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Rajasthan Stone Quarries: Promoting Human Rights Due Diligence and Access to Redress in Complex Supply Chains

by shelley marshall, kate taylor and Samantha Balaton-chrimes

This case study examines attempts by stone workers in quarries in Rajasthan to gain redress for poor labour conditions, death and injury caused by silicosis and asbestosis. Rajasthan’s stone is exported around the world.  It is part of our daily lives: we walk over it in hotel lobbies and stand on it as we brush our teeth in our bathrooms.  Though it was most likely mined by child labour and workers bodies were injured in the process of bringing it out of the ground, there are no sources of redress for these workers against the transnational companies that import it to the Economic North.  


Human rights issues in the stone sector in India include bonded labour, child labour, and unhealthy and unsafe work environments resulting in injury and death by silicosis and asbestosis. The quarry sector is largely unregulated and most workers are undocumented and unorganised. Supply chains are extremely difficult to map and connect to any particular quarry with the diffuse buyers who sell stone in a wide array of countries around the world.  Unlike some industries, where a concentration of buyers exists which allows supply chains to be traced to large multi-national companies, in the stone industry there are thousands upon thousands of small buyers and importers.  National regulation of work by state labour departments is weak with high levels of confused and overlapping authority, as well as under-resourcing.

Non-judicial redress mechanisms

Some redress was attained through the National Human Rights Commission of India (‘NHRC’) by interacting with the High Court of Rajasthan and the state government to provide compensation for thousands of victims of silicosis. The NHRC has addressed systemic problems and individual grievances through its coordinating models. Workers were able to access the NHRC compensation with considerable assistance from supporting NGOs.

The international multi-stakeholder initiatives attempts to address the issue – the ETI’s ‘Sandstone from Rajasthan, India’ programme of action, and the Forest Trust’s ‘Responsible Stone Program’ certification scheme had made little or no progress in improving conditions for workers or engaging with local players over the course of our field work (2012-2013). However, progress may have been made since then. This case study highlights the need for intensive engagement at the local level if any transnational mechanism is to address compound barriers to redress that are the consequence of local and international dynamics.

The executive summary can be read below. 


1.       This report examines the multiple barriers for vulnerable, informal quarry mining workers in Rajasthan to gain concrete improvements in their working conditions and redress for serious human rights harms suffered. It presents guidance about the role of non-judicial redress mechanisms that aim to hold transnational business who sell, buy and process stone mined in Rajasthan responsible for these conditions.  It also provides proposals about ways that businesses can be encouraged to adopt practices of human rights due diligence in relation to their supply chains. Due diligence is an ongoing, proactive and reactive process through which companies can ensure that they respect human rights.[1]

2.       Rajasthan is the second most mineral rich state in India. It has a wide spectrum of mineral deposits.[2] It accounts for about 90 per cent of the country’s total natural stone production.[3] There are 3403 mining leases for major minerals and 11 861 mining leases for minor minerals, as well as 18 249 quarry licenses in the state.[4] 

3.       In addition, there are a substantial number of unlicensed and illegal quarries in Rajasthan — rendering the exact scope of the industry difficult to gauge. Thousands of small, often individually owned mines operating on roadsides and informally employing men, women and children to hand-mine the stone. Stone is then bought – usually in cash — from the roadside, and it travels up the supply chain from there.

4.       Human rights violations in Rajasthan’s mines are particularly egregious. 

a.       A significant proportion of labour is bonded. Bonded labourers are extremely vulnerable to retaliation if they attempt to organise or otherwise agitate for enforcement of the law or human rights norms.

b.      Child labour is common, with as many as 375 000 child labourers working in Rajasthan’s mines.[5] There are twice as many girls as boys labouring in India's quarries.[6]  In addition to lower pay and greater abuse, they are subject to gender-specific forms of abuse from their employers, including rape.[7] Dalit and adivasi children too are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the mining sector.  A national study conducted in 2010 found that districts which are entirely dependent on mining have a lower literacy rate than the national average. Further, malnourishment is rife, and the mortality rate of children under five is significantly higher in these areas.[8] 

c.       Many sandstone workers die from silicosis, a fatal but preventable lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust containing crystalline silica during sandstone mining. Radiological investigations conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research that 56 per cent of mine workers in Rajasthan are affected with silicosis or silica-tuberculosis. If these numbers are indicative of the general incidence of such diseases, then at least 800 000 workers in small mines and quarries might be affected just in the state of Rajasthan.[9]  This could be avoided if wet drilling were adopted.

d.      Injury rates are extremely high. As many of Rajasthan’s quarries are small-scale and unregistered, the vast majority do not comply with the occupational health and safety standards.

e.      Typically, workers in Rajasthan’s stone quarries do not have formal contracts of employment leaving them without formal redress after losing their work or if they are not paid for their work. There is no employer against which to make a claim.

f.        Pay is precarious. Wages are calculated on a piece-rate basis. This means that labourers who are physically stronger (usually male teenagers) have a greater earning capacity than other workers. Older workers, who are already afflicted with musculoskeletal disorders caused by decades of gruelling physical labour, earn considerably less. Women are systematically relegated to the lowest-paying jobs.

