Photo Credit: Creative Commons
Two leading retail chains in the United Kingdom have withdrawn a range of granite worktops from their stores following reports that the rock is mined in India by child workers. The retail groups, John Lewis and Habitat, took the decision after investigations revealed that their Indian supply chains are riddled with issues such as debt bondage, underage workers, and unsafe working conditions in quarries.
Many other firms dealing in granite products such as kitchen counters, tiles, fireplaces and tombstones may also look into their supply chains following a recent report on workers’ rights in quarries in three Indian states by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). The report revealed that over half of the labourers employed in the industry in these states work under dangerous conditions because they have to repay big loans, and get caught in a cycle of debt bondage.
The ICN and Stop Child Labour investigated 22 quarries and six waste stone processing sites in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.
The performance of the quarries was graded on six criteria: child labour, bonded labour, wages and social benefits, health, safety, and freedom of association. The 22 quarries supply products to more than 30 natural stone companies in the UK, EU, US, Australia and Canada, according to the report.
India is the world’s largest granite producer, accounting for 49 per cent of total raw stone exports. The high-end varieties, including the star galaxy granite pulled back by John Lewis and Habitat, are sold online for hundreds of pounds per square metre. The star galaxy granite is prized for its sheen and sells for as much as £300 a square metre. It is mined only from one area in the world — the Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh.
John Lewis said in a statement that it does not source granite directly, but works with one Britain-based importer. “As a socially responsible retailer, we require our suppliers not only to obey the law but also to respect the rights, interests and well being of their employees, their communities and the environment. We do not source granite directly. We work with one UK importer who has signed up to the John Lewis code of practice on responsible sourcing, which sets out in detail the standards that we expect our suppliers to meet on labour standards and the environment,” it added.
Habitat kitchens, sold by the in-store concession Kütchenhaus, the UK subsidiary of German company Nobilia, has also stopped selling star galaxy granite. “All products that are sold in a store next to or in combination with Nobilia products (and could therefore be associated with Nobilia) should meet the same high welfare, environmental and quality standards as the products supplied by us and we do not hesitate to take appropriate action if any supplier is found to be in violation of these standards,” a statement by Nobilia said.
Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said the ICN report raised “profound questions” about the efforts India is making to curb slavery and child labour.
“Indian quarrying has long been a byword for abuse and exploitation,” McQuade said, according to the Guardian. “Yet the companies that still source from India’s quarries are notably silent, including in their modern slavery statements, on how they are engaging with the Indian government to obtain the necessary fundamental reform of this sector to ensure that the enslavement of adults and children in quarrying is brought to an end.”