Natural stone, ethically sourced

Matt Rob of the Stone Federation discusses the rising trend of buyers searching for ethically sourced natural stone, and the systems that are in place to prove the authenticity of such products.

In 2015, The Modern Slavery Act was created to tackle slavery in the UK and ensure that businesses responsibly and ethically managed their global supply chains.

In the months that followed, the natural stone industry began to develop a resource that responded to the issues that The Modern Slavery Act highlighted, namely those of sourcing natural stone responsibly and ethically.

In February of 2018, The Ethical Stone Register was launched, enabling natural stone firms of any size to offer a responsible and manageable ethical sourcing solution to their clients. The response from the different sectors of the industry was overwhelmingly positive, and many of the professionals attending the launch became ambassadors for the scheme.

The Ethical Stone Register includes three tiers of membership, each requiring an increasing level of external auditing and certification of the natural stone company.

There has already been a large shift in public awareness of the issues of ethically sourcing materials, resulting in a greater demand for products that deliver transparency in their ethical procurement policies and environmental and societal sustainability. The retail sector has seen perhaps the most impactful shift, but the construction sector is following suit. Clients are wanting the peace of mind that their project isn’t using materials that involve child labour, bonded labour or other unethical working practices.

The conventional pathway to the correct selection of which stone to use for a landscape project has always included sample panel inspections, matching finishes with application, and understanding how the stone’s geology affects its suitability for certain uses, but there is now an added element in the selection process.

The question that all housebuilders and developers should be asking is, “How much do I know about the ethical traceability of the materials used in my projects?” Simply saying, “I trust my suppliers” will no longer suffice, and more and more companies are demanding transparency throughout their supply chains.

One natural stone company director commented that: “It has become an issue that must not be ignored and will trigger an even greater demand for ethically and responsibly sourced stone. Major players in the construction industry will want to avoid the potential embarrassment of unsavoury practices in their supply chain.”

This approach requires a greater level of responsibility and investment from all stages of the supply chain and will ‘call time’ on those companies simply looking to get the cheapest materials as quickly as possible. Just as the sector saw with the shift in understanding and best practice around environmentally sustainable working practices 10-15 years ago, there is a higher bar being set around how companies source their materials.

There are a growing number of companies in the natural stone sector making significant investments in this area of their business. This year, The Ethical Stone Register welcomed its first Indian-based company. This firm has a vertically integrated, documented supply chain from quarry to product manufacture, and UK distribution, providing housebuilders and developers with complete peace of mind. Sitting alongside them on the Register is an array of British and European stone suppliers, contractors and landscape experts, all of whom are putting ethical sourcing transparency at the top of their business agenda.

It has been incredibly encouraging to see the number of major contractors, architects and client bodies who are adding their support to initiatives like The Ethical Stone Register. Some of the leading major contractors have begun to include membership of the Ethical Stone Register into their tender requirements.

As with any shift in business practice and ethics, this will not happen overnight. There must be a ‘buy in’ from all sectors of the industry, but there is the opportunity for housebuilders and developers to be among the first that make the ethical procurement of natural stone a requirement of their tender lists.

Matt Robb is digital media executive of the Stone Federation


DECLARATION – At this tier, companies will have to complete a questionnaire looking at the responsible and ethical sourcing practices of their business. To achieve this level, a company will need to meet 100 per cent of the criteria. The claims and assertions made by a firm at this level will be via self-declaration.

VERIFICATION – At this tier, the claims made by a company at the Declaration level will be externally verified. The initial verification will be for the company rather than each material they supply; however, they may choose to have some, or all of their material included at Verification level. This will involve an independent auditor assessing the journey of the material and ensuring that the responsible and ethical sourcing criteria are met the whole way along the supply chain. Only verified stones will appear on the Register itself.

ACCREDITATION – At this tier, members will have met the requirements of the Declaration and Verification tiers and will be further audited for this level. The aim is to have the scheme recognised and to gain credits within schemes such as BREEAM and LEED at this tier.