London Stone are committed to ensuring that our products are sourced in an ethical manner. As part of our business model we adhere to a code of ethical sourcing and actively take part in projects to better the lives of those in our supply chains. However, we all have a role to play in improving the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves in developing countries. Below we explain why ethical sourcing is so important, what programmes we are a part of and what can be done to improve conditions for workers.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) have established a base code for ETI members to adhere to. Although not formally enshrined in UK, European or International law, the ETI base code is the ethical standard that companies use as guidance to source products in an ethically compliant way. The ETI Base Code:
Child labour is the single biggest issue that has gained the most attention in Western societies but there are many more issues that affect workers in the supply chains of developing countries. Unsafe working conditions, low wages, bonded labour and discrimination are all prevalent in foreign supply chains.
The most important thing that a supplier can do is to understand the tiered structure of a foreign supply chain. London Stone source our Indian Sandstone products from Tier 1 suppliers. We regularly visit these Tier 1 suppliers and the working conditions are good. But where do our Tier 1 suppliers source from? This is the question to ask because conditions further down the supply chains, in the stock yards of Tier 2 and the quarries of Tier 3 are completely different to what we see in Tier 1. Only by understanding the complex structure of supply chains can we identify where we can focus our efforts on addressing child labour, unsafe working conditions, low wages, bonded labour and discrimination.
Clients, especially trade clients can make a real difference in the fight to improve conditions for workers in foreign supply chains. If you buy or specify natural stone, ask your stone suppliers about what they are doing to improve conditions for workers, challenge them to prove that they are sourcing products ethically. Talk to your customers too, educate them about the human cost of buying cheap natural stone that has been sourced without any regard for the welfare of workers. It doesn’t sound like much but talking about the issues at every opportunity and supporting suppliers who source their products ethically does create leverage for change.
The headline is that yes, sourcing stone ethically does cost more money. Delve a little deeper though and it becomes immediately obvious that sourcing ethically offers long term value for the consumer, the worker who makes the stone and for society in general. For the consumer, stone sourced ethically is produced to better quality standards and so offers better value over the life cycle of the product. It’s also safe to assume that ethically sourced stone will benefit from the other positive elements associated with a professional supply chain - reliability, good communication and careful packaging. A worker manufacturing stone in an ethical supply chain, can expect to be paid a living wage and to be able to work reasonable hours in safe and hygienic working conditions. This is beneficial to the individual workers health and the long term health and social welfare of his/her family. As for the wider society, a society that properly values the welfare of all the people within it is a healthier place for everyone.
One word and unfortunately it’s a dirty one, money! Let’s go back 25 years. A client looking to install a natural stone patio would have been faced with an extremely limited choice of materials to use. Yorkstone and Welsh Slate were about as far as the choice extended and both materials were prohibitively expensive, way beyond the budget of the majority of people in the UK. Indian Sandstone then came to our shores and this opened the floodgates for many other types of stone to be imported into the UK for use in the garden. Imported natural stone has given landscapers and designers an amazing choice of materials to use in designing and building gardens. As long as imported stone is so much cheaper than British stone there will always be a demand for it and we’ll never be able to walk away from it. So, imported Sandstone is here to stay which means that UK suppliers and consumers need to be at the forefront in improving conditions for workers. From both a moral and business point of view, using our expertise and experience to help improve working conditions in foreign supply chains is the right thing to do.
I’ve always been a firm believer that the introduction of labels is not the answer to improving conditions for workers in supply chains. Whilst a label could indicate that a product has been ethically sourced today, a label gives no guarantee that the product will still be ethically sourced tomorrow. The introduction of an industry standard ethical label would cause a stampede of suppliers rushing around to make their products compliant but what would happen once a supplier’s product complied with the label and, having achieved label status would a supplier still be as motivated to maintain and improve ethics? It’s much better to work on a policy of continuous improvement within your supply chain. Being committed to continuous improvement accepts the reality that supply chains are complex and that we can never be complacent about working conditions.
In our experience ethics are not high on a client’s list when sourcing natural stone. It’s not because of a lack of care. Whether its natural stone, coffee or garments, nobody wants to buy products that have been produced without regard for human welfare. It comes down to awareness and education. If clients knew more about how stone was produced they would be much better equipped to make an informed decision about which stone they purchased. This is where landscapers and designers can play a big part. By talking to their client’s as much as possible landscapers and designers can arm their clients with the information to make an informed choice.
