A Decade of Strides: Worker Voices Resonate In Ambur 

Cividep Completes 10 years In South India’s Leather Manufacturing Hub To Bring Together Low Wage Workers & Create Awareness About Their Rights

Soniya, a native of Melpatti village near Ambur, was 16 years old when she became a leather homeworker, stitching shoe uppers for middlemen from the local factories. Back then, she would dream about leaving her home to land a fancy factory job like many from her village, who seemed happy to take the company bus to work, and get Provident Fund and health insurance.

However, her perspective has undergone a dramatic change after she became Cividep’s Field Officer. “A factory worker who makes a small mistake is insulted and abused by 10 people above her,” says Soniya, who for the last decade has been part of a Cividep team documenting the poor working conditions in Ambur, South India’s leather manufacturing hub. Shopfloors continue to focus on meeting high production targets often at the cost of workers’ health, she says.

But there are signs of improvement with workers being more aware of their rights and entitlements. This is partly due to the consistent work by the team, which started supporting the leather sector workers 10 years ago. Today, Cividep’s Worker Resource Center (WRC), situated in Pillayar Kovil Street, serves as a vital platform for the region’s diverse workforce, a place where home-based workers, factory employees, and tannery workers, come together and learn to speak up for themselves.

Reaching Out To Leather Sector Workers

A core focus of Cividep’s work since its inception in 2000 has been to ensure decent work for workers at the bottom rungs of global supply chains, whether it is garment, electronics, plantation or leather. “Given that our focus has been on vulnerable workers in global supply chains, it was natural that we started engaging with workers in the leather merchandise export industry. The workers are women drawn largely from Dalit, backward caste, and minority communities,” says Gopinath Parakuni, Founder and Strategy Director. Home-based workers, who remain formally unrecognised as employees, are mostly from Other Backward Castes, Dalit and minority (Muslim) communities. Tannery workers who handle leather hides are largely from Dalit communities.

Cividep’s first engagement in the region started in 2013 with an exploratory study about the women homeworkers. This was spearheaded by Gopinath and officials from Homeworkers Worldwide (HWW), a UK-based non-profit. Subsequently, a team comprising Antony Raju (consultant) and Kaliyaperumal Narayanan (Worker Training and Research Support Officer) mapped homeworkers for a project commissioned by HWW. They estimated that there were around 25,000 women workers after a survey of around 30 villages in and around Ambur, Pernambut and Vaniyambadi. “What shocked us most were the piece rates the women received for each hand-stitched pair. We assumed it would be at least Rs.100 considering that these were branded shoes that retailed at Rs. 3000-4000 per pair. But workers got only Rs. 7-17 for hand stitching a pair,” recounts Antony.

The team also conducted extensive interactions with shoe factory and tannery workers, community leaders, factory security staff, school teachers, and trade union leaders. Eventually, they recommended the setting up of a tuition centre (in pic), in Melpatti village, 15 kms from Ambur, for the children of factory and homeworkers. The centre ensured that the children spent time on educational pursuits while their mothers were at work.  It also built rapport & trust among the local workforce.

Building Trust

In 2016, Cividep set up a WRC, which initially focused on sensitising homeworkers on gender equality, health and access to social security schemes. The aim was to bring together women despite the organisation’s limited resources.

Over time, local mobilisers were engaged to spread the message about the WRC. The team also devised a multi-pronged strategy to build awareness among homeworkers and factory workers while liaising with local civil society organisations and workers’ collectives. As the team gained trust in the community it was able to conduct more in-depth studies on working conditions. In this period, the team also focused on building the leadership of homeworkers so that they could come together and exercise their collective agency. The team supported homeworkers form self-help groups which later transformed into a membership-based community organisation called Penn Thozhilalar Munnetra Sangam (PTMS). It now has over 600 women homeworkers as members and plays an active role in addressing issues faced by women.

In 2016, Cividep partnered with HWW to bring out ‘Stitching Your Shoes’ study report, which focused on global brands with homeworkers in their supply chains. The report gained attention, especially in the UK, as it had named brands associated with the multi-stakeholder initiative, Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). The late Jane Tate, founder of HWW, approached several brands with the report, who initially engaged but later withdrew. Finally, in what is considered a major milestone, a prominent international shoe brand approached Cividep to help identify homeworkers in its supply chain.

