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Marshalls Funds Lifesaving Initiatives in India

On 4th February, Marshalls Plc pledged to fund the work of Hadoti Hast Shlip Sansthan, an NGO helping to transform the lives of desperately poor migrant workers in some of the most remote rural areas of India.

On 4th February, Marshalls Plc pledged to fund the work of Hadoti Hast Shlip Sansthan, an NGO helping to transform the lives of desperately poor migrant workers in some of the most remote rural areas of India. Hadoti helps migrant workers to implement sustainable development programmes in the mining region of Rajasthan. Now Marshalls has committed to providing major funding for Hadoti in 2007, thus helping to improve the lives of vulnerable families working in the quarries around Bhundi and Kota.

As a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Marshalls has adopted the ETI base code at Stoneshippers India, its sole supplier in the region. The ETI base code includes the principles that child labour should not be used, no-one should be forced to work, working conditions should be safe and healthy, wages should be enough to live on and workers should be treated equally.

However, while Marshalls is satisfied that Stoneshippers India is working with the ETI base code, it is also well aware that one supplier alone cannot change the working practices of centuries. The problems simply go elsewhere. Labour exploitation is likely to be happening just down the road at another site. These violations of human rights simply cannot be ignored by any socially responsible company working in the area.

In Rajasthan - from where sandstone is exported into the UK, making up 10% of the UK market for decorative paving - many people working in the quarries are migrant labourers who scrape an income among the derelict heaps of sandstone spoil, living in makeshift shelters without even the most basic facilities.

They tend to come from the poorest rural communities and are usually landless peasants who work in the quarries for 8-9 months a year, returning to their native region in the rainy season. In typical Indian quarries nearly 20% of workers in Indian quarries are children, some as young as six, who lack education, health, housing and even safe drinking water. These children work in harsh conditions carrying heavy loads, wielding sledge-hammers and operating jack-hammers, without basic safety gear like shoes, gloves and dust masks.

Families of migrant workers suffer from widespread exploitation and are vulnerable to many hazardous diseases. Dusty environmental conditions mean that tuberculosis is becoming widespread. In the case of diseases such as lung cancer, death is inevitable because of inadequate medical facilities. Lack of health awareness is contributing to the rapid spread of syphilis, while poor hygiene and lack of sanitation mean that malaria is becoming a major cause of death.

With Marshalls’ funding, Hadoti’s immediate priorities will be providing medical aid through a mobile clinic offering doctors, medicines and equipment, including kits for the treatment of TB. From April 2007, health check-up camps will also be organised, with a GP and nursing staff permanently appointed to help treat diseases prevalent in the area, plus other annual epidemics as they occur. Lack of childbirth facilities in these areas mean that infant and maternal mortality rates are very high, so the check-up camps will also provide gynaecologists and child specialists to offer essential care.

The second major priority for Marshalls’ funding of Hadoti is the financial security of migrant labourers. From February 2007, with match-funding from the Indian Government, Marshalls is paying for labourers’ social security insurance, aiming to reach 1000 migrant workers in 2007. A premium of just 200 rupees per labourer per year would provide a payout of 35,000 to 75,000 rupees in the case of a disabling or fatal accident, providing a financial lifeline to the family of a labourer who could no longer work. This funding is not for workers at Stoneshippers India, who already receive insurance as part of their pay deal. It is for other migrant labourers in the region, who are paid on a daily basis by unscrupulous quarry owners, earning barely enough to live on, let alone save for their family’s security. Hadoti is now working to identify workers who would benefit from such insurance funded by Marshalls.

Marshalls officially announced its funding for HHSS at a ceremony in Jaipur on February 4th, having decided to offer its support after a previous trip to India in December 2006, when Chris Harrop, Group Marketing Director of Marshalls plc, witnessed first hand the terrible working and living conditions in many of the illegal quarries.

Says Chris, “The exploitation of child labour, bonded labour and migrant labour are all very serious issues for the sandstone industry. Unlike other hard landscaping manufacturers, all our imported sandstone is ethically sourced from independently audited sources. But other purchasers for the UK market are not so careful. So we’re also helping to address the roots of social injustice in Rajasthan by supporting the valuable work of Hadoti.”

As well as delivering the very basics such as clean drinking water, medical facilities, shelters and nurseries, Hadoti aims to make education universal for children and encourage more girls into education. In particular, Hadoti focuses on training, employment and development plans for women, whose support and involvement is crucial for any initiative to have real impact in the local community. Longer term, Hadoti is helping rural people to implement sustainable development programmes by providing rural technology, bank credit and support for micro-enterprises.

As a socially responsible company, Marshalls is committed to managing its supply chain through regular independent auditing to ensure that safety, environmental and human rights laws are upheld by its suppliers. Marshalls’ sole supplier in India, Stoneshippers India, has been independently audited to ensure that quarry workers and their communities receive a fair deal. Marshalls is the only company in the hard landscaping industry to belong to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a diverse alliance of retailers and brands, trade unions and NGOs working collectively to tackle the complex questions posed by ethical trade.