When London Stone first joined the ETI and became involved in ethical sourcing we did so because we thought it would enhance our brand and reputation. The more we got involved with ethics though the more we realised that ethics and good business practices go hand in hand and making ethical improvements within our supply chain actually improved the quality of our business model. A perfect example is our bespoke stone centre. London Stones bespoke centre is well known throughout the industry and is a true USP for London Stone. It’s less known that our bespoke stone centre was established to address an ethical issue in our purchasing practices. We were getting more and more requests for bespoke stone from our clients in 2009 onwards. We would send these bespoke enquires to our Indian suppliers to produce. This was putting pressure on our suppliers because they were not set up to handle these types of small bespoke orders. In situations like this the workers are the ones that have to absorb this pressure, often by having to work un-scheduled long hours. Our clients were also suffering poor service due to long lead times and often inferior quality. We came to a decision to buy large slabs from our suppliers in bulk and to do the last bit of processing in the UK. This was a win win situation as we were now buying a standard product from our suppliers which allowed them to forecast lead times better and not put unnecessary pressure on their workers. Our customers also benefited through reduced lead times. Working with your suppliers to improve business practices strengthened our supplier relationships and we were subsequently able to make further improvements in quality, lead times and communication.
There are different ways of monitoring the ethical performance of a supplier. Some companies will monitor suppliers themselves through scheduled visits while other companies use professional auditors to make un-scheduled supplier visits. London Stone are members of the Forest Trust’s responsible stone programme. Experienced consultants from the Forest Trust will visit our supplier’s factories and carry out an assessment of the facilities and the working conditions. A work plan will then be produced outlining any areas for improvement. Examples of improvement might be things like insufficient fire risk assessments, or lack of appropriate H&S signage, or no ID procedure in place to monitor the ages of workers. Follow up visits will then be scheduled to make sure that the improvements are carried out in the correct time frames. It’s essential that the suppliers understand that we are there to work with them and that it’s not about pointing the finger. We need to establish an open relationship where issues can be shared and discussed. Working together to continuously improve is the only way to achieve long term progress.
We have seen this already. The ETI has a dedicated stone group where UK stone supplier members come together and work on joint projects to improve conditions in the wider supply chains. London Stone are currently working with Belgium stone importer Stoneasy to establish child labour free zones in Budhpura. It’s my belief that if all the stone suppliers in the UK came together we could build enough leverage to eradicate child labour in Budhpura.
London Stone joined the ETI in 2008 as a small company, we were in fact one of the smallest companies ever to join the ETI. Joining the ETI was a steep learning curve for London Stone as we were suddenly surrounded by larger companies with big budgets and, in some cases, whole departments solely dedicated to ethical sourcing. Despite the challenges we stayed members for 6 years and in that time we learned about how to manage an ethical supply chain. We learned about how our own purchasing practices had a significant impact on workers within our supply chain, we helped our suppliers to implement health and safety improvements in their factories, and we were active members of the Rajasthan Sandstone Working Group (RSWG). London Stone joined the ETI to improve our own stone supply chain and to work with other UK stone companies to improve the wider supply chain. Membership of the ETI gave us a thorough understanding of our supply chains and played a big part in helping us to improve conditions for workers. We left the ETI in 2015 to join The Forest Trusts (TFT) Responsible Stone Programme. The Forest Trust had a different approach to the ETI. TFT’s approach is to map and inspect members supply chains and then put in place work programmes to identify and implement improvements. It’s a much more hands on approach and suited our business model better. By bringing in the expertise of TFT we could fully focus on developing closer relationships with our suppliers and keep on improving conditions for workers.
I was approached by Bram Callewier of Belgium Stone distributor Stoneasy who I had met through the ETI. Bram told me about a small project he was working on to create Child Labour Free Zones in small geographical areas of Budhpura, a key Sandstone sourcing area and a region notoriously vulnerable to child labour. Although the project was small it sounded very hands on and most importantly it sounded like a project where we could make a real difference to peoples lives. I had always admired Bram’s ethical and thoughtful approach to business, so getting the opportunity to work with him on such an exciting project was simply too good an opportunity to pass up, we immediately signed up for it. The project has delivered amazing results and transformed the outlook of the whole community. To date 361 children have been prevented from getting into child labour and a further 593 have been removed from child labour. If you’d like to know more about this amazing project visit our dedicated blog: www.nochildleftbehind.co.uk
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