“Though we don’t usually engage in brand-funded initiatives, we saw a chance to make a difference since homeworkers lacked leverage. We aimed to set a precedent, showing that brands can recognise, accept, and take action to support homeworkers,” recalls Pradeepan Ravi, Programme Lead, who led the initiative.

A Milestone

The study confirmed the presence of homeworkers in the brand’s supply chain, and researchers had access to the supplier factory and the management’s cooperation. Yet, trust-building became crucial. “We had to consider various strategies to get the cooperation of the supplier. One was to use the brand’s leverage with the supplier strategically and the other was to develop rapport and trust with the supplier management,” says Pradeepan.

At the end of the exercise, the brand and suppliers agreed on an official Homeworkers Policy, introduced job cards to record their work, and also agreed on a 36% wage hike. For the team, the most satisfying takeaway was being able to arrive at these agreements with various stakeholders, including the intermediaries/contractors, all the while staying firm on the core principles of stakeholder dialogue.

Many homeworkers, who were unaware of their employers, were able to meet brand and supplier representatives for the first time, at a roundtable meeting organised by HWW in December 2017. The accounts by the women of the years spent toiling at meagre wages and at a great cost to their health were a revelation.

Way Forward

Early successes like these motivate the team to continue their work. HWW and Cividep have put together guidelines for brands to improve transparency about homeworking within their supply chains. Through later projects like Together for Decent Leather (2020-2023) and Finding Hidden Homeworkers, the team has brought to light the state of workers post the pandemic. Despite business recovery, there are indications that supplier factories continue to avoid worker-centric measures.

“Yet there are heartening outcomes in terms of worker awareness and solidarity,” says Kohila Senbagam, Project Coordinator, Leather Sector. Homeworkers collectively demand for recognition and higher pay, while factory workers seek their entitlements. And this recently led to the establishment of a government dispensary in the district. Meanwhile, Cividep continues to reach out to brands and multi-stakeholder initiatives to improve transparency, human rights due diligence, and access to remedy.

Lucy Brill, former Director of HWW, looks back at the shared work history of both organisations to note that change takes time. “Changing things in the lifetime of the homeworker is difficult, and real change needs to come from brands, with whom it is very difficult to work together.” Organisations like HWW, along with Cividep are urging to bring homeworkers under the ambit of the European Union’s mandatory human rights due diligence law, which is aimed at EU-based corporations that source from countries like India.

Though change is difficult, the goal is to sustain the momentum set by the team ((in pic above), which consists of Kohila, Soniya, Gokulavasan (Field Coordinator), and Elamathi (Field Officer).  The vision for the workforce remain clear. “We have mobilized more than 600 homeworkers and encouraged them to set aside their community differences to come together and seek their rights. They need to stand up for themselves without anyone’s help,” says Soniya.

Encouraging developments in worker awareness as ‘Together For Decent Leather’ project concludes

How does state-sponsored health insurance help a shoe factory worker in Tamil Nadu’s Ambur? It could prevent the worker from falling into a debt trap while raising funds for a medical emergency. Though factories of Ambur, which is South India’s biggest leather manufacturing cluster, supply for high-end global brands, they pay their workers grossly insufficient wages, sometimes lower than the bare minimum (below Rs. 10,000 p.m).

Not many workers are aware of their claims under statutory benefits like the Employee State Insurance (ESI) that could go a long way in easing financial burdens. And that’s why it was surprising to see a group of workers from Ambur come together a few months ago to demand their rights. With the assistance of local activists and CSOs, they submitted a memorandum to the local taluk office asking ESI facilities (offices and dispensaries) to be extended to all parts of Tirupattur district and for a district-level speciality hospital to treat occupational health problems. The intervention helped and soon, the ESI department extended the facilities and sanctioned a dispensary in the area, recalls Kohila Senbagam, Project Coordinator (Leather sector).

Kohila says that the workers’ mobilization played a big role in this remarkable development. And this gathered momentum after the awareness creation done by the local Cividep team. ‘We were able to talk about ESI and other rights in detail to the workers as part of the Together for Decent Leather project, which concluded recently,’ she says.

Focussed Interventions Help

The Together for Decent Leather project, initiated in 2020, is a multi-country civil society consortium striving to improve working conditions in global leather supply chains across South Asia. The project comes to a close this year, after three years of collaborative work across partners in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Netherlands, Austria, and Germany.

