Encouraging Ethical Sourcing

Indian cobble yard. Piles of stone and women picking through it

Being an ethical supplier is more than a trademark for London Stone. Since 2015, the supplier has been working with organisation No Child Left Behind to help eradicate child labour in Budhpura, Rajasthan, India, so that the children who live there can enjoy full-time education.

“This region of Rajasthan is the world centre of sandstone sett production, a sector that’s highly susceptible to child labour. There was a growing issue in the supply chain because of this,” says Steven Walley, managing director of London Stone.

The pandemic has only worsened the problem of child labour in Budhpura; with no school for more than 18 months, and nothing to do, children have drifted back to work. “Children are migrating back towards these work environments, after we’ve spent years trying to move them towards education. We’re effectively starting again,” admits Steven.

No Child Left Behind meeting in Budhpura. Men sitting on floor around edge of room.
London Stone’s Steve Walley at a meeting in Budhpura, 2018.

No Child Left Behind tackles a host of other issues in the area, including H&S, gender equality and supporting workers to have their own bank accounts. For London Stone and other European suppliers involved in the No Child Left Behind project, such as stoneasy.com and Beltrami, it’s important that all the people within their supply chains are looked after, and not just with financial donations. “We see our supply chain as an extension of our company,” explains Steve. “It’s important that we value the people within our supply chain as much as we value our customers and our staff within London Stone – we feel responsible as much as we can be for their wellbeing.”

London Stone also encourages its suppliers within India to support the No Child Left Behind project.  In many cases, Indian suppliers simply adding their leverage can make a massive difference to how effective a project can be.

A dusty lane between buildings and trees, Budhpura, Rajasthan.
Budhpura is in a very rural area of Rajasthan.

“The more people who apply pressure to make changes, the more chance there is of the changes being made. Invariably, our Indian suppliers are supplying their products to many other suppliers across the world and if all these suppliers came together to put pressure on the Indian suppliers, we would see a lot of these supply-chain issues addressed very quickly. This is more helpful than simply walking away from producers – this would worsen problems for workers, as their income would dry up,” says Steve.

“And we can raise awareness of the issue in the UK. We can educate landscapers, garden designers and our retail clients about the importance of understanding what they’re buying and understanding the supply chain. Customers can show their support by buying from companies who take supply-chain ethics seriously.”

Women sitting spaced apart in rows on dusty ground receiving instructions.
Covid safety training for women workers.

Lots of people ask if there are any types of certification for ethical sourcing.  “There are, but certification isn’t always the most useful tool,” says Steve. “Certification doesn’t always solve the problem because it’s effectively a badge – just because a badge says your business is compliant today, who is to say that the same business will be compliant tomorrow?”

London Stone takes the opportunity, on its regular buying missions, to visit Manjari, the NGO running the No Child Left Behind Project in Budhpura.  “It’s always inspiring to see how improvements are progressing and to try and gain a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges in Budhpura,” says Steve.  “But what we need are more UK suppliers to get involved, increasing our leverage on the supply chain.” 

To find out how to get involved with the work of No Child Left Behind, please get in contact with Steve at: steven@londonstone.co.uk.

Cover of October 2021 edition of Pro Landscaper magazine.

This article first appeared in the October 2021 edition of Pro Landscaper.

Read Celebrating Budhpura! for more about the history of No Child Left Behind.

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No Child Left Behind: Stemming the Return to Child Labour as Covid Keeps Schools Closed

Vu que les écoles sont fermées, les enfants font leurs bancs d'école comme ils peuvent.

Covid restrictions have stopped India’s children going to school. In Budhpura, Manjari is bringing school to the children.

It’s no secret that the Covid pandemic has hit India hard. And beyond the news of overwhelmed hospitals, oxygen shortages, and the high death count, are other stories—of the potential long-term impact of this crisis on the country’s children.

It’s no secret that the Covid pandemic has hit India hard. And beyond the news of overwhelmed hospitals, oxygen shortages, and the high death count, are other stories—of the potential long-term impact of this crisis on the country’s children.

Group of 3 children of different ages, sitting on stone slabs, with worksheets spread around. in Budhpura, Rajasthan, India. They're not in school because of Covid restrictions.

