Child labour has been uncovered in Indian quarries © DPA/PA Images
Child labour has been uncovered in Indian quarries © DPA/PA Images

John Lewis and Habitat pull worktops over slavery link

7 September 2017

John Lewis and Habitat have removed certain granite worktops from their collections after an investigation found evidence of modern slavery in their supply chains.

A report by India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) investigated the working conditions of South Indian granite quarries. The results revealed rampant labour abuse including low wages, child labour and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

India is the world's leading producer and exporter of granite, with 49% of global exports coming from the country. 

The investigation concentrated on 22 quarries and three waste processing sites in the South Indian states of Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, which account for more than 75% of the granite production in India.

The research found that 33 Western natural stone granite companies and three banks, including Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), had direct links to almost half of the locations.

“In light of this report and pending further investigation, we have made the decision to remove from sale black/star galaxy granite and are currently investigating all granite sources worldwide,” said John Lewis to the Observer.

“As a socially responsible retailer, we require our suppliers not only to obey the law but also to respect the rights, interests and wellbeing of their employees, their communities and the environment. We do not source granite directly. We work with one UK importer who has signed up to the John Lewis code of practice on responsible sourcing, which sets out in detail the standards that we expect our suppliers to meet on labour standards and the environment.”

A spokeman for Habitat said: “All our suppliers have to meet our high welfare standards and we won’t hesitate to take appropriate action if any supplier is found to be in breach of these.”

Habitat kitchens are a sold by the instore concession Kütchenhaus, which is the UK subsidiary of German company Nobilia, the world’s biggest kitchen manufacturer.

In a statement Nobilia said: “Star galaxy granite samples have been removed from the Habitat stores and Habitat have now stopped selling star galaxy [worktops].

“All products sold in a store next to or in combination with Nobilia products should meet the same high welfare, environmental and quality standards as the products supplied by us and we do not hesitate to take appropriate action if any supplier is in violation of these standards.”

The quarries' performance was ranked against six criteria: child labour, bonded labour, wages and benefits, safety management, health management and freedom of association. None of the quarries fulfilled all of the requirements.

Prevention systems for child labour were non-existent and violations, including children under 14 working in waste stone processing, were found.   

Quarry owners tie many casual labourers, who make up 70% of the workforce, to the job by offering substantial advances on wages with high interest rates. Debts must be cleared before they can change employer, leaving them in a cycle of debt bondage.

Granite mining is hazardous, labour intensive and requires the lifting of heavy rocks with minimal mechanical assistance, yet only permanently employed workers received legally entitled health insurance and were supplied with basic safety equipment such as goggles, boots and helmets.

In a statement released after businesses replied to the report, ICN said: "We urge John Lewis, Habitat and Nobilia and their suppliers to conduct a comprehensive human rights due diligence process, increase transparency in supply chains and provide remedies to victims of violations as required by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises." 

Almost 48m people suffer under modern slavery in 167 countries with 58% of those based in just five, with India one of them, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index.

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