The National Labor Committee recently released a report detailing the illness and deaths of gemstone workers in India from silicosis. Since Tucson hosts an enormous gem show every year, this is something to be aware of. Here is a portion of the press release:
The National Labor Committee has released an explosive new report: “Hearts of Darkness, Workers in India, Including Children, Will Die Young Grinding Gemstones for Valentine’s Day.”
• An eight-year old boy squats in front of a primitive grindstone, using his fingers to press the semi-precious gemstones against the wheel to shape them. He is covered in deadly silica dust. It swirls around him. Younger children earn 11 cents. Most gemstone grinders started working when they were 12 or 13.
• More than 2,000 men, women and children have died miserable deaths from silicosis contracted while grinding gemstones—heart shaped agate pendants and ornaments, earrings, bracelets—even Star of David pendants and rosary beads—for export to the United States.
• Adult workers earn as little as 17 ½ cents an hour to do one of the most dangerous
jobs in the world. Some thirty percent of all gemstone grinders will die of silicosis, as well as six to ten percent of their non-working neighbors and family members who are also exposed to the silica dust.
• When poor workers borrow money from the “traders”—who supply the raw stone and control the manufacturing and export of the gemstones—they become “bonded labor.” If a worker died, his wife is expected to pick up the work, and their children.
• The introduction of simple technologies, a wet grinding process in combination with exhaust ventilation systems can drastically reduce exposure to the deadly silica dust.
• The Government of India has done nothing to enforce its labor laws to protect the gemstone workers.
• The National Labor Committee has launched a campaign, asking the American people to sign onto a letter to the International Colored Gemstone Association, located in New York City, which will be copied to over 600 bead stores across the country, asking them to work to end the exploitation, misery and negligent homicide of the gemstone grinders. We are also appealing to the U.S. government for help.