Theater of Cruelty

Decorated with deadly stone

Norway will not stop imports of Chinese granite, even if workers die.


[working environment] Every year, Norwegian municipalities import several thousand containers of cheap granite slabs from China. In recent years, Oslo Municipality has refurbished Karl Johans gate and most streets in central Oslo with such stone. At the same time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least half a million Chinese suffer from silicosis – stone boot lungs.

Many of them have had the lung disease in the quarries that supply Norwegian municipalities with granite slabs. The number of sick people is increasing, and at least 24.000 Chinese die from silicosis every year.

- The situation in today's Chinese quarry is as it was in Norway in the 1920s and 1930s, says Rune Wangen, responsible for the granite department in Heimdal Granitt & Betongvare, one of the Norwegian importers.

The Swedish radio program Kaliber has visited some of the Chinese factories that produce stone for the European market. There they found workers working in fatal dust and deafening alarms. Completely without protection such as mouthwash, hearing protection or safety shoes. And this is what the Norwegian importers know about.

Knut O. Gabestad, director of the Oslo Transport Agency, says that the municipality today has no plans to stop the import of granite from China, as several Swedish cities have.

- We have close contact with Gothenburg, among other places, and we will follow closely what they do in this area, says Gabestad.

He says that the municipality does not set specific requirements for stone production.

- In connection with the renovation of the streets in the central parts of Oslo, we have had requirements that the suppliers must follow the Ilo conventions, which include decisions on child labor and the environment, says Gabestad.

Gunhild Ørstadvik in the Forum for Environment and Development believes it is absolutely absurd that we who sit here at the top of a pile of stones should import stone from China.

- But it is symptomatic that the authorities do not make the same demands on their purchases that are made on everyone else in society. There are many reasons, both environmental and health, that we should not transport stone from the other side of the globe. Norwegian authorities should look at this.

Heimdal Granitt & Betongvare has delivered Chinese granite to, among others, Roald Amundsens gate and Stortingsgata in Oslo. Rune Wangen confirms that the working environment in the Chinese quarries does not correspond to what we in Norway believe should be the minimum requirements for the working environment.

- We focus on the working environment, and raise the issue with the Chinese when we visit them. It has proved almost impossible to get workers to wear safety shoes, goggles and face masks.

Another importer is Jogra in Østfold, which has supplied, among other things, Torggata in Oslo with Chinese granite. Bjørn Erik Johnsen, general manager of Jogra, says that they have worked purposefully with the work environment requirements and places demands on the partners in China.

- We set the requirements, but it is the supplier in China who must ensure that the working conditions are as they should be. We have done an extensive job to improve the working environment of those we buy from, but it is a long and heavy job, says Johnsen.

The Chinese granite can be found on Torgalmenningen in Bergen, the new trade square in Skien and during the renovation of the central city streets and squares in Steinkjer and Orkanger. The millennial city of Gulating in Gulen municipality has also been given a monument in granite – produced in Chinese stone.

Sweden stops import from China

[guidelines] After the program "Caliber on Sweden Radio" took up the situation in the Chinese quarries, the Swedes have awakened. On Wednesday, the Swedish Stone Industry Association presented new ethical lines on the purchase of stone from China, among others. On Thursday, the Gothenburg Traffic Office presented new guidelines for the purchase of stone. The municipalities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Uppsala have stopped all imports of Chinese stone and are now investigating the possibilities of obtaining guarantees that the stone is produced under acceptable conditions.

In Norway, there has so far been no discussion of specific ethical requirements for importing stone from China.


  • Chronic lung disease due to inhalation of quartz (silica) dust over a prolonged period. Silicosis develops gradually. The symptoms are shortness of breath and a dry cough.
  • No actual treatment exists, so prevention (mask use) and regular X-ray monitoring are absolutely required. High-risk occupations are mining and quarrying.

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