Tanning

Rights of Indian Leather Workers Systematically Violated

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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’).


DoLeatherWorkersMatter300‘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.

Recommendations
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.

Download the full report here.

*This story first appeared on IndiaNet

New Indian Technology for Waterless Tanning can Save Rivers

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With its breakthrough technology on waterless tanning for leather processing, the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) expects to save the rivers from the toxic chromium and sulphates effluents mixed in over 170 million litres of water every day.

The CLRI, part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), applied to patent the technology in 2014. It now has a “product” and a “process” for waterless and salt-less tanning, that would save water and the environment.
“To treat one kilogram of animal skin and hide about 50 litres of water is used. It’s required to wash the salts used by the tanners at primary stage to preserve the leather, making the effluents hazardous. With the dry tanning technology this would stop,” B. Chandrasekaran, Director CSIR-CLRI, told IANS.

He said that CLRI offers “Dry Tanning” as a product and another “Waterless Chrome Tanning” as a process, that requires training the tannery workers for using salts for preserving the animal skins at primary processing level.

The CLRI technology uses a conventional drum-tanning method, in which instead of lime and water, a CSIR’s patented additives are mixed. That saves water and also helps reduce the solid waste produced by lime and other chemicals.

“The technology reduces the water effluents by 90 to 95 percent,” said Chandrasekaran.

The CLRI, which is now being approached by leather companies across the globe to procure the technology, has also prepared a detailed project report (DPR) for Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where the largest number of tanneries are located in India.

“We have been contacted by several domestic tanneries and a big MNC that had offered Rs2 crore for the this technology,” he said.

Kanpur has over 23 percent of the country’s tanneries and uses about 20 million litres of water every day. Most of this untreated effluent flows out through over 23 major open drains into the Ganga river and are the major cause of its pollution.

“A DPR for Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) for Kanpur is being finalised. The main problem is that only a few tanneries in Kanpur treat the effluents,” he said.

There are also several unauthorised tanneries in Kanpur region and about 100 were closed two years back.

Those operating water treatment plants only give primary treatment to the used water. According to environment activists, there is no proper monitoring of such treatment plants. According to green activists, it is a similar case with the tanneries of Kolkata and Tamil Nadu.

*This story first appeared on The Times of India