The gardener has long been the champion of environmental conservation and sustainability. Composting, recycling and conservation are embedded into the gardening psyche. Yet many of us are overlooking the ethical and environmental impact of our patios, garden paths and driveways. How far away have they come from? And what has happened to get them from the quarry into our gardens?
More and more gardeners are choosing natural stone from abroad to landscape their gardens. In particular Indian sandstone is a popular choice as it is less expensive than natural British stones like York Stone and apparently more eco-friendly than re-constituted concrete – although this is surprisingly inaccurate. Nevertheless the trend is growing so fast that within 10 years is expected to account for 20% of the UK domestic market for decorative paving.
At your average Indian quarry nearly 20% of the workforce comes from child labour. A recent report on sandstone quarrying in Budhpura: www.indianet.nl/budhpura.pdf revealed that the story behind Indian sandstone is not a pretty one. Quarries have been found to operate using dangerous working conditions, corrupt trading practices and disastrous environmental management. Children often start work long before they reach they age of 14 and are asked to perform highly dangerous tasks. They are paid less than the men who work in the quarries who also receive more money than female workers.
Even basic safety equipment like shoes, gloves and dust masks aren’t provided and accidental deaths at quarries are common occurrences. In the remotest areas workers operate without basic human needs like drinking water and provision of electricity, schools and medical facilities are also absent.
Corruption is rife and Indian laws are flouted without regard for human rights or environmental damage. Workers of all ages are made to work well beyond legal limits for working hours. Irresponsible solid waste disposal through violating environmental laws has led to massive damage to agricultural areas, worsening the lives of poverty stricken communities further. There are even cases of illegal quarrying in environmentally protected areas.
Sustainability is not just an issue for the environment but also for people too. These awful stories document the abuse of the lives of some of the world’s most deprived people in order to provide cheap sandstone to UK markets. Yet sadly these stories are practically unheard of to the average gardener when they buy Indian sandstone.
Amidst the increased awareness about environmental and sustainability issues, the major challenge is now to educate people effectively about the need for sustainable hard landscapes. This means understanding how we can contribute to the sustainability of our own domestic landscapes, so that gardeners have the right information to help them make the right choices.
So, how can you ensure that your garden has fair foundations? It is clear that auditing and regulation are essential to ensure that these awful injustices are avoided. So far Marshalls is the only company in the landscaping industry to have taken pro-active steps towards ensuring the gardener can have fair foundations. Marshalls is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), and alliance of companies, trade unions and non-profit organisations that aims to promote respect for the rights of workers worldwide.
As the only member of the ETI from the hard landscaping industry Marshalls are committed to progressively improving the conditions in their suppliers’ work places and to improving the lives of workers who make their products. In contrast, other unverified sources of natural stone from developing countries are associated with all kinds of human rights abuses
Marshalls sole supplier in India, Stoneshippers India, has been independently audited to ensure that quarry workers and their communities receive a fair deal. Suppliers are re-audited regularly to ensure continual compliance.
For more information on this and other parts of the Marshalls for Sustainability programme then please visit www.marshalls.co.uk/sustainability. The site features a blog of Marshalls’ Group Marketing Director Chris Harrop’s journey to India.