Kohila and Cividep Program Lead Pradeepan Ravi have been at the helm of leather sector activities, since 2016. They say that more workers now know about worker rights, statutory benefits, and have developed leadership skills through Cividep’s training sessions. “Shoe factory workers protested when there was an instance of sexual harassment by a supervisor. The person was dismissed,” says Kohila.

Homeworkers (as seen in the pic above) too are now motivated to stand up for their rights. “They recently demanded that the village Gram Sabha (village council) formally recognise the local homeworkers’ collective,” says Pradeepan. Further, they collectively refused to take work from a subcontractor who was paying very low piece rates. “The project really helped workers experience the benefits of solidarity,” he says.

Through the project, Cividep has been able to reach out to more than 1000 workers (factory, homeworker and tannery) through training programs, health camps, and social security assistance. Additionally, a health and safety handbook has been designed in Tamil for leather homeworkers and tannery workers.

Read more on Cividep’s website

You can download Cividep’s Handbooks here:

Homeworker’s handbook on occupational health and safety (English version)

Homeworker’s handbook on occupational health and safety (Tamil version)



Labour abuses in supply chains uncovered. Leather and leather shoes from India

The leather and leather goods industry in India makes a substantial contribution to global demands for leather and leather goods, as well as contributing a decent share to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2019, Indian leather exports totalled about 5.5 billion USD and helped to employ nearly 4.42 million formal workers. All stages of leather production take place in India – from larger export tanneries and factories manufacturing leather goods to smaller workshops and home-based workers stitching leather uppers for shoes by hand. The sector is often
associated with poor working conditions, such as low wages, long working hours, health and safety issues, informal employment relationships and challenges when it comes to freedom of association.

New information about the working conditions in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan was gathered for the Together for Decent Leather programme. Three field studies were carried out in each of these countries. In this briefing paper, we provide an overview of the study’s main findings about the working conditions of leather workers in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. This briefing paper turns the spotlight on the leather cluster in Tamil Nadu, and how this cluster relates to the Indian leather industry and export market. An important aspect of this paper is the link that is made with international companies that are related to the Tamil Nadu leather industry – and therefore face potentiel risks in their supply chains. This report is based on the full field study report (which can be found here) published under the umbrella of Together for Decent Leather.

Download the report here.

Human rights due diligence in practice

The debate on corporate human rights responsibility and due diligence has gained momentum in various European countries over recent years. In Germany, the Bundestag passed the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act on 11 June 2021, which from 2023 will legally oblige German companies to respect human rights in their supply chains and purchasing practices. The law sets out clear requirements for companies’ due diligence obligations and their implementation. An extensive draft of an EU directive on due diligence for corporate management and sustainability was also drawn up and presented on 23 February 2022. This is currently being examined by the EU Parliament and Council. Other European countries have legislative initiatives or laws in force that oblige companies to take care of the environment and respect human rights. This legal regulation by the European Commission and individual governments is a logical step towards making the
requirements of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises legally binding.

This report examines the current status of the integration of human rights due diligence into corporate policy and the strategies and individual business practices of the companies surveyed. The aim is to ascertain what approaches, strategies, programmes and plans companies are pursuing in order to comply with human rights due diligence in business activities throughout their supply chains. This is not about ranking the selected companies; rather, the aim is to present and classify existing approaches to the implementation of human rights due diligence and to identify the challenges and areas where action is required.









Download the English report here: Brand Performance Check Suedwind and Inkota

Download the German report here: Unternehmensbefragung menschenrechtliche Sorgfaltspflicht

Socially responsible public procurement of workwear with leather

The Dutch government is a major consumer of workwear, including workwear-with-leather. Annually, millions of euros are spent, from army boots to belts, from representative pumps to welding gloves. The information in this publication is intended for everyone involved in the central and decentralised public procurement of industrial clothing, especially clothing and footwear made entirely or partly of leather. We provide information on the risks in the production of these items, and present tools to make the procurement of workwear-with-leather more sustainable.

Please note that this publication is in Dutch.


Please download the publication here.



Achievements and Outstanding Demands of Together for Decent Leather

The past three years, the Together for Decent Leather consortium partners and allies have worked hard to address concerns about labour rights in the leather and leatherware sectors in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. There is still a long way to go, but nevertheless we are proud of the contribution we have been able to make in improving workers’ lives.
With SOMO as project lead, Together for Decent Leather consortium was made up of (in alphabetical order) Arisa from the Netherlands, Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF), Cividep-India, Inkota in Germany, National Organisation for Working Communities (NOWCommunities) in Pakistan, and Suedwind Austria.

