AT THE TWENTIETH EDITION of Stone+Tec, an international trade fair for the natural-stone industry, held at the German city of Nürnberg in June 2018, attendees received a curious invitation. A release bearing the logos of the Indian government and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights invited them to a press conference to highlight the “Non Prevalence of Child Labour in the Indian Granite Industry in India (Mines and Processing Units).”
At the press conference, held on 13 June, immediately after the press meet opening the festival, Sugandh Rajaram, the Indian consul general in Munich at the time, announced that the NCPCR and UNICEF had found, through a fact-finding mission, that there was “no scope” for child labour in India’s granite quarries, since “all processes in the granite industry are completely mechanized.” European importers and their customers, therefore, could continue to buy slabs, gravestones and kitchenware made from Indian granite without the guilt of enabling child labour. According to data compiled by the International Trade Centre, India exported granite products worth $6.75 million in 2018, with Europe and North America accounting for about a fifth of the exports.
Rajaram was joined at the podium by R Veeramani, the president of the Chemical and Allied Exports Promotion Council of India and the chairperson of Gem Granites—as well as a patron of the Indian Monument Manufacturers Association—and M Ramasamy, the managing partner of Amman Granites and the president of the IMMA. Dietrich Kebschull, the chairperson 0f Indo German Export Promotion, which had provided logistical support to the fact-finding mission, moderated the question-and-answer session that followed Rajaram’s presentation. IGEP provides voluntary certification to granite exporters to declare their products “child labour free.” Its brochure warns exporters—its prospective clients—about the “ongoing propaganda against the natural stones,” referring to concerns in Europe and North America over the past two decades about the prevalence of child labour in the industry. The Indian consulate at Munich did not respond to a request for comment.
Seven months later, another German trade fair featured a similar presentation by an Indian diplomat. On 11 January 2019, the opening day of the Domotex carpet fair in Hannover, Madan Lal Raigar, the Indian consul general at Hamburg, held a press conference along with Mahavir Pratap Sharma, Siddh Nath Singh and Sanjay Kumar, all senior office bearers with the Carpet Export Promotion Council, on the “Non Prevalence of Child Labour in the Indian Carpet Industry.” Carpets generated $122.84 million in exports for India in 2018, according to ITC data, with Europe and North America accounting for about a quarter.
According to the official press release, which was drafted by the CEPC and carried the heading “Child Labour in Hand Made Carpets from India no longer a Big Problem,” Raigar “emphasized in the same way as other speakers from the side of the Indian exporters that criticism of child labour in the carpet industry is very strongly exaggerated.” He was basing this on an analysis carried out by the NCPCR, in which “UNICEF and the regional and federal state level organizations for the protection of children and safeguarding their education and health conditions intensively participated.” Sharma was quoted saying that the CEPC intended “to take strict legal action against organizations or agencies or film producers who create this false, fictional, unreasonable, biased and malicious propaganda for self-gain and in bargain tarnish the image of the entire industry and the country as a whole.” When we approached the Indian consulate in Hamburg for comment, we were asked to approach the CEPC. Sanjay Kumar refused to speak to us on the record for this story.