( August 24, 2017, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) New research, commissioned by the India Committee of the Netherlands and Stop Child Labour, reveals that modern slavery, low wages, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions are rampant in granite quarries in South India. In some quarries, especially in waste stone processing, child labour is found.
There is an enormous gap in working conditions between permanent workers (mainly supervisors) and casual workers (70% of the workforce). The first group receives safety equipment, insurance and an employment contract, while the casual labourers doing the dangerous manual work, lack those fundamental labour rights.
The research shows that granite sourced from the investigated quarries is imported by 33 natural stone companies and 3 banks from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Spain, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and the USA*. China is also a major importer, processor and re-exporter of Indian granite for the international market. Only a few companies are member of a sustainability initiative aiming to improve working conditions in the natural stone sector, but these initiatives still hardly tackle the deplorable working conditions in granite quarries. The draft report was sent to all 36 companies and banks, but only 5 reacted.
Focus on links between quarries and importers
India is a top exporter of granite, widely used for wall and floor tiles, tomb stones and kitchen tops in western countries. Western governments are an important end-buyer of granite for buildings, pavements, public squares etc. Half of the total world exports of raw granite comes from India.
The research was conducted in 22 quarries and 6 waste stone processing sites in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka in South India. These three states account for 75% of the granite production in India. Almost half of the sampled quarries have direct linkages with foreign importers. Other quarries also produce granite for export markets, but this is traded through intermediaries.
More than 70% of the workforce in granite quarries are casual labourers employed on a daily wage or piece rate basis. With wage advances of one to three months wages and high interest loans, the quarry owners are tying workers to the job. Nearly 25% of the workers are recruited by providing loans, with annual interest rates of 24% to 36%. More than half of the migrant workers owe large amounts to quarry owners or contractors. This creates debt bondage, as workers must clear the amount before they can change employer. In nine quarries this form of modern slavery is prevalent.
Middlemen are recruiting worker, mostly migrants, but offer them no contract and do not respect legal requirements. Migrants constitute around two third of the total workforce in granite quarries. Workers are mostly from so-called ‘lowest caste’ of Dalits or Adivasi (tribal people). They are extra vulnerable due to their low social status in Indian society.
Health and safety in great danger
None of the workers hired through middlemen have access to a mandatory retirement scheme nor are they covered under health insurance, while these workers are most exposed to health risks.
Quarry workers face many occupational hazards and often get injured. Deadly accidents often remain unreported. Workers are also exposed to noise and dust causing work-related illnesses, like the incurable lung disease silicosis. Around 62% of the workers report that they are not receiving safety equipment such as a helmet, goggles, boots, respirator/mask and gloves, except during labour inspections.
Less child labour but still present
Child labour (below 18 years) used to be rampant in granite quarries in the early 2000s, but declined because of interventions by the government, industry and civil society organisations. However, the research revealed instances of child labour in main quarry operations in seven of the sample quarries. None of the investigated sites have a prevention and rehabilitation system for child labour in place.
Child labour is still rather prominent in waste stone processing. Nearly 80% of waste stone processing is done by women and children. Children below 14 years account for nearly 3% of the waste stone processing workforce and 5% of this workforce is between 15 and 18 years old.
Low wages, grossly inadequate housing and no active workers’ organisations
Considering the long working hours, wages in half of the researched quarries do not meet the legal requirements. Overtime is sometimes paid by providing snacks and alcoholic drinks. Daily wages are fixed, depending on work classification, between €3.55 and €6.19 a day. Housing provided for the workers is grossly inadequate. They share small rooms, with little ventilation, water or sanitation facilities and no privacy. Half of the quarries lack clean drinking water while toilet facilities were only observed in four big quarries. In none of the researched quarries an active labour union is present.
The report is offering recommendations to companies, sustainability initiatives, the Indian government and the European Union and its member states. Human rights due diligence by granite companies is needed to systematically eradicate rights violations, increase transparency, conduct risk assessments and implement improvement plans. The Indian government has to enforce existing labour laws and European member states should strengthen their public procurement policy (e.g. for granite).
Download the report The Dark Sites of Granite: Modern slavery, child labour and unsafe work in Indian granite quarries – What should companies do? here: www.indianet.nl/TheDarkSitesOfGranite.html .
Download the 8 page summary of the report: www.indianet.nl/pdf/TheDarkSitesOfGranite-abstract.pdf .