Major footwear and garment brands react to serious human rights issues in their leather supply chain and promise collective action
Around 2,5 million workers in the Indian leather industry often face unacceptable working conditions that violate their human rights and seriously affect their health. Toxic chemicals used in tanneries often very negatively impact the health of the workers. Less known are the many labour and other human rights issues in the leather industry like wages below the stipulated minimum wage, child labour, the exploitation of home-based workers, the difficulty to organize in trade unions and the discrimination of Dalits (‘outcastes’).
‘Do leather workers matter?’
This is in short the plight of leather workers that is described in more detail in the report Do leather workers matter? Violating labour rights and environmental norms in India’s leather production.
The report explores labour conditions in the leather industry that are steeped into deep-rooted social inequalities in Indian society based on caste and gender discrimination. The main pillars of this study are literature research and field research at three production hubs that supply hides, leather, garments, accessories and footwear for export, namely Kolkata, Agra and the Vaniyambadi–Ambur cluster in Tamil Nadu. The report depicts labour conditions in a cross section of production units varying from homeworkers, tanneries, workshops in the informal sector to large modern export units. Of course these conditions do vary between production units.
Dalits (‘outcastes’) and Muslims make up the majority of the workforce in the leather industry. The low wages of the Dalit leather workers reflect their low status and the low status of their work in the leather industry, being dirty and polluting. In Tamil Nadu for example the official minimum wage early 2016 for leather workers is less than 2 euro per day, being less than half of the official wage of an apprentice in the textile industry. Often this minimum wage is not even paid.
Female homeworkers, responsible for a highly labour-intensive part of shoe production, are also among the most precarious workers. They face insecure and unprotected work, receive poverty wages and work under unsafe conditions. Moreover, children are often involved in leather production in India, mostly in the unorganized part of the sector, working in smaller tanneries and workshops.
Response of footwear and garment brands
A large range of major brands are sourcing footwear, leather garments, leather goods and accessories from India, which include H&M, C&A, Primark, Armani, ECCO, Esprit, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Mango, Walmart, Gabor, PUMA, Pentland, Prada and Marks & Spencer among many others. The report does however not look into the supply chains of specific brands, but more generally sketches human rights violations in leather and leather goods production in India.
India is the world’s second largest producer of footwear and leather garments. The footwear sector in India specializes in medium to high priced leather footwear, particularly men’s wear. Almost 90% of India’s footwear exports goes to the European Union.
A draft version of this paper was initially shared with a wide range of companies and CSR initiatives. In a joint statement 12 member companies of the Ethical Trading Initiative (UK) welcomed the ICN report and said that ‘taken together we recognize the very concerning issues in the leather supply chain’. They also said to agree that ‘there needs to be a collective response to these issues’ and ‘We commit to working with international and national stakeholders to develop a strategic response to the issues in our leather supply chain.’
In total 19 companies, including the 12 ETI members like C&A, H&M, Primark, Inditex, Marks & Spencer, Next, TESCO, Sainsbury and Pentland, reacted to the report as well as two CSR initiatives: the Leather Working Group and MVO Nederland (CSR Netherlands). Most companies recognize the urgency to address the issues identified in this research and some shared concrete commitments to combat adverse human rights and environmental impacts in their supply chain.
The report contains nine recommendations to companies and CSR initiatives in the leather and footwear industry on (the need for): due diligence, mapping of supply chains, transparency, long-term business relationships, collaboration to increase leverage, the mandatory written contracts and equal treatment and the importance of unions, collective bargaining, company level grievance mechanisms and space for civil society.
FACTORIES: Of the 350 active factories at the end of Q1, 31% are rated Accepted, which is slightly lower than our Q4 result. For a complete factory list, visit the factories section of our Responsbility site. For more about VF’s Compliance audit process click here.
In 2015, we will be transitioning the measurement of suppliers’ environmental and social/labor management to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, consistent with our parent company, VF Corporation. To have the greatest impact on VF’s supply chain as a whole, the focus will be on the top 250 suppliers across all VF brands. In the coming quarters, we will be reporting on Timberland’s highest producing factories and their scores on the Higg Index.
CLIMATE: Since the transition to our parent company’s energy reporting structure, there is a significant delay in obtaining quarterly data of our greenhouse gas emissions and our use of renewable energy. We therefore are now reporting these numbers externally on a yearly basis, in conjuction with our Q2 reporting.
PRODUCT: Our global average grams of volatile organic compounds used in footwear production is 49 grams per pair, which is even with our result from the same period last year; and our use of ROR in apparel was roughly 23.2% of total textile weight. With respect to leather sourcing, 99.7% of Timberland’s leather volume came from tanneries scoring Silver or Gold in their Leather Working Group (“LWG”) audit.
SERVICE: Timberland employees served 19,148 hours year to date, a 85.6% increase over the same period last year. YTD Hours Utilization Rate (the percentage of employee service hours used compared to the total available hours according to our Path of ServiceTM program) during Q1 2015 increased to 7.6% vs. 4.4% in Q1 2014. Our Benefit Utilization Rate (the percentage of employees who serve at least one hour) YTD increased from 18.1% in Q1 2014 to 34% in Q1 2015.
Timberland, a brand of VF Corporation (NYSE: VFC), is a global leader in the design, engineering and marketing of premium-quality footwear, apparel and accessories for consumers who value the outdoors and their time in it. Timberland markets products under the Timberland®, Timberland PRO®, and Timberland Boot Company® brands, all of which offer quality workmanship and detailing and are built to withstand the elements of nature. Timberland® products are sold throughout the world in leading department and specialty stores as well as company-owned retail locations and online. Timberland’s dedication to making quality products is matched by its commitment to “doing well and doing good” — forging powerful partnerships among employees, consumers and service partners to transform the communities in which they live and work. To learn more about Timberland, please visit www.timberland.com.