News

Force child labour from supply chain, industry told

9 April 2010

Up to a million child labourers, some as young as six, work in India’s stone quarries, according to an investigation by Building.

Just one per cent of the sandstone quarried in India ends up in the UK, but this still constitutes about 250,000 tonnes of sandstone a year. 

Chris Harrop, a director of products supplier Marshalls, a company that imports large quantities of stone from India, investigated conditions for himself in Rajasthan,  north-west India.

“I needed to see for myself how endemic child labour was in these quarries,” he told Building. “I hired a guide, and we drove for two hours down dusty dry dirt roads into a quarry. Nobody was expecting us, so it was easy to just stop the car and walk around.”

On his trip he saw children as young as six working in the quarries. “There were tens of small children working on the spoil heaps. There were two girls that we spoke to – they were aged eight and 11, which was the same age as my two girls back home. That’s when it really hit home,” he said.

Five years on, Marshalls has put in place measures to ensure children are not exploited in its quarries. 

But other organisations have been slower to follow suit. The Stone Federation Great Britain has some 200 members. Of these, about 40 are estimated to import stone from India, but just seven have signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a set of principles about child labour drawn up by the International Labour Organisation. 

“We’re playing catch-up with the food and fashion industry,” Julia Hawkins, of the ETI, told Building. “People just aren’t asking the questions of their supply chains that they need to be.” 

But the issue is becoming harder for British firms to ignore. An Early Day Motion was put forward in parliament in January by Labour MP Jim Sheridan, calling on firms to stop importing natural sandstone produced using child labour. 

The Motion has now been signed by 58 MPs and Stone Federation Great Britain is due to release a report urging companies not to use quarries in which child labour and bonded labour is used.

Comments

The issue here is that labourers in developing countries have little job security and are paid a low wage. Far from being able to afford schooling, the children must contribute to the family income in order to survive.
Banning children from the quarries will not solve the problem. A fair trade type initiative offering a fair local pay rate and the provision of schools is the answer.
Indians recognise the value of education, but in general this is not provided by the state and many cannot afford the fees to educate their families.

Ian Walker, 16 April 2010

This is not a simple black and white issue, at the heart of Child Labour issues are the payment of living wages for adults.

If adults were paid a Living wage that allowed them enough income to pay for their famlies needs then their children would be free to go to school.

Then what is needed are schools for the children.

Marshalls Fairstone is built upon these principles, living wages, available schools, a partner NGO in the ground and a full time social auditor to make sure things happen as they should.

Chris Harrop, 14 June 2010

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