The stone industry is huge, and not just in the amount of material quarried around the world. Before the stone reaches our depot, it's involved so many people, some literally at the quarry face, others in factories, stockyards and distribution.
It's no secret that all is not as it should be. We know that many of you are as concerned as we are about the ethical credentials of imported stone. There's plenty of room for improvement in all sorts of areas—child labour, working conditions, workers' rights, health and safety—in countries where some of the most popular stone on the market today is sourced.
Looked at from inside the industry, you begin to wonder what can be done, and when you know how much better things could be, it becomes a matter of conscience to take steps towards making them so.
The Forest Trust
Last year London Stone joined The Forest Trust, whose Responsible Stone Programme (RSP) is designed to ensure that the sourcing of natural stone improves the lives of the people working in quarries and factories. It implements a number of steps, from establishing transparency in supply chains and carrying out a baseline assessment at sites, to working with suppliers and members to solve problems and bring about improvement. They also work with local and international NGOs, inviting verification of progress so others can learn from improvements made.
We're pleased to say that since we joined last April we've achieved 100% transparency on our supply chain and that all our factories have either achieved Level 1 of the RSP Guidelines or are very close to doing so. Last year TFT began making baseline assessments of our Indian and Chinese sites. In a video made at one of these (available on the TFT website), it's reported that “the overall conditions of the site were very high”, that “the significant measures to protect and enhance workers' welfare is recognised and commended”, and “the site will be able to attain Level 1 in the near future”.
This means that practices which, across Europe, we take for granted—such as protection of workers' longer-term health, no child or bonded labour, having a legal licence to operate, enforcing legal wages and working hours—are being implemented.
It's just the start, though, as currently, we're dealing with Tier 1 suppliers—those who have their own factories and with whom we have direct contact and influence. Further down the line, we'll be involved in bringing influence to bear on Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers—the stockyards and quarries which provide stone to the factories. No one said it would be a fast process, but when improvements are professionally audited and so visible, it's a deeply satisfying one.
No Child Left Behind
And this can equally be said of No Child Left Behind, a project that aims to create Child Labour Free Zones in the area of India where most Indian sandstone setts are produced and to get every child there into school.
The project involves diverse approaches, based on an understanding of the economics involved. For instance, Manjari (one of the NGOs that works with No Child Left Behind) supports young adults in vocational training, which results in their earning a decent income so that their family can afford to send their younger siblings to school. They also raise awareness of long-term health issues among workers and, at a single health camp last year, registered more than 500 sandstone workers for a welfare scheme that gives them entitlement to nine social security benefits. One of the biggest strides was made when the local Cobble Traders Union changed its attitude to child labour, with the vision that better child education would benefit the entire community.
Main funding comes from the partners involved, including London Stone, Belgian stone importer Beltrami, and Stoneasy. However, we're delighted that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs have just agreed another two years' funding, which makes it possible for us to extend the programme into new villages in the area.
We'll have updates on the project in the next few weeks, so do keep an eye on the website: www.NoChildLeftBehind.co.uk.
In the meantime, rest assured that playing our part in improving the stone industry is a major part of London Stone's ethos. We'll continue to fund hands-on projects, and forge long-term relationships with suppliers who share our ethos, in turn helping you to contribute to improvements in conditions for workers in the industry worldwide.