Stone sector bedevilled by bogus ethical claimsJuly 2010
A clampdown has begun on companies in the stone industry that are making misleading claims about their 'ethical' sourcing, including suggestions that they are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative.
After a recent surge in stone companies joining the ETI, some non-member companies have been implying membership of the organization by using its logo and other ETI marketing material, or citing the initiative's values in a 'distorted' way in literature.
The ETI has written to these non-members demanding they remove references to the organization, and says it is prepared to take legal action . However, at this stage it has decided not to name any of them publicly.
The stone sector is one of the fastest-growing areas of ETI membership. Nine importers now belong to the body, and a membership group of companies, trade unions and NGOs has been formed within the body to collaborate on improving working conditions in the Indian sandstone industry.
Large stone groups in the ETI include Brett Landscaping and Marshalls, and many smaller companies have taken foundation membership, an associate status introduced last year (EP11, issue 7, p7).
Martin Cooke, the ETI stone group chair, said the recent upsurge in membership among stone importers 'is a sign of a bold new resolve within the industry to face up to some of the difficult labour standards issues that exist in supply countries'.
He said it was therefore 'all the more worrying to see some unscrupulous companies making statements which not only suggest membership of ETI but also distort what membership stands for'.
He added: 'This threatens to undermine the credibility of ETI and ethical trade in general. We take such abuses extremely seriously. Our members demonstrate their commitment to ethical trade by their actions, not by making unsubstantiated claims to be ethical.'
The ETI has also expressed concern over the use of its logo to suggest product and supplier workplace accreditation. Although the organization helps companies to develop ethical supply chain programmes in conjunction with trade unions and NGOs, it is not a certification body.
Employees in the industry, often working without appropriate safety equipment, are vulnerable to accidents and health problems, including lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust. Child labour is a serious issue, particularly in India, which supplies much of the UK's sandstone.
The US government recently threatened to impose a boycott on Indian sandstone imports, but the hope is that matters will improve now that ETI members represent a significant proportion of the industry.
Dan Rees is leaving his post as the ETI director this month. Rees, who has been with the organization for ten years, will join the International Labour Organization's Better Work Programme as director. The ETI is seeking a replacement.
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