 

Worksheets have been developed with the help of subject experts, on core subjects like Maths and Hindi, and delivered to children. Image courtesy of Manjari

Manjari brings school to the children

Again Manjari have been busy, visiting families, explaining that work is not worth the cost to child development—the danger being that work compromises the child’s future as they are not then interested in going back to school.

To an extent, Manjari has become “school”. Although central government set up remote learning initiatives last year, to try to compensate for school closures, the huge urban/rural divide in the availability of the Internet is a major handicap. Pre-Covid, it was estimated that in rural areas only around 4% of households have access. “For the families in Budhpura, having an android-based mobile handset with internet connectivity is still a distant dream,” points out Manish.

So, when permitted by Covid restrictions, volunteers have brought school to the children. Education Volunteers were briefed and given the responsibility of visiting a hundred households. “We create small groups of children,” says Manish, “and they share worksheets based on minimum academic levels, which come back to us for feedback.” The volunteers have reached around 1000 children in Budhpura and the surrounding villages.

An adolescent girl wearing a surgical mask because of Covid restrictions, leads a warm up session in the open air, before classes begin, in Budhpura, Rajasthan, India

 

A girl leads a warm-up session before learning commences. Alongside Education Volunteers are also Community Based Peer Educators—older boys and girls who go to school. These children have helped their siblings and younger neighbourhood children to continue their studies. “We call them peers,” says Manish, “because they are very much part of the children’s immediate environment and have a capacity to influence other children.” Image courtesy of Manjari

The importance of play

But all work and no play…is never good. “There is also a kind of psychological damage to the growth of children, because their whole environment is restricted now,” says Manish. “So we have distributed sports material to twenty children’s groups. They play in a safe environment with their friends and discuss their tensions.”

The teams have also visited cobble yards, organising games and story-telling nearby so that the children aged two or three years old, who cannot be left at home when their parents go to work, are able to play for an hour or two.

A girls' cricket team posing for the camera, in Budhpura, Rajasthan, India.

 

A girls’ cricket team. Image courtesy of Manjari

Mobile libraries take books to the children

One of the most successful initiatives in sustaining children’s interest has been the library. Inevitably, because of the pandemic, the central library—which is in Manjari’s office in Budhpura—closed last year. The mobile library was born, transporting up to sixty books at a time to different villages.

Manjari are providing funding and, over the year, the value of this initiative has become obvious. Over 3000 books have been borrowed from the library and there is increasing demand for new ones.

One of the most heartening aspects of working to improve conditions is the relatively small investment needed to make an impact. “Reaching to far-flung mining areas is difficult,” explains Varun, “so a small investment is suggested, to get an electric rickshaw—very low cost—which can reach these areas without involving fuel charges. This will help us to reach out to these children with books and developing their learning habits.”

Lack of science facilities

However, dealing with the problems created by Covid has underlined another lack, not related to the pandemic. “The children have no facilities to study science and maths,” says Manish. “There are no teachers for these subjects, so we are not creating interest in the children. And the ages of nine, ten and eleven are when a child gets their attitude to study.”

A class of young children sitting on the ground in open air class, wearing masks because of Covid virus, Rajasthan, India,

 

Classes have been held where possible. Picture credit: Manjari

The consequence is that children have no option except to study humanities—something which skews the future skills base of the country. “We’re in touch with local consultants,” says Manish. “When Covid is over we want to establish a small room at the centre where children come to see experiments.”

To facilitate this, we at No Child Left Behind will be looking into opportunities to provide books, science kits and other resources to spark an interest in children in these subjects in the early years.

But that is for the future. For now, all efforts are concentrated on keeping children and their families engaged, against the time when Covid restrictions will be a past difficulty, overcome.

Read more about Manjari, the grass-roots organisation in Budhpura, in Celebrating Budhpura! and The NGO helping to eradicate child labour

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Giving girls a future that isn’t “set in stone”

No Child Left Behind: helping to expand the life opportunities of adolescent girls.

A major focus of the work being performed by Manjari* within the community of Budhpura is in improving the health and prospects of adolescent girls.

Twenty-seven sessions have been delivered to adolescent groups in the last few months, covering topics such as literacy and entrepreneurship. One of the biggest benefits of this programme is in expanding the horizons of young women, helping them to see that their future is not “set in stone”.

