A Branch of Industry under Suspicion
The production of natural stone products secures thousands of jobs guaranteeing the livelihood of families who have no other income and employment opportunities. It allows them to get access to medical care and offers children from poorer populations chances of education and vocational training. The natural stone industry opens up better prospects for the further development of entire regions.
In the recent past, however, these options are increasingly in danger. Activists and non-governmental organizations in large-scale campaigns raise the accusation that Indian natural stones are mined and processed in large scale by children. Some German federal states, cities and communities therefore recently preparing regulations that are intended to prevent the purchase and use of "stones with child labor". The cemetery statutes of various German municipalities already demand that grave times can only be established if the non-use of child labor has been proven safe through certification in all stages of their production, processing and transportation. Other communities are obviously willing to join these examples. Furthermore it is likely that the demand for relevant certificates appears in public procurement of natural stones, especially for the design of public spaces and facilities, in building and civil engineering projects of public support.
This development affects the whole natural stone trade, the stonemason industry, construction companies, as well as garden and landscape designer. Final settlement of all legal issues in this context, especially with regard to European law and the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the prohibition of discrimination, will take some time. Doubts about the adequacy of the approach seems quite appropriate, especially since it is honorable and traditional branches of industry in the lump under suspicion and threatened a successful industry and many thousands of lives in the country of India. Given the ongoing propaganda against the natural stones, it is advisable to already adjust to the coming regulations, requirements, prohibitions and effects on trade. Even if some experts claim that the regulations are inappropriate and excessive the stone industry is well advised to these standards. This is the best way to eliminate distrust – however small – amongst individual buyers, government agencies, and the general public.
Principles of certification by IGEP
The examination and certification of natural stone products for export is possible. It is offered by IGEP, an independent and non-profit private company under German management, for the whole of India. IGEP already has more than 20 years of experience in the production control and certification of industries such as the manufacture of carpets, shoes, leather garments and other leather products, textiles and clothing, house and home textiles, arts and crafts and gift items, jewelry, automotive components, etc. IGEP is the only organization with appropriate operational infrastructure in India to offer regular and comprehensive systematic control and monitoring of the entire value chain in the natural stone sector. It covers all activities
- quarrying of stone blocks
- transport to processing plants
- cutting, polishing and trimming
- packaging, transportation and shipment
The trained inspection personnel will be assisted by the expertise and experience of the Rugmark Foundation India and its inspectors, established since 1991/92. IGEP played an important role introducing the Rugmark label for identification of carpets without child labor. To date India exported approx. 15 million rugs with the Rugmark label, the promise for carpets without child labor and socially responsible manufacturing. Rugmark and IGEP are closely linked since the design of the method and its first implementation. Rugmark’s founding chairman, Dr. Kebschull, is head of IGEP Foundation and volunteer for more than two decades, working for Rugmark as a consultant. Additionally Sharda Subramaniam, the IGEP Director, is the voluntary head of Rugmark’s secretariat. Rugmark Foundation India cooperated with IGEP since the Indian and German natural stone industry first contacted IGEP concerning certification issues. Rugmark has been prepared to contribute its knowledge and experience in the monitoring of child protection, labor and social conditions of the natural stone production in a close cooperation with IGEP. Inspectors of both organizations form this common assessment teams. To emphasize the same goals and common approaches the established and well known Rugmark logo with minor modifications is used equally.
IGEP can thus build on long-standing and proven structures. There is also a positive, close cooperation climate with government agencies, industry associations, the private sector and civil society in India and with all major destination countries due to the many years of work in the development sector. IGEP was and is renowned for its constant commitment to a sustainable improvement of the living conditions, with focus on the poor and underprivileged sections of the population. Entrepreneurs, associations and government authorities are satisfied, that there are always common solutions helping to ensure socially responsible production and thus avoid poverty and further impoverishment. To ensure sustainability, financing is not set to the state, but to the willingness and ability of the companies involved.
What is tested?
The focus of the monitoring is - according to the public attention and the ethical and moral obligations - the prevention and elimination of child labor, according to the Indian law and the conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations. Due to the ongoing work of Rugmark, IGEP and identically oriented organizations as well as like-minded people, India is now going to eliminate the last barriers to the full ratification of ILO Conventions 138 and 182.
In addition to the controlled operations, a series of other social minimum requirements are checked. These include in particular
- the exclusion of any form of forced or bonded labor (ILO Convention 29 and 105)
- compliance with the maximum hours of work and compliance with rest periods and holidays
- the payment of the wages and allowances being statutory and periodically adjusted
- the prescribed higher compensation for overtime, as well as surcharges for Sundays and public holidays
- the absence of any racial, ethnic, religious and personal discrimination , including payment (ILO Convention 100 and 111)
- the conditions for free association and freedom of assembly ( ILO Convention 87 and 98)
- the strict consideration of and compliance with health and safety regulations
- the creation of environmental awareness preventing serious damage to the environment as part of corporate responsibility
Experience shows that it is not necessary to control every square meter in a quarry or any machine in a processing operation 24/7 in a police like way. As in other industries companies experience has shown very quickly that they can get permanent jobs only, if they provide no cause for complaint. This is especially true for child labor. Detected child labor will lead to a loss of all jobs and therefore ultimately cause corporate collapse. In particular because of the generally drastically declining demand for handmade rugs, carpet manufacturers were exceptionally quickly establishing their own inspection team in the past, to avoid any negative surprises at Rugmark controls. In addition, rule abiding companies, take care not to be pushed out of the market by companies that do not adhere to minimum standards of ethical and moral principles. Market and competition are thus - even in a country as large as India - much more transparent and easier to monitor
How to test?
Prerequisite for this introduction of mandatory standards is the first voluntary commitment of a company to be audited and controlled at any time by the IGEP/Rugmark inspectors without notice. This commitment is a crucial step towards successful and credible monitoring and certification.
IGEP receives the names of the suppliers of its customers in Germany. Then these companies will be contacted by IGEP in India. Afterwards IGEP will ask for a list of their quarries and transporters. The list is exactly verified in cooperation with buyers, associations and chambers, additionally it will be adapted to changes occurring over time.
To build a relationship of trust and to exclude security risks the first inspection is carried out jointly with the management of the processors and the quarries. At this time the method of control is explained. The examination of each of the important aspects is demonstrated in the joint inspection of farms and quarries and in completing the audit reports. Once introduced in person, the inspectors may do unannounced test at any time.
At the first visit IGEP tries to identify possible changes and measures in cooperation with the management and staff of the firm. While these changes will be fixed in a schedule the basic condition, namely to eliminate all forms of child labor, has to be fulfilled immediately as well as inevitably. Companies that either cannot or do not want to meet this condition are ineligible suppliers.