g.       These forms of human rights breaches are exacerbated by structural discrimination against women, ethnic minority and caste groups.  A 2005 ILO working paper suggested as many as 95 per cent of the labourers in Rajasthan’s mines were members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.[10] In India generally, scheduled caste members (the lowest castes, including dalits, comprising 29 per cent of India’s population) are twice as likely to be a casual labourer, and living below the poverty line.[11]

5.       The most problematic phase of stone production takes place at the quarry, where stones such as sandstone, limestone and marble is cut, predominantly by hand, from the earth. Workers in this unorganised economic sector face particular barriers to accessing local and transnational redress mechanisms for a number of reasons:

a.       Frequently, the workers have no documentary evidence of identity or employment, so in cases where human rights violations occur, it is nearly impossible to hold any business responsible.

b.      Supply chains are highly opaque, and it is very difficult to make connections from high-profile buyers, particularly international ones, to any particular quarry. This makes it very difficult to apply pressure to the upper end of the supply chain.

c.       The regulation of work by state labour departments is weak, particularly for informal workers, due to the low capacity of inspectorate and weak labour laws. Government regulation in this sector suffers from particularly high levels of confused and overlapping authority, as well as major loopholes. Furthermore, government officials responsible for visiting the quarries — those who would have most capacity to bring about immediate change for workers — are grossly under-resourced.

d.      Trade unions in the stone sector are weak. Strengthening trade unions and encouraging adaptation to an informal and mobile workforce has the potential to substantially improve human rights protections in this sector.

6.       The National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) is the primary mechanism through which some redress has been attained in this case. After an initial complaint about quarry workers suffering from silicosis was made to the NHRC in 2010, the Commission assumed a coordinating role in addressing the issue. Though the NHRC is non-judicial, it has interacted with the High Court of Rajasthan and the state government to provide compensation for hundreds of victims’ families. The Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission (RSHRC) has also made recommendations to the Rajasthan Government regarding endemic silicosis suffered in the state’s quarries, after taking suo moto cognizance of the issue (meaning it starts a legal process on its own) in 2012. This makes it a useful model for the types of functions that non-judicial mechanisms can play within systems of redress. Rajasthan now stands as an exemplar of a state-based model for providing some level of compensation to silicosis victims and their families.

7.       It was only with considerable assistance (down to the level of filling out forms) from supporting NGOs that workers were able to access the National Human Rights Commission compensation.

8.       The respondents to our research almost unanimously felt that government regulators have the greatest capacity to address the human rights problems facing the stone sector. Very few respondents felt that transnational companies or organisations could or should play any significant role in addressing the issues.  

9.       Any transnational mechanism that seeks to impact the sector needs to deeply engage at the local level, so as to:

a.       bolster government action;

b.      address compound barriers to redress that are the consequence of local socio-economic characteristics and discrimination; and

c.       educate stakeholders about ways to gain leverage from supply chain dynamics.

10.   At the time of our research, Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and The Forest Trust (TFT) Responsible Stone Program were in the early phases of programs to improve human rights conditions for workers. Our interviews found very little evidence of awareness of either mechanism among quarry operators, workers or regulators.  This may since have changed.

11.   The report makes a number of proposals concerning steps that non-judicial mechanisms can take to assist access to redress and facilitate human rights due diligence in supply chains including:

·         Establishing a local grievance mechanism which facilitates redress from transnational businesses in the supply chain.

·         Assisting in the formalisation and legalisation of quarry operations.

·         Encouraging the formalisation of working relations.

·         Assisting the establishment of traceability and/or chain of custody systems in the supply chain.

·         Safety practices that would vastly lower silicosis rates.

·         Building local trade union capacity to organise and represent workers in accessing redress.


[1] OECD, Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (2011), OECD, OECD Risk Awareness Tool for Multinational Enterprises in Weak Governance Zones (2006), John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, UN Doc A/HRC/17/31, 21 March 2011).

[2] Department of Mines and Geology, Government of Rajasthan, Geological Setting and Mineral Sources <>.

[3] P Madhavan and Raj Sanjay, Budhpura 'Ground Zero' Standstone Quarrying in India (2005) <>.

[4] Resurgent Rajasthan, Minerals and Ceramics (17 September 2016) <>.

[5] Ethical Trading Initiative, Marshalls: Tacking Child Labour in India (2009) ('Marshalls') ; India Committee of the Netherlands, Mining and its Effects on Children, Women, Adivasi and Dalits (2010) 1.

[6] Human Rights Watch, The Small Hands of Slavery: Bonded Child Labor in India (1996) ('The Small Hands').

[7] Ibid.

[8] International Dalit Solidarity Network, The Situation of Southeast Asia’s Dalits in the Mining Sector (2011).

[9] Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, ‘Digging to Survive: Women’s Livelihoods in South Asia’s Small Mines and Quarries’ (2008) 15 South Asian Survey 217, 231 (‘Digging’).

[10] Ravi S Srivastava, ‘Bonded Labor in India: Its Incidence and Pattern’ (ILO Working Paper No 43, April 2005).

[11] Barbara Harriss-White and Nandini Gooptu, ‘Mapping India’s World of Unorganized Labour’ (2001) 37 Socialist Register 99.