Improving working conditions at Chinese natural stone companies

Improving working conditions at Chinese natural stone companies

The need for better monitoring systems for working conditions in China’s natural stone companies

In the last few years the Chinese natural stone industry has increasingly come into the spotlight as a result of poor working and environmental conditions. Municipalities in several European countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands, have started to include sustainability criteria in their procurement processes. This report presents the findings of a project that investigates working and environmental standards in China’s natural stone sector, and explores the possibilities of creating a system to implement and monitor improvements. The aim of this is to help importers and suppliers to improve labour and environmental standards, to establish a well-functioning monitoring and verification system, and to prepare for procurement of sustainable natural stone products by European municipalities.

The research finds serious problems in the area of health and safety. The high-accident rate related to the quarrying and processing of natural stone puts workers under serious risk. Workers do not usually receive any training on health and safety in the workplace. Many working environments are full of dust and fog from granite cutting. Employers rarely provide appropriate protective gears, such as gloves and face masks, for free. Main environmental issues are high water usage, the release of wastewater, the dumping of tailings and waste from broken stones, as well as a lack of restoration of exhausted quarries.

Key recommendations highlighted include:

  • European municipalities and buyers should base their demands for social standards on these priority areas and should be willing to offer the required resources so that their demands could be implemented
  • with regard to improvements, priority should be given to a number of factors including health and safety training, prevention of silicosis, free suitable protective equipment for workers and insurance against working accidents
  • buyers and suppliers should document the entire supply chain of natural stone products. Issues relating to sustainability should also be communicated to quarries and subcontractors
  • audits of labour conditions should involve unannounced visits and/or confidential interviews with workers.