The report studied the Tamil Nadu leather footwear manufacturing sector

The report studied the Tamil Nadu leather footwear manufacturing sector

A due diligence study of the Tamil Nadu leather footwear manufacturing sector has found wages and conditions to be worse than those in the region's garment sector, with many issues not being picked up in company audits.

Funded by the Ethical Trading Initiative, 'Due diligence in Tamil Nadu leather footwear manufacture' found a number of "major" labour rights risks such as barriers to freedom of association and anti-union attitudes, health & safety hazards, low wages, excessive and often involuntary overtime, and irregular employment of factory workers employed on a daily/contract or piece-rate basis.

"Wages and conditions in the Tamil Nadu leather footwear sector are worse in many respects than those encountered in the Tamil Nadu garment sector," the report explains. "This may reflect the focus of labour rights campaigns, and also the relative importance of footwear and garments for fashion retailers within their product range, and their consequent assessments of reputational risk."

To gain momentum, report authors say collaboration will be essential: between brands and their suppliers, and also building alliances with local civil society actors in Tamil Nadu.

"Specialist European and UK footwear brands and retail chains have more incentives to focus on the sector and greater leverage that comes with larger order volumes, and would be invaluable allies in this endeavour."

The due diligence was carried out by Homeworkers Worldwide and Cividep India. The report offers a number of recommendations:

Government

  • In consultation with appropriate trade unions, incrementally raise the (extremely low) legal minimum wage towards a Living Wage so that it adequately meets basic family needs.
  • Communicate and disseminate the appropriate Minimum Wage within the sector.
  • More effective enforcement of Indian labour law, especially the recent legislation (POSH Act and Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 covering sexual harassment committees and provision of crèches), and legislation covering minimum wage, overtime etc.

Retailers & Brands

  • Adopt a Homeworker Policy, compliant with or more robust than the ETI model Homeworker Policy, and promote its uptake by leather footwear suppliers in Tamil Nadu.
  • Support due diligence in collaboration with local civil society organisations to address potential barriers to employment and promotion opportunities faced by Dalit/minority women workers and any barriers to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.
  • Upgrade audit methodology around FoA. Test that the employer adopts an open attitude to trade unions/organisation, and whether workers can access their rights to join or form trade unions and bargain collectively .
  • Investigate the availability and effectiveness of internal grievance mechanisms, including the Internal Complaints Committees, at suppliers in the sector.

Suppliers

  • Carry out mapping to track payments to sub-contractors and homeworkers and carry out a (baseline) assessment of homeworkers' needs.
  • Seek to reduce transaction costs to contractors, and any consequent resistance to adoption of new systems, by promoting standardised tools and systems for agreeing piece rates, and registering and tracking orders and payments to both homeworkers, and agents.
  • In collaboration with local civil society organisations, build understanding of potential barriers to employment and promotion opportunities faced by Dalit/minority women workers and any barriers to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.
  • Investigate the effectiveness of internal grievance mechanisms. Revise recruitment and HR policies accordingly.

Ethical Trading Initiative

  • Government Advocacy – Facilitate networking and alliances to bring the voice of ETI and its members to support advocacy by local actors.
  • Support advocacy by local actors and the ILO seeking to deter further weakening of collective bargaining and flexibilisation of employment under the reform of Indian labour law currently in progress.
  • Actively recruit UK and European retail footwear chains for ETI membership.
  • Support efforts by HWW and others to build a regional stakeholder forum to promote ethical and gender and caste sensitive employment practices within the Indian leather sector.

Click here to access the full report.