TFT is serious about tackling child labour in natural cobbletones supply chains
Newspaper reports in Belgium at the weekend have highlighted a long standing problem with child labour in natural cobblestones supply chains. Since then the comments and reports have exposed some of the wider issues in the industry; for example: bonded labour, lack of health and safety provisions, low pay and lack of social insurances, not just in the cobblestone industry, but across the natural stone supply chains.
We support any effort to shine a light on any exploitation in any industry, particularly in the natural stone industry. TFT has run the Responsible Stone Programme (RSP) since 2007, working with importers and retailers to help improve working conditions in the stone industry – particularly in stone quarries and factories. The programme currently works in India and China, focusing on the key stone commodities used by our members.
Members of the RSP include retail buyers, importers and factories across Europe, China and India. Our experience from working together has found that the only way to make long-term improvements to working conditions is for stone importers to have transparency of their supply chain.
We start with a fundamental question: where is their stone coming from? Then we embark on the difficult work of transforming these supply chains. The approach to this is to work in partnership with stone suppliers, encouraging and supporting them to meet a set of expectations and values. We work in this way with members in India and China, offering advice and resources to help improve working conditions.
Our approach is a pragmatic one, we are fully aware that conditions at many of the sites stone products are sourced need improvement. However, demanding immediate full compliance with international standards is unrealistic and un-productive. Therefore the RSP code is split into three levels: Level One deals with the most urgent and significant breaches of human and labour rights. Companies such as Beltrami are proving that these standards are possible, but they require a willingness to achieve them. We collaborate with our stone members, working with stone sites to impact positive change throughout supply chains. This involves a focus on support and building capacity, providing sample documents – such as time sheets, pay records and contracts – and advice on health and safety and protective equipment. We regularly visit the sites, at first to assess the standards, then to help ensure the recommendations are implemented and that management understands what is required of them. It is time consuming work, but progress is being made to change the industry.
We currently have 38 stone sites employing a total of 3,145 workers in India and China. All of these sites play an active part of the RSP. Not only are workers’ conditions improving, but we are also gaining supply chain transparency that will in turn allow us to help improve the conditions in informal sectors that sit alongside, such as cobbles. There is much to do, the sector is large and too many companies are not doing enough.
A practical and realistic approach is crucial, but so too is dedication from our members. We require all our members to take ownership of the progress of their sites and to help push when the speed of improvement stalls. Traders need to understand what the situation is at the sites they are buying from. TFT cannot solve these challenges alone. They won’t be solved overnight either. However, there is no reason to believe that they are impossible to resolve with time, determination, collaboration and co-operation. Our members have demonstrated this. A number of our sites are close to achieving the requirements for RSP Level One. Although there is still so much more to do, positive change is happening.