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US supply chain told to be wary of fatal impact of Indian agate industry on workers

By Our Representative
A high level conference in Chicago has seen a strong appeal to the Government of India to promote safer technology among stone cutters in India and better occupational health standards in India’s jewellery business by developing better inspection standards. The appeal came after a senior Gujarat-based health rights activist, Jagdish Patel, made a presentation on the state of agate stone cutting industry in Khambhat in Gujarat and Jaipur in Rajasthan.
Patel, who sought support for efforts from non-profits for the welfare of India’s stone cutters, told Jo Becker of the Human Rights Watch during a one-to-one interaction session that though a large number of agate stone cutting workers were involved, which led to fatal disease silicosis, that “it is not possible to tell the numbers of workers involved in the industry who are at risk.”
“Silica dust at Khambhat is an environmental hazard and there are cases of silicosis reported among non-workers, too. Of late, the country’s pollution control board has started putting pressure on employers, and some factories have started taking some actions to turn their operations from dry to wet, which has improved the situation somewhat, but more needs to be done”, Patel said.
Answering questions from Becker, who, among other issues, specifically wanted to know what could the jewellery industry in the US should do alleviate the situation in India, Patel said, the wet method and local exhaust ventilation system can reduce the dust levels of silica.
“The buyers, who export their products, should ask the suppliers to provide them the report of dust monitoring at their shop and list of workers and also those who have had silicosis”, he insisted.
More than 1,400 plus cases were screened, and of these 450 were found to be suffering from deadly silicosis
One of the 40-odd experts who addressed the Responsible Jewellery conference in Chicago, held on October 25-26, Patel, who is also a chemical engineer, said, his organization, People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), in collaboration with the Sri Krishna Hospital, Karamsad, and the Cardiac Care Hospital, Khambhat, runs out patient departments for the 10 years, where more than 1,400 plus cases were screened, and of these 450 were found to be suffering from deadly silicosis.
This data, Patel told the Chicago conference, was sent to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which in turn sent its investigation team to Khambhat. Based on the report submitted by the team, NHRC recommended some relief measures to silicosis victims, many of which “are yet to be enforced.”
An international conference, it was organized against the backdrop of realization among American health rights activists that the jewellery industry doesn't have a stellar record of getting out in front of social criticism, with some suggesting the need to replace "dirty" jewellery production processes with clean ones, while others using responsible approaches in marketing jewellery.
Becker, who spoke to Patel on his experience in helping gem cutters who live in poverty and suffer from silicosis, has been researching on gold and diamond mining. She has come up the report, “The Hidden Cost of Jewelry”, which focuses on child labour in mining and other industries in different countries.

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