The impact of Covid

Starting off with the project in April 2020, Together for Decent Leather was immediately confronted with the severe impact the Covid crisis had on leather and leatherware workers. With the Covid outbreak, production came to an abrupt halt. International supply chains were disrupted due to a lack of inputs and later on by the cancellation of orders by brands and retailers. Despite the severely restricted freedom of movement during the consecutive lockdowns, Cividep, BLF and NOWCommunities found ways to remain in touch with workers via phone and social media, educating workers on Covid safety measures and the importance of vaccination. We documented the impact on workers in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in the Corona Chronicles.

Lack of transparency on leather production and trade

To reveal the complex landscape of key manufacturers in the three production countries and major buying companies in important market countries, Together for Decent Leather released three ‘mappings’ describing the trends in production and trade of leather and leather products from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Production facilities, tanneries, subcontractors, home-based workers, traders etc. together form a murky web. It is incredibly hard to know the route from slaughterhouse to (online-)shop (let alone from cattle farms to consumers’ feet). This is problematic as in this way retailers and brands cannot be held accountable for violations in the supply chain. SOMO issued three related publications on the very problematic lack of supply chain and trade transparency: an analysis of the transparency performance of 100 brands; a comparative table that clearly revealed how luxury brands are lagging behind, and a discussion paper advocating for
enhanced transparency.

Labour rights abuses

Unfortunately, violations are still abound. NOWCommunities, BLF and Cividep undertook field research to get up-to-date data on employment and labour conditions in production hubs in their respective countries: Karachi-Pakistan, greater Dhaka in Bangladesh, and Vellore and Ambur districts in Tamil Nadu, India. In total 345 labourers working in a variety of facilities were interviewed. These workers bravely shared their life stories, with gruelling details of exploitation, hardship, and lifelong poverty, including low wages, long working hours, discrimination, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, and no access to social security. This new compelling evidence unmistakably shows that leather(ware) workers are in a particularly vulnerable position due to the low standing of their work and the dangerous processes and chemicals that are used.

Worker empowerment

BLF, Cividep and NOWCommunities reached out to over 1,500 workers by means of training, study circles, health camps, and informal conversations. With new educational materials and by sharing inspiring past experiences, they have empowered workers on labour rights, and related topics, such as social security, social dialogue, occupational health and safety, and gender-based violence.

Due diligence?

Together for Decent Leather looked at how companies in the global supply chain of leather (goods) and footwear are putting human rights due diligence in practice. A report by Inkota and Suedwind shows that the German supply chain act that came into place from 1 January 2023 had a precursory, disciplining effect on German brands and (online) retailers. Nevertheless, the overall picture is that workers still have to fend for themselves, while local government authorities, their employers and international brands continue to ignore their plight.

Engaging with private sector and with governments

Together for Decent Leather was successful in voicing its messages and demands at highly relevant platforms, reaching key players in the industry. At the OECD Forum on Human Rights Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector, for example, we presented three years in a row on urgent topics as caste- end creed-based discrimination in the leatherware sector, and on the importance of worker empowerment and stakeholder engagement. Intensive dialogue trajectories with some key industry players took place, including individual brands (Baer Shoes, Clarks, Goosecraft, Legero, NEXT, Tamaris/Wortmann, Zalando, etc.) and with a number of improvement initiatives (Leather Working Group, Fair Labor Association,
Fair Wear, the German Textiles Partnership (PST), etc.). Together for Decent leather provided trainings for PST-brands and companies under the former Dutch Garment Agreement.

Socially responsible public procurement

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises also offer a relevant business & human rights normative framework to governments. Besides their responsibility to protect labour and human rights as regulators, federal, provincial and local governments, and all kinds of other government bodies are also institutional consumers of workwear, including representative or safety footwear, and protective gear. Leather is an often-used material, for example for army boots, gloves, motorbike suits, etc. A short investigation of Dutch public procurement policies and practices showed that socially responsible public procurement of leather-based workwear is far from a reality.

Mobilising consumers

Although we put the ultimate responsibility to protect and respect labour rights with governments, both of producing and market countries, Together for Decent Leather also informed and mobilised consumers in Europe to support our calls for change. Inkota and Suedwind set up a public campaign focusing on shoe company Tamaris, part of Wortmann. Public awareness about Wortmann’s not so green and sustainable record increased. Thousands of people sent emails to Wortmann demanding that they make work of due diligence. The call for change putforward by the Together for Decent Leather project was amplified by European media. Interesting output was generated by, amongst others, Dutch television programme Keuringsdienst van Waarde, German television programme Tagesschau, and the Austrian magazine Der Standard.

