The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) this week published a report into working conditions in the granite industry in India. TFT welcomes all attempts to highlight the concerns in this industry and encourage companies to improve the situation. Poor working and employment conditions, few drivers for improvement, small margins and a fragmented industry are just a few of the barriers to sustainable change, but they are slowly being overcome by those companies committed to change. We recognise the issues ICN raises in this report and support the call to action – more companies throughout the supply chain need to do more to ensure that the people making these products are respected.
When we started working in this area a decade ago we found a total lack of basic health and safety and widespread disregard for workers’ rights. But we also found that demands for improvements fell, largely, on deaf ears. Slowly, painfully, we learnt that it was better to take one step along the path to improvement, to make one small change at a time, rather than to allow the enormity of the challenge to overwhelm everyone. When that small change is implementing safety systems for blasting, it not only improves but saves people’s lives.
From an extensive list of improvements we identified, we simplified our requests into realistic actions sites could implement, and we increased our efforts to bring the whole supply chain with us. The resulting ‘stepped’ guidelines can be found here.
We agree with ICN, and indeed many of the companies who responded to the report; there is more to be done, but there are a small number of companies who have been trying for some time to drive real and sustainable change, and as an industry there are green shoots to suggest that it is working. There is reason to be hopeful.
The ICN report concludes that there seems to be a link between buyers with a more active Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) policy and the labour conditions in their supplying quarries. This is something we know to be true, not just in stone but in all industries – where a company has articulated its values and embedded them into its operating practices this can and does make a difference.
New legislation in the West is also driving change. Over the last two years we have seen an increase in concerns about working standards and a greater willingness to work on improvements when concerns are raised. Experience shows us that motivated companies with sufficient leverage in their supply base can drive change – and drive it fast.
You can find out more about the TFT programme and the work our members are doing at our Transparency Hub.