Trade Fairs: A Word on Labour Conditions and Environmental Pollution

(April 2010) The World Stone Congress in the Chinese City of Xiamen was good for at least one surprise: sensitive subjects such as standards of working conditions and environmental pollution were openly addressed. It was the second gathering of local and international experts of the Xiamen Fair.

Sustainability was one core theme of the talks. Dr. Frans Papma of the Dutch Working Group on Sustainable Natural Stone (WGDN) broached the subject on a social angle: it is not only the responsibility of the stone industry to engage in ecologically sound production. The industry must also ensure that the safety and health of workers and their families and adjoining towns and settlements are not endangered by quarries and sawmills.

He bluntly and unsparingly told the 200 or so mainly Chinese participants that Western consumers who are in the market to buy Chinese products „would like to see that products which they buy do not add to global problems.“

On a more conciliatory note he expounded that it was not the intention of his Organization to impose fixed rules on sustainability but rather to work out solutions in cooperation with producers. He conceded that improved labour conditions would not be realized over night.

The Sustainable Stone Label, under development by the WGDN to be implemented by the end of this year, will accompany producers actively at first. But Papma left no doubt that rigorous controls will be part of the quality certificate and that the WGDN would effectively spread information in Western countries.

Another core theme of the Congress addressed the question of local consumption of stone in China, and specifically how to expand the market. Xu Rongque of the Stone Trade Organization Fujian Province, home of the Xiamen Fair, saw the path clearly: natural stone must mutate from a mere building material to a finished high value product. The increased value can be achieved by working the raw product or by design. Rongque summed it up this way: „Resources are limited but ideas and technology know no bounds“.

Zou Chuansheng of the China Stone Material Association, the branch’s National Trade Organization cited figures. 2009 saw a decrease of -25% in volume and -2.36% in Value. Imports, too, saw a sharp decline: -25% by volume and -8.39% by value. Nevertheless, the branch as a whole took no harm through the financial crisis: According to preliminary statistics, in 2009, the industrial value added produced by the stone industry increased by 21.28%.

But how do these figures converge with the setbacks in exports and imports? Simple: local markets. „Demand for stones will rise with great momentum“ according to the head of the Organization. Urbanization and promotion of local building materials through politics are also positive aspects which work favourably for the branch according to Zou.

He was relentless when addressing the issue of environmental pollution. „Although some quarries in China are up to the standard, the general situation is not good, and even large numbers fall below the standard.“

Some insight into the real situation of the branch could be gained by a group of visitors to a local quarry: far away of the actual quarry, the surrounding landscape was shrouded in a white cloud of stone dust and the roadside was littered with chunks of stone like plastic bottles along roads in some vacation resorts.

Zou made reference to the technical specifications which the Trade Organization adopted and to the „Green Quarry“ initiative which applies across the country. He called for „friends from overseas stone industries“ to bring their knowledge and experience to China: „With your sharing, I believe that the clean and green development of Chinas stone industry will be guaranteed.“

This is music to the ears of suppliers. On the down-side, however, fears linger after recent reports that the Chinese Government recently subjected Importers of software and Automotive industry to certification and divulgence of know-how.

Complete programme of the World Stone Congress 2010

Contact to the World Stone Congress: Marsha Tsai