Some hopeful steps were made…

Together for Decent Leather has observed positive developments slowly but surely taking place. We dare to say that at the very least Together for Decent Leather managed to substantially raise the level of awareness of human rights due diligence issues around leather and leatherware production and trade/sale/consumption. NOWCommunities was part of the broad civil society coalition that fought for increased minimum wages in the Pakistani garment and footwear industry. In Bangladesh, BLF was closely involved in bringing about the National Action Plan for the Bangladesh leather industry. BLF is currently acting as the NPA secretariat – a clear recognition of BLF’s valuable views and experience. In India, Cividep offered support to worker groups, including an women worker collective, to stand up and bargain for their rights.

…but there is still a long way to go

The violations and risks documented by Together for Decent Leather make clear that the leather industry and governments are in no position to sit back and relax. They are under obligation to pick up the pace in making structural improvements to ensure worker rights are being respected. What is urgently needed is strong human rights due diligence legislation that is properly implemented. Obligatory enhanced supply chain transparency should be part this. Governments should facilitate enhanced trade transparency and apply their leverage through socially responsible public procurement. Worker empowerment and unrestricted civic space is what is needed to ensure leatherware workers’ rights are respected.

The Together for Decent Leather project partners will continue their work, individually as well as together in existing and new coalitions, to ensure that the wins of this projects will last.

We thank the European Commission and other funders, including the Netherlands Enterprise agency (RVO), Dutch trade union federation FNV, and the Austrian Development Agency for their financial support.

Together for Decent Leather was supported by the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the project partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Unsafe and Underpaid: Working conditions in South Asia’s leather, leatherwear, and footwear factories

Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India play a major role globally in the export of leather for further processing as well as for products, such as shoes, clothing, bags, suitcases, and belts. It is an industry that contributes significantly to these countries’ economies. There are approx. 200 mainly small and medium-sized tanneries in Bangladesh. Around 80% is produced for direct export and 20% for domestic processing. The main site is an industrial park in Savar, near Dhaka. There are also a smaller number of workshops and factories in the former tannery hub of Hazaribagh in Dhaka’s old town. Leather products, mainly footwear and accessories, are manufactured in the country’s many other production zones. Leather garments are produced in relatively low numbers. It is estimated that the entire sector employs more than 850,000 people.

Four recent regional studies on the leather industry and working conditions in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India conducted in 2022 by the Together for Decent Leather consortium provide comprehensive information on the sector. The studies examine tanneries in Savar near Dhaka, tanneries and leather-processing facilities in Karachi in the Pakistani province of Sindh, and in the cities of Vellore and Ambur in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

All of the selected regions are key leather production hubs. The analysis is based on surveys of a total of 345 leather workers, interviews with local experts from civil society, business, and government, analysis of publicly available commercial data (e.g. concerning leather shoes produced in Bangladesh), as well as a survey of brand[1]name companies and leather importers. This factsheet summarizes the studies’ most important findings. Further details can be found in the respective publications.

Download the factheet here.

Government, employers and labour rights organisations work together to improve labour issues in the Bangladesh leather industry

Bangladesh produces leather and leather products such as shoes, belts, bags and wallets. The leather and leather goods industry are important for Bangladesh’s economy: it is the second-largest source of the country’s export earnings. Social and environmental compliance is poor, unfortunately, which also affects the export.

Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF), as well as other organisations, have for long pointed to the poor labour practices in the Bangladesh leatherware industry. Recent research by BLF as part of the Together for Decent Leather programme found new evidence of the low wages and precarious employment conditions of tannery workers.

After years of awareness raising, dialoguing and campaigning, a milestone was reached in April 2022 with the adoption of a National Action Plan for the Bangladesh leather industry. It is a joint effort of the Bangladesh government, industry and the labour movement. The action plan aims to improve the industry’s compliance with labour laws; boost environmental management; and work towards increased certification of Bangladesh’ tanneries by the Leather Working Group.

The action plan was jointly developed by BLF and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE – under the Ministry of Labour and Employment), and with active participation of many stakeholders including the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Industry, the Bangladesh Tanners Association (BTA), the Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters’ Association (BFLLFEA), and the Tannery Workers Union (TWU).

