Working with natural stone suppliers

Working with natural stone suppliers

Cliff and Ian recently visited some of our granite, limestone and slate suppliers in Southern India to take a close look at their latest production methods and improvements in working conditions. In this blog, we’ll be asking Cliff about what he learned from the trip…

Why the visit to India?

Indian natural stone has long been a favourite choice for garden paving. The Indian market offers us a huge range of characterful stone for every style, from our popular Natural Sandstone Trade Packs to contemporary options like sawn Black Granite or Pearl White Sandstone. With so much competition in India’s stone regions, suppliers are under constant pressure to keep prices low.

Over the years we’ve been importing natural stone, we’ve found it’s really important for us to personally visit the factories and quarries it comes from. Doing this allows us to work with suppliers to make sure our products are the best quality and ethically produced. The good news is that every time we visit India, we see improvements to working conditions and facilities in the whole of the supply chain, from the processing factories right through to quarries.

Where did you visit? 

We visited a number of quarries and factories in the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana regions where we source our Black Granite, Copper Slate and some of our Limestone paving. As the finishes vary on these products, we were looking at range of production processes, from machine cutting edges to brushing and flaming surfaces.

Southern Indian stone production

 

How do you make sure Kebur natural stone is high quality?

Visiting the quarries and factories gives us the opportunity to scrutinise the facilities and quality assurance processes at each stage of the supply chain, right back to the source of the stone. We can also make sure our existing and future suppliers understand the high quality we expect for our customers. Here are some of the different processes our stone goes through and what we look for when we work with our suppliers.

Black Granite: our Black Granite comes from the Andhra Pradesh region where huge blocks are removed from the quarry with explosives.

Black granite quarry in Khammam

These are then split into more manageable pieces using cutting machinery. The manufacturers check the quality of the stone is good enough to cut into sheets for paving. Those blocks that are good enough are taken from the quarry to the processing factories where they are cut into sheets using a rotary saw like the one below.

Black Granite blocks are cut into sheets

Machine saws cut the sheets into slabs of specific sizes which are then hand flamed. As well as creating a beautiful textured finish, flaming helps to show up occasional structural weaknesses in slabs that can then be discarded.

Black Granite planks 2019

Limestone and slate: as these are sedimentary rock, they are split between their natural layers, rather than sawn. The manufacturers at the quarries look for these natural split lines and then sort the stone according to quality, with the densest stone being the highest quality. Below are higher quality pieces of Copper Slate that has arrived from the quarry.

Poorer quality, less dense stone is more likely to have hairline cracks and be prone to breaking in transit and delaminating over time. When we visit suppliers, we work with them to make sure they reject this type of stone from our orders, although much of it inevitably ends up elsewhere on the UK market.

The split sheets are transported to the factory where they are sawn into slabs.

Cutting machinery for slate paving

While our slate is naturally riven, some of our limestone like Antique Yellow Limestone has a honed, brushed and tumbled finish. We were pleased to see our suppliers have recently been investing in their machinery for this, like this brushing machine.

Brushing machine for limetone paving

And this new tumbling machine.

Honing opens the pores of the stone and brushing gives a softer texture, changing the colour tones very slightly. Because our natural stone tends to be used outside, we ask our suppliers for a fairly lightly brushed finish so it’s not too smooth. Tumbling also softens the slab round the edges too.

 

Antique Yellow Limestone

Our Antique Yellow Limestone is honed, brushed and tumbled

How do you make sure Kebur’s natural stone is ethically sourced?

At Kebur, we’re committed to improving the lives of those who produce our natural stone paving. We aim to source all our products according to our Ethical Trade Policy. We expect our suppliers to not only comply with local labour regulations, which cover issues like child labour, but also the internationally recognised Ethical Trade Initiative Base Code. We also believe that treating suppliers fairly is key to improving conditions right through the supply chain. And it makes good business sense. This means we actively work with our suppliers to address improvements and always pay them on time.

Our relationships with suppliers are key to improving quality and working conditions

Our relationships with suppliers are key to improving quality and working conditions

When we visit stone factories and quarries, we are able to ask challenging questions and look for a genuine investment in working conditions. On our India visit for example, we inspected facilities, health and safety risks and working hours. We also looked at whether staff are being paid a fair wage and are part of a government-regulated union. In remote processing plants where living accommodation is provided, we’ll see if this is suitable too.

Black granite paving slabs being moved in factory

We look for genuine commitment to improving working conditions for stone workers

Compared to our visit three years ago, we noticed a real improvement in working conditions. Factory and quarry owners seem to be more aware of what the European market expects. What we also noticed in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, was the number of schools and children in school uniform everywhere. Education is so instrumental in eradicating child labour; it was really positive to see this reflected in the attitudes of our Indian suppliers and on the ground in communities.

What about the environmental impact of natural stone?

Visiting suppliers also gives us the opportunity to talk about how we can reduce the impact of stone production on the environment. We know this is increasingly important and there is much to do in this area. We were pleased to find that recent investments in machinery at the black granite quarry will lead to greater energy efficiency and lower emissions. Every plant we visited was filtering and recycling the water they use for brushing, tumbling and sawing machines, just as we see in the UK. And we’ve had some interesting conversations including how quarries are restored after use and how factories can package their stone with less plastic.

What else do you learn from visiting suppliers?

Over years of personally visiting natural stone suppliers, we’ve learnt so much about sourcing quality, ethical stone. Each visit to a supplier is an opportunity to develop our knowledge and keep improving the quality of our products and our impact as a business. We look forward to future visits in the new year.

 

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