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An Exemplary Salt Factory near the Salt Mines in Kashmir


Aloha Bay started importing Himalayan Salt products from Pakistan in 2004. For several years already Volker Wagner had been working together with a Pakistani architect and businessman, Tariq Khokhar, to create salt products for the European market. Tariq designed and built a small state-of-the-art salt factory in Mirpur, close to the Himalayan foothills. This family-owned factory, which produces both decorative salt lamps and edible salt, is both technically advanced and socially and environmentally responsible. For more than a decade, Aloha Bay has been the distributor of Tariq's products in the U.S.

It is important to understand that typically, salt lamps are produced in temporary garage-type workshops, where working conditions leave a lot to be desired, even for Pakistani standards. These garage-shops are often set up just to fill a few containers, offering only temporary employment. Quality standards are difficult, if not impossible, to maintain in such an environment. Nowadays, many Pakistani nationals are trying to make a "quick buck" selling low-priced salt lamps from these workshops. They are essentially middle men, not factory owners, brokering deals and paying the very least possible for the product and to their employees.

In Tariq's factory, employment is year-round. This also guarantees consistent quality, because the sculpting of the lamps is a delicate procedure. Take our tea light holders, for example; they are carefully shaped in a pleasing round design, whereas most of our competition only offers a rough salt rock with a hole.

Aloha Bay has become Tariq's key partner for the U.S. market, and a relationship of trust and friendship has developed over the years. Our CEO, Bart Burger, visited for the first time in March of 2006, and was impressed with the organization and management of the factory.

When Bart and Volker were there, Tariq had just finished installing a new piece of equipment to crush and sieve the cooking salt. Made of stainless steel, it is placed in an especially designed and controlled production room. Before being crushed, the salt crystal blocks (about the size of a fist) are first washed and dried. Tariq also shows real concern for his employees. For example, about 2 years ago, one of his foremen was killed in a traffic accident, off-duty. Since then Tariq has continued to pay his foremen's salary to the widow.

The Salt Health Trust International was begun in 2003. It focuses on improving working conditions at the salt mines and providing various kinds of humanitarian aid to the Salt Range. Aloha Bay is one of the sponsors of this trust, and we were able to send hundreds of blankets and tents to the area that was devastated during the 2005 earth quake.

There are basically 2 types of salt mines in the Himalayan "salt range": the "donkey" mines (there are hundreds of those) and the larger mines (only a few). The donkey mines are so small that no motorized equipment can be brought in, so the salt is carried out by the miners themselves or by donkeys. Typically, these small mines produce cooking salt for the local market and mine only crushed salt, not suitable for salt lamps.

Nearly all the salt used for salt lamps comes from the large mines. Trucks can drive in and out of the mine. The salt is blasted out of the mine shaft with old fashioned black powder. Holes are drilled in the salt layers, filled with powder, and a long fuse ignited. The idea that salt should be mined "by hand", using a simple pick, is not only impractical and dangerous, but completely impossible on such a scale.

Tariq's factory offers a premium price for the salt, year-round. The rough salt comes from one of the large mines. To be able to get a consistent (high) price for good quality salt has helped this mine considerably, in that they, too, can maintain employment and wages for their miners.

Working conditions at these larger mines are certainly not ideal, but that goes for almost any mining or industrial activity in the Third World. The most common serious injury is a broken limb, caused by a salt rock falling off a truck or shifting unexpectedly in a pile or a cargo.

Aloha Bay takes pride in its association with Tariq and his salt factory in Pakistan, and in its association with Wax Industri Nusantara, our sister-factory in Indonesia.



Salt Factory in Mirpur near the Himalayan Foothills
 

Crafting of the Himalayan Salt Lamps
 

Salt Sieve Machine
 

Entrance to the Himalayan Salt Mine
 

Bart Burger and Volker Wagner - Pakistan Visit in 2006

We believe in the principles of fair trade, brought to life by people of integrity everywhere.

It is our hope that such positive relationships between people of very different cultures can contribute to mutual understanding, tolerance and cooperation in this world.

Environmental Impact of Salt-mining

At this point, we know of no environmental impact of any consequence. The mines have been in operation for a very long time (some for hundreds of years) to produce edible salt for that part of the world. Only a very small portion (less than 5%) is used for the production of decorative salt lamps.

The production of the lamps uses no chemicals (it's hand work, mostly). Unlike other decorative (or household) products that are made of brass, steel, or (even worse) aluminum, they do not deplete natural resources, do not use a lot of energy, do not pollute etc etc. The salt reserves in the Himalayas are incredibly large, at the current extraction rate it would take thousands of years to even make a dent in them.

The only concern we can come up with is salination of ground water in the near vicinity of salt lamp factories. In our factory, the water (for washing the salt) is recycled. In most other "factories", the backyard-garage type, this is not the case, and salt water is drained into the local sewage system, which, in the long run, can cause a problem with surface waters.

Safe with a Gun in Pakistan

   
     
 
 
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