Ashraf Uddin, Executive Director of BLF said the initiative is the first in its kind. “This is the first time in Bangladesh that government, employers, worker representatives and civil society developed together and unanimously agreed upon a plan to improve working conditions and address environmental and social compliance.” BLF and TWU took the lead in bringing workers’ perspectives and priorities to the negotiation table. As a result, the plan includes key workers’ issues such as the formalisation of employment relations, payment of minimum wages, access to social security schemes and the promotion of collective bargaining.

For the implementation of the action plan for the leather industry a Working Committee was formed, comprised of representatives of the various stakeholder groups – employers, unions, and government. DIFE has the lead of this Working Committee and BLF is acting as secretariat.

“Whether the ambitious goals of the action plan will be reached indeed depends on the continued commitment of all parties – government, employers, trade union and civil society” says Ashraf Uddin. He adds that continuous monitoring and applying enforcement measures where needed are also essential elements.

Monitoring and regular inspections of factories is an ongoing DIFE responsibility. So far, under the action plan, DIFE visited 22 factories. Additionally, in January 2023, the newly established Working Committee visited six factories. Ashraf Uddin is positive about the rate of NAP activities so far and has good hopes that this will continue.

The idea is that the DIFE will share individual factory inspection reports with the Working Committee, including with the labour movement representatives on the committee. This means a step forward in the level of transparency shown by government to civil society. DIFE does publishes aggregated inspection reports, but these do not mention names of individual facilities. Employers that are found not comply with labour regulations will be notified. They will be given a timeframe of three months to implement improvements. If failure to live up to labour regulations is not rectified, DIFE may undertake legal steps.

European companies silent about their links to labour rights issues in Bangladesh tanneries

Leather tanneries in Bangladesh are well-known for their poor working conditions. Although it is clear that companies like Bristol, Scapino, and Wortmann (known for the brands Caprice and Marco Tozzi) source leather shoes from Bangladesh, whether they use leather from Bangladesh remains unknown. When asked, the companies did not answer. Questions to these companies on what they do to prevent labour rights risks in leather production, or to solve actual problems, also remained unanswered.

Martje Theuws (SOMO): “These shoe and leather brands’ supply chains remain hidden, while transparency and open communication should be the norm in such a high-risk sector. It is impossible to engage with buying companies about abuses in a country like Bangladesh if there is no public information about who buys what from where.”

For this research, SOMO contacted 13 shoe companies and 14 leather importers. Only six companies responded to SOMO’s questions.

Insecure, unhealthy, underpaid work

The Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF), an organisation that SOMO works closely with, conducted investigations into 26 leather tanneries in Savar, close to Dhaka. This research confirmed that labour rights are grossly violated in the production of leather in Bangladesh: very few workers have a contract; payment below the minimum wage is common; and working days are long. Workers in these tanneries also face severe health problems due to exposure to chemicals.

Ashraf Uddin (BLF): “Despite the efforts of the international labour movement, and the national plan of action of the Bangladesh government to address social security problems in this sector, much remains to be done. Foreign buyers of leather and leather products have a great responsibility in this regard. How they act towards producers and towards the government has a great impact on working conditions in the supply chain.”

Untransparent supply chain

It is extremely difficult to map leather supply chains from slaughterhouse to shop. Shoe brands, factories, tanneries, subcontractors, and leather traders together form an opaque web. This prevents civil society and others from holding buying companies publicly accountable for abuses in their supply chains.

Legislation on transparency needed

Since companies do not voluntarily share information about their supply chains, legislation is needed, according to the researchers. Upcoming legislation on corporate accountability at the European level and in EU members states that will oblige companies to conduct business with respect for human rights, the environment, and the climate should therefore also include firm provisions on supply chain transparency,” Theuws said.

Download Indecent work

Luxury brands must reveal the origin of their leather goods

Luxury brands including Armani, Versace, Michael Kors and Coach don’t provide key information on the origin of their leather products. An analysis carried out by SOMO shows that 35 out of 44 luxury brands examined do not publish supplier lists that show where they source their leather jackets, trousers, shoes, belts, gloves, bags, and other leather goods. This is concerning because the global leather industry is notoriously associated with labour rights abuses and environmental pollution.

Online table with the scores of the companies

Only a handful luxury brands give some information on the origin of their leather products. Among these are Bally, Zegna and Fendi. