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Values carved in stone

Date: 8 Mar 2009
Author: Mallen Baker

While TV documentaries focus on children working in textiles, an altogether tougher, more difficult issue gets little attention. Watch this - and you'll never buy paving for your patio or driveway without asking a few questions first.

1. Marketing the dream

Video: What could be worse than kids working in sweatshops? See the video!

Chris Harrop is the Group Marketing Director of Marshalls, a UK-based firm that sells hard landscaping. He joined the company back in 2002, and did the usual stuff that the new marketing director does. He carried out a full market analysis, what's up and coming, what's declining, where's the market, where's the customer. A very small part of the product portfolio at the time was something called Indian sandstone.

But it was growing fast. The thing about the Indian stone was that it was a natural product, very similar to Yorkstone which happens to be popular, but increasingly rare and expensive. The alternative was a manufactured product, using cement to imitate stone. All Chris's research suggested that the customers saw the stone as very attractive indeed.

Well, the thing that was obvious was that if the sales volumes of sandstone were going to continue to increase at this rate, maybe even accelerate, then the company had to be sure about the security of its supply - and there were a few question marks here that you could put up with at 1-2 percent of your volumes, but not if it was getting higher than that. So Chris started asking and doing research.

He began to notice some worrying comments on websites.

In particular, he noticed a report called "Budhpura Ground Zero" from an organisation called the India Committee of the Netherlands, which painted a very bleak picture. And although some of it came across as anti-corporate scare-mongering, it was enough to get him worried.

Marshalls invited some of the suppliers to come and talk about the issues. The suppliers were very focused and reassuring on quality, very keen on the idea of forward ordering, and making forward payments to guarantee the supply. But on any questions of social or ethical practices, they showed total disinterest. They said the campaign groups were just a bunch of malcontents who were trying to stir things up and damage a wonderful industry that employed lots of people.

They said that in India there was a law against child labour, and therefore there was no child labour.

After the meeting, Chris was more convinced than ever that there was a problem - rather than providing reassurance the meeting had done the exact opposite.

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Further reading

Marshalls website on Indian Sandstone
Chris Harrop's Indian Sandstone blog
Interview with Chris Harrop

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1 comment for this feature

Comment by: Ashwini Saxena on 14 Mar 2010

Its good that Marshalls has realised the underlining causes of the plight of the rural poor in India, especially the children, who even if wish to go to school, find themselves in quarries since their family cannot support them for the same. However, picking up from the video, focussing on one single supplier to ensure all supplies from India means an undue advantage to one single firm and thus distorts the business dynamics. Then what happens to the small mining businesses. Further, the choice of the NGO is again questionable.

"Marshalls invited some of the suppliers to come and talk about the issues. They said that in India there was a law against child labour, and therefore there was no child labour."

Key facts

Up to 20 percent of workers in Indian sandstone quarries are believed to be children, about a million children in total, some as young as six.

Occupational diseases are common among quarry workers. Silicosis, tuberculosis and bronchitis come from breathing in the dust. And poor conditions provide an ideal breeding ground for malaria.

Illegal quarries are common, and routinely flout labour standards and safety laws

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