Dangerous working conditions, debt bondage and below minimum wages are some of the findings of the study ‘Between a rock and a hard place‘ released by the Dutch-based human rights NGO Arisa. In the quarries surveyed in Rajasthan, it was found that over 60% of the workers were Adivasis or Dalits.

The study identified key concerns in the quarries including a lack of contracts for most workers who were paid on a piece-rate basis and below minimum wage, especially female workers. Health and safety of the workers was also found to be extremely compromised by the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with 72% of the workers interviewed reporting that they are not provided any PPE by the quarry management. This puts the workers at a high risk of the lung disease Silicosis, for which there is no cure.

Other safety concerns stated in the report include explosions, moving and falling stones, dust, and backbreaking labour. In 60% of the sample quarries visited clean drinking water is lacking and except for a few big quarries, there are no toilet facilities for the workers; they use the open area in and around the quarry, which is an unacceptable situation, especially for women.

Debt bondage was also identified in the study as an area of concern, with many workers having to take advances or loans in order to survive, which they then have to work to pay back. Most of the workers do not have contracts and advances and loans are also often not in writing. Nearly 40% of the workers in the study were found to be illiterate – making it very difficult for them to keep control of when their advances and debts have been repaid. Interest on loans was found to range from 24% to 36% per year.

On a more positive note, the study finds that progress has been made in reducing child labour in the industry, especially in quarries. Children were however still found to be working in home-based stonework.

IDSN welcomes the study and urges companies to address the issues identified urgently, including looking at the marginalisation of Dalits and Adivasis as a key contributor to their exploitation in the sector.

The study gives a number of key recommendations to companies. Arisa has approached 112 identified global companies sourcing stone from Rajasthan to initiate a dialogue process with them. The full list of recommendations can be found at the end of the report, and below are the recommendations specific to caste:

Caste-related recommendations from the study:

  • Companies need to understand the risks posed by caste discrimination in their supply chains, because if unaddressed it can fundamentally undermine compliance on labour rights.
    • In the context of the OECD Guidelines and UN Guiding Principles, the ETI Guidance on Caste in Global Supply Chains and the Ambedkar Principles and Guidelines to address Caste Discrimination in the Private Sector are tools that can be used to assess if the rights of Dalits and other minority groups are being violated.
  • Companies should build capacity of owners of quarries and cobble making units to address gender and caste discrimination in the allocation of tasks and ensure that caste and gender discrimination is explicitly addressed and mentioned in any policy documents.
  • Promote measures that take into account the special needs of scheduled tribes and scheduled castes who are more subjected to debt bondage and discrimination than others.