Arte Groep produces natural stone worktops. Part of the granite comes from Indian stone quarries. Poverty is a significant problem in the area where the quarries are located. Therefore, children are often seen working at the quarries. With the aid of a subsidy from the Fund against Child Labour (FBK), Arte Groep has set up a project with the goal of sending the children in their production area to school.
In 2010, Arte Groep CFO Niels van den Beucken visited the stone quarries in Ballikurava, India. "By purchasing directly from the stone quarries, we were able to make considerable cost savings," he says. However, he was horrified to see entire families working under harsh circumstances at the quarries. "They were cutting out small pebbles from the rubble to sell as jewellery to earn enough to survive." He returned to the Netherlands with that image in his mind.
Child education plan
Although Arte Groep already works with suppliers who ensure good working conditions, it wants to do more. During one of his visits to Ballikurava, Van den Beucken came into contact with Arisa - an organisation that fights for human rights in South Asia. "They work together with NGOs to make sure that children can go to school." He also heard from a company in Belgium about the creation of a Child Labour Free Zone. "We were also interested in this. When the Fund against Child Labour was established in 2015, I prepared and submitted a plan to encourage child education in our area."
Getting started with the subsidy
With the subsidy awarded, Arte Groep initiated a project that formed the starting point of a foundation, that was set up with its own funds: the Arte Responsible Stone Foundation. "We have made an inventory of the area. Of the 2,200 children in the 8 villages, 250 children do not attend school. In partnership with an NGO, we appointed a project coordinator and 4 mobilisers. Their task is to bring about a change in mentality. The Mobilisers visit the schools daily and talk to parents whose children are absent from school. This gradually leads to a process of social control."
United against child labour
The elimination of child labour is high on the international political agenda. All forms of child labour are set to be abolished by 2025. The United Nations has set out development goals in order to achieve this goal. All cooperating countries must take action to combat modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour, including child labour and the recruitment of children as soldiers. In the Netherlands, the government, businesses, civil society organisations and trade unions have concluded International Responsible Business Conduct (IRBC) agreements. These agreements outline how the parties intend to tackle the risks of malpractices such as child labour and how they should take responsibility for preventing this. Agreements have been finalised for the textiles, gold and vegetable proteins sectors. The TruStone Initiative natural stone agreement was also put into effect recently, with Arte Groep as one of the signatories.
Change in mentality takes time
Now, one year later, Arte Groep succeeded in getting 38 children to school. Van den Beucken: "We are on the right track, but we are also encountering new obstacles. For example, many families leave for the city in the winter. To keep the village children in school, we are now setting up hostels. Creating a change in mentality takes time, however. That is why we hope that the Arte Responsible Stone Foundation can continue its work even after the end of the subsidy period in 2020, so that all of the 250 children in Ballikurava will be able to attend school. As an SME, we could not have achieved this without the subsidy."
The Netherlands Enterprise Agency carries out the FBK on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. For information about the fund and conditions, visit the Fund against Child Labour page.