety of workers.
The Rajasthan stone sector
India’s stone industry is booming and employs over three million workers. At its centre is Rajasthan, with the state accounting for thousands of sandstone quarries and stone processing yards.
Most of Rajasthan’s sandstone is destined for India’s domestic market. But up to seven per cent is exported. Of this, one fifth is sent to the UK, where it is used in commercial and domestic driveways, patios and pavements. That may sound small, but it’s still a very large amount of sandstone.
7% – the stone industry’s annual growth rate.
90% – Rajasthan’s share of India’s sandstone sector.
280,000 tons – the amount of Rajasthan sandstone shipped to the UK annually.
Why we and our members set up the Rajasthan sandstone project
A working group was established in 2012 under ETI leadership to help create a sustainable sandstone sector that protects and upholds the rights of those people it employs.
From child and bonded labour to very low wages, appallingly high rates of the lung disease silicosis and an abysmal health and safety record, Rajasthan’s sandstone industry had become a byword for poor employment practices.
With several ETI member companies sourcing sandstone from the state, it became clear that a concerted effort was needed to improve working conditions for those employed in export supply chains.
And ultimately to advocate on behalf of workers across the sector as a whole.
How we are tackling poor employment practices
"Understanding workers’ perspective was eye-opening for us and we felt very much connected to workers’ need. We have realized that we should keep our action plans more worker-centric rather than audit-centric."
(post-Needs assessment training)
Director, exporting stone yard
Our multi-stakeholder approach includes ETI, UK company and local industry representatives as well as academics, community activists, trade unionists and local government bodies. It focuses on the priorities of workers as well as the challenges faced by industry. Activities include:
- Producing an Ethical Sourcing Guide that builds the business case for the ethical sourcing of natural stone, maps the supply chain and advises on how to engage with suppliers; and a Grievance Mechanism Guide, the latter in English and Hindi. With the support of local organisations, we have also published, distributed and trained contract workers on using payment passbooks where they can record and monitor their working hours and wages. Additionally, we have published and distributed a leaflet in Hindi that advises on the symptoms of silicosis and informs workers on the steps they need to take to access their right to health services.
- Helping local businesses understand workers’ needs and where changes are required facilitating in-workplace needs assessments. We have emphasised organisational safety and health (OSH) within export-orientated suppliers’ quarries and stone yards including the provision of personal protection equipment (boots, gauntlets and helmets), access to clean drinking water and the introduction of “wet” drilling to curtail the dust that leads to respiratory illnesses. We have also built the capacity of local businesses in HR management, workplace grievance mechanisms and workplace dialogue, establishing formal grievance mechanisms and social security payments.
- Supporting the establishment of a local multi-stakeholder platform – the State Forum on Natural Stone (SFNS) – which brings together NGOs, trade unions, community organisers and businesses stakeholders to tackle working conditions and rights issues and to advocate with government.
- Outside of the work environment, we have helped organise worker health camps and lobbied for improved public services to tackle the lung disease silicosis, raising awareness of government provisions for workers and their families. Government boards in each district have funds available for workers living with silicosis and for compensating widows and orphans, but information on how to access funds is limited and families can miss out on entitlements.
I’ve seen a change in the attitude and behaviour of supervisors and employers. They pay attention to us and we have more formal opportunities to share issues and problems.
Director, exporting stone yard
In December 2016, we surveyed workers from three sandstone processing yards linked to current and previous members’ supply chains. They reported significant improvements in occupational health and safety, including the provision of personal protection equipment, easy access to drinking water and clean toilet facilities. The survey also found notable improvements around the payment of minimum wages, work contracts and documentation and job security. While recognising that challenges still exist, the researchers reported that the “enabling environment generated … at factory level has created a great sense of hope and conviction among workers to aspire for change.”
Rajasthan stone working group membership
The group is open to companies, importers, exporters and contractors that commercially deal with sandstone from Rajasthan as well as trade unions and not-for-profit organisations working with Indian workers.
NGOs, trade unions and donors
Dalit Solidarity Network
The programme currently has no UK-based trade union representation but is represented by ETI’s Trade Union Coordinator
FCO Human Rights and Democracy Fund
From the ETI blog
- Collaborating to tackle workers’ issues in Rajasthan
- A tough existence for Rajasthan stone workers
- Improving health and safety in Rajasthan’s stone industry
Hannah Bruce, Head of Global Partnerships