Around 250 girls are involved in the programme; less than a third them are still in school, and some do occasional work in the stone yards. Some are, indeed, married. The legal age of marriage in India is 18.

Girls gather for one of their regular meetings.

Just as we explained in previous articles that child labour is a result of a complex situation, so is under-age marriage. It’s a concern that India as a whole has been trying to address for decades. The situation is improving and numbers are falling. In Rajasthan, however, the percentage of under-age marriages is much higher than the national average; Manish Singh, Secretary of Manjari reports that, in the Budhpura area, around 32% of marriages are under age.

The negative consequences of child marriage are many. Girls who marry very young have fewer educational opportunities, which affects their economic status and has a consequent impact on the economy of the country. Teenage pregnancy increases population growth because of the extra years of fertility. Young brides are more likely to be the victim of domestic violence and, according to the International Women’s Health Coalition, girls under the age of 15 are nearly five times more likely to die during childbirth, compared with women in their 20s; they are also at more risk of injuries resulting from pregnancy and childbirth.

The health of the children they bear can also suffer; often babies are underweight, and there’s a risk of their growing up stunted. All of this contributes to a cycle poverty, so there is enormous benefit to eradicating under-age marriage.

However tempting it is to condemn a situation, no problem has a single cause, and no problem has a single solution.

The work of Manjari and other agencies involved has to take into account multiple intertwining strands. “It’s how society perceives women,” explains Manish. “Are they considered a burden and responsibility, or are they people full of human potential?”

A meeting for adolescent girls in progress. Manish Singh in the blue check shirt.

Poverty also plays a big role. “In India marriages are big business, so when an older girl is being married, a young girl is also married with her just to save money.”

One of the ways to combat early marriage is education. Women with twelve or more years at school are far more likely to get married in their twenties than those with no schooling.

It is, however, no coincidence that girls tend to drop out of school when they reach puberty. Menstruation is a major issue. and menstrual hygiene is another of the subjects covered in the sessions attended by the girls.

Some of the problems surrounding periods are cultural; when she’s menstruating, a girl can find herself subject to restrictions on behaviour and movement passed on by parents and siblings. Unsafe menstrual practices, such as reusing old cloths, are not uncommon in rural areas; they increase the danger of contracting reproductive tract infections, which can severely impact fertility later on.

The pandemic has in no way helped. There’s been a huge shortage of sanitary pads, with seven out of ten girls finding difficulty in obtaining them during lockdown, according to a study by the NGO Population Foundation of India last August. Interestingly, Poonam Muttreja, its executive director, was reported in the Hindustan Times as saying: “It takes tremendous convincing on the part of frontline workers to encourage and educate school-going girls to use sanitary napkins.”

Perhaps this has something to do with the financial aspect. Girls have been reluctant in the past to buy sanitary towels because of their high cost, but they’ve also been embarrassed to them in male-run shops.

One of the life-skills training sessions in progress.

This makes the sessions incredibly important in educating young women in menstrual health, but without access to sanitary towels, the education is in vain. Varun Sharma, Programmes Director of Aravali, one of the agencies involved in supporting the work of Manjari, said, “There is a very big issue of women not being able to access sanitary napkins. In the absence of that, their entire life suffers.”

A lack of sanitary towels leads to girls dropping out of school—one of the very things which can help their life chances. As part of the solution, Manish has got together four entrepreneurs, to procure good-quality low-price sanitary napkins. They have now started selling these to women.

It’s one small building block in giving adolescent girls life options which in the past weren’t even dreamed of. The self-help groups that are empowering women financially is another. There are other building blocks too. All are combining to create a structure that gives women a more recognized value in their community.

For more information on Manjari, see The NGO helping to eradicate child labour.

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How financial empowerment gives women a voice

Financial empowerment is the key to increasing women’s influence in putting an end to child labour.

It’s not been easy in Budhpura—the centre of the cobble-making industry in Rajasthan and focus of No Child Left Behind, our project to support work to eradicate child labour in the natural stone industry.

India is reeling under the spread of Covid-19 and it is all the more to the credit of those involved that progress continues to be made, in such difficult circumstances, with the community projects that are so valuable in improving lives in the stone industry.

