August 14, 2020 REPORT

Tainted Stones: Bonded Labor and Child Labor in the India-U.S. Sandstone Supply Chain

The Center urges the government of India to ensure the effective implementation of laws to reduce and penalize bonded labor, child labor, sexual harassment, and caste discrimination.

Woman collects debris at a mining site in Rajasthan, India.

Woman collects debris at a mining site in Rajasthan, India.

Mahitosh Bagoria, HEDCON

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Three million workers are employed in India’s sandstone mining industry on a seasonal basis, with nearly 90% of India’s sandstone produced in the state of Rajasthan. Although the Government of Rajasthan has issued thousands of mining licenses and leases, there is a thriving unregulated and unlicensed market. The United States is the fourth largest importer of Indian sandstone, with a total import of 97 million pounds valued at US$ 16.7 million.

Evidence-based research has shown serious human rights violations committed in the sandstone industry in Rajasthan. Workers, particularly those mining at quarry sites, are subjected to bonded labor, child labor, low wages, and inhumane working conditions. The lack of occupational health and safety safeguards remains a serious concern in this industry, with mining workers suffering diseases including the incurable and fatal silicosis. These violations are exacerbated by the entrenched gender discrimination and social inequalities found in India’s society. As such, vulnerable groups, like women and Dalits, are more prone to exploitation and harassment in the industry.

The supply chain in Rajasthan’s sandstone industry is often complicated, unregulated, and nontransparent. The stone goes through several stages of cutting, splitting, polishing, washing, and sale—all through multiple intermediaries—before the product reaches its final destination. This, compounded by the fact that many mines are unregistered and unlicensed, has led to abuses in an opaque and secretive supply chain. Human rights violations are concentrated in the quarry level, often due to the unregulated nature of the work. The lack of an established formal relationship between employer and employee and ineffective implementation of existing protective legislation has impeded accountability for mine owners and other actors in the supply chain. In addition to violating Indian law, the import of products derived from forced or child labor into the United States is prohibited by U.S. law.

Considering this complex landscape, the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights undertook a comprehensive study to examine the Indian sandstone mining industry in the state of Rajasthan. The study examined potential human rights violations in the U.S. supply chain. Through literature review, a survey, and in-person interviews, this report documents serious human rights violations committed in the sandstones supply chain. The Center examined the national legal framework, protection mechanisms, and their compliance with international human rights law and international labor standards. The first part of the report details the multifaceted supply chain of the sandstone mining industry. It then explores whether the issues affecting the industry alleged in other reports also exist in the case of stone imported into the United States.

The study found that stones which the United States imports can likely be traced to a supply chain that is marred by serious human rights violations. In the context of the United States’ importation, the unregistered—and thus legally unprotected—workers are subjected to bonded labor, child bonded labor, child labor, low wages, occupational health and safety hazards.

The report recommends that all stakeholders, including the Government of India, and the U.S. Government, as well as business enterprises involved in exporting, importing, mining, and processing should ensure protection of human rights through due diligence and best practices in the sandstone mining industry’s supply chain. The recommendations propose a holistic approach that governments, companies, civil society organizations, and trade unions should undertake to eradicate serious human rights violations from Rajasthan’s sandstone mining industry.

To ensure compliance with its international obligations, the Government of India should strengthen its national legal protection framework by introducing legal reforms, strengthening its inspection mechanisms, and effectively enforcing the registration of workers with the mining companies and quarries. It should undertake a robust evidence-based approach to determine the prevalence of bonded labor and child bonded labor in the industry by publishing new studies while also examining existing state-level surveys of bonded labor.

The U.S. Government should closely monitor the presence of forced labor in the mining, processing, and importation of sandstones from India. It is also essential for the U.S. Government to make it mandatory for U.S. companies to report on bonded labor and child labor in their supply chain and conduct other due diligence measures in line with U.S. law, along with U.N. and OECD guidelines and ILO principles.

It is imperative for U.S. and Indian companies to exercise due diligence to ensure that all business partners follow internationally-recognized guidelines to respect human and worker rights. Enterprises should prioritize developing an industry-wide code of conduct based on internationally-recognized standards and codes of practice, to be implemented throughout the company’s supply chain in order to fulfil their human rights due diligence.

Finally, civil society organizations and trade unions have a critical role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of mining workers by advocating for their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. They should also support further development of workers’ cooperatives to promote decent work conditions in the industry. Furthermore, civil society actors should provide workers with legal assistance in order to guarantee legal redress of workers’ human rights grievances. Such a comprehensive approach will ensure accountability in the sandstone mining industry.

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This report was prepared by staff and consultants of the American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights and reflects their views. It has not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and therefore should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association as a whole. Further, nothing in this report should be considered as legal advice in a specific case. The ABA Center for Human Rights would like to thank Bhoomika Choudhry for drafting this report and Janelle Diller for her comments. It would also like to thank the Ethical Certification for Trading, LLP, for conducting a survey of individuals working in the mines. Finally, it would like to thank Waris Husain, staff attorney for the Center, for managing the drafting and review of the report.