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.