(en) child labour in diamond and gemstone polishing (fwd)

Aaron (aaron@burn.ucsd.edu)
Sat, 15 Nov 1997 01:50:53 -0500

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Date: Wed, 5 Nov 1997 13:03:59 GMT From: Bob_Ramsay@fiet.org To: Multiple recipients of list <union-d@wolfnet.com> Subject: more on child labour


ICFTU OnLine? 276/971024/DD


Brussels, October 24 (ICFTU Info):In the run up to an international child labour conference in Oslo (October 27 - 31), and a major diamond trade workshop in London (October 27), unions are releasing video footage entitled "Precious Lives" which shows extensive use of child labour in diamond and gemstone polishing, working in cramped, filthy and dangerous conditions.

"Diamonds, rubies and sapphires are associated with the world of the rich and glamorous, but in fact this is a dirty business," said Bill Jordan, ICFTU General Secretary. "Multinational and local companies are making vast profits, but at best they turn a blind eye, and at worst they are happy to reap the benefits."

Earlier this summer, a freelance cameraman accompanied a member of the Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers to Jaipur and Surat (India) to investigate the way in which gemstones were shaped and polished. They filmed six-year-old children at work on dangerous polishing wheels, people living and sleeping at their workplaces, and trash, human faeces and industry waste clogging the open sewers that run between the warren of gemstone workshops.

"In one factory almost half the workers were of 'questionable age'." said Yamina De Laet, from the UADW, who visited India, "and we filmed 11 year-old boys waiting at grill windows to receive diamonds for polishing."

A report to complement the footage describes how the international trade in diamonds and gemstones has provided vast profits for the companies which mine, process and market these precious stones. The majority of the world's diamonds are traded through the Central Selling Organisation (CSO), the marketing arm of De Beers, based in London. De Beers is the biggest player in the world diamond trade, controlling the sale of most of the world's diamonds.

India is the world's biggest diamond and gemstone cutting centre, and polishes 70% (in weight) of the global diamond yield. The gem and jewellery industry now provides 17% of India's export earnings, but does not mine the diamonds and gemstones it polishes - its major supplier of diamonds being the Rio Tinto-controlled Argyle mine in Western Australia, followed by CSO diamonds, and illicit diamonds smuggled in from Russia.

Last year the diamond and gemstone industry generated hundreds of millions of dollars profit around the world, yet the workers who cut and polish the precious stones often receive poverty wages and work in conditions which leave them with lung disease or half-blinded. Tens of thousands of children work full time, denied the opportunity to go to school or to play. Labour costs in the diamond processing industry amount to just 1% of total costs. Precious Lives?. Page 2 Many of the Indian workshops are able to avoid government labour and company laws, denying workers legal protection and costing the authorities millions of dollars in lost tax revenue each year - money which could be used to provide schooling, and give financial support to families of ex-child labourers. While India has taken various legislative initiatives to prohibit child labour, it is still thought to provide 20% of India's Gross National Product.

Trade unionists working to combat child labour say that employers prefer to employ children since they are easier to exploit and are much cheaper to employ. They say that their countries can only develop economically when children are at school, not at work.

The report acknowledges that government action to implement labour rights is often restricted by employer threats to move to other countries, and calls for a link between labour standards and trade. It also points to the violent suppression of union organisation in the industry, to keep wages low and thwart efforts to stop child labour.

The report also looks at the diamond trade in Sierra Leone, and the way in which countries and companies are so anxious to safeguard their economic interests in a country at war that they will support whichever side of the conflict they believe will continue to deliver them diamonds. Mention is also made of efforts in Thailand to end child labour in gemstone processing.

UADW says that child labour is unlikely to be discussed at the London International Diamond Conference. "It is ironic", say the unions, "that while the diamond trade, which employs child labour, meets in London, the world's governments are gathering in Oslo to look at ways to abolish child labour."

FIET, the ITS representing retail workers, is working closely with the UADW and the ICFTU on child labour in the diamond and gemstone industry. Investigations will be carried out into retail companies' sources of diamonds and gemstones and the conditions under which they are produced.

The Indian government is already working on initiatives with the International Labour Organisation to abolish child labour, including giving support for schools for ex-child labourers. The trade unions are asking the major players in the diamond and gemstone industry to work with the Indian government, the ILO, local employers, unions and governments to set up schools for ex-child labourers, and to help clean up working conditions in the industry.

For further information, please contact: Daphne Davies, Press Officer on: 322 224 0202 (wk), 322 733 0699 (hm)

The ICFTU represents 124 million workers, through its 195 affiliates in 137 countries. The UADW represents over 500,000 members, and FIET represents 11.4 million members.

There are still photographs taken during the visit to India, which are available from Parachute Pictures: ++ 44 171 275 7066

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