Self-help groups have been a feature of village life for some time.

Manjari is the grass-roots NGO that operates in the heart of Budhpura with a team of fifteen who work directly with mine-workers, their families and local businesses.

Manish Singh is Manjari’s Secretary. “Wave one of the virus did not bring any difficulty,” he says, “but wave two has been disastrous. We do not have much liberty to move in the field, so whatever volunteers we have are managing the work.”

Although the ultimate aim of their work is to eradicate child labour, the success of this depends on improvements being made to many different aspects of life for those who live and work in the area—to health, education, and income, to name but a few.

Self-help groups have been a feature of village life for some time. Here’s one from 2015.

Enter Self Help groups. Over the past months, support has continued for these wherever possible. Whereas self-help groups in this country are initiated with many different purposes in mind, in India the self-help movement began with the focus firmly on women’s empowerment. “Given the socio-economic and gender disparities we have,” says Manish, “it was considered a tool to bring about change in the life of women.” This is exactly their purpose in Budhpura.

Varun Sharma is Programmes Director of Aravali, the agency that works at state level, acting as an interface between the government and grass-roots organisations like Manjari, while also helping the groups to develop their reach. “If children are at the heart of our project,” says Varun, “then protecting their mothers is also one of the key roles of our programme. That’s why we form self-help groups.”

In normal times, neighbourhood groups of around ten to twenty women meet every month to discuss matters of common interest. “When you bring them together, then the first thing is they must feel that they are a part of group, and the group has an agenda to fulfil. How long can you sustain these groups without an agenda?” points out Manish. “That’s a practical problem we have. So, we keep on taking up different activities.”

Each meeting covers a women’s issue—including family planning, menstrual health, and hygiene—but also has a business agenda.

One of the most important items on the agenda is inculcating saving habits; economic empowerment has a major part to play in making women’s voices heard. “If they have a role in family decision-making because of the money they have, then it makes a difference to their position within the family,” says Manish.

In a meeting.

“We’ve found economic empowerment is very much necessary when we work with women and children,” says Varun. “If she is earning but she’s not saving, at the end of the day a woman doesn’t have the power to negotiate, power to expand—so, she’s only an earner. An earner should be a decision-maker, I think.”

The effects are gradually being felt and Varun has noticed that in areas where women have become more powerful financially, female empowerment overall has been greater.

The dream is that, in giving women a voice and the information they need, women will be able to work together to resolve some of the issues they face—domestic violence and child marriage being just two.

Helping women cannot be done in isolation, however. Everyone in the community has to be brought on board, and the approach is always to be gender-sensitive. “When we say gender-sensitive,” explains Manish, “it means involvement. For us gender is something that involves women and men both. If you think you are empowering women, but the one who is holding the power is not being sensitised, then all your efforts are useless. It is the men who are holding the power.”

So, Manjari works with labour groups too. When these groups—largely made up of men—meet, Manish and his team talk to them, not only about labour rights, but about gender justice and their responsibilities as men in society.

“We work with men and boys,” says Manish, “so their perception of women is changed.”

Read more about the work of Manjari and what has already been achieved in Celebrating Budhpura.

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Indian sandstone’s alter ego: Polycaro visits India

By now, most actors in the natural stone sector have gotten acquainted with the Initiatief TruStone. In 2019, Flanders and the Netherlands joined forces and founded a multi-stakeholder initiative with a responsible procurement policy for sourcing natural stone from high-risk areas, supported by governments, companies, NGOs and unions. Chain transparency and care is the common thread throughout this story.

Not always obvious, but not impossible either. After all, bundled strength results in more impact. To truly understand what this is about, there is the following advice: Go see for yourself, with your own eyes, on location, where you, as a company, buy your materials from. Start the dialogue with local suppliers and search for solutions that aid all parties.

Indian sandstone is used to furnish many driveways, streets, and village squares throughout Belgium, but also in England, France, and the Netherlands many people love this product. This is because the Indian Kandla cobble stones are a great alternative to the Belgian Grès du Condroz. The reason? Very simple: Kandla cobble stones are cheaper and have shorter delivery times for any required quantity. A dream scenario for many and especially for tendering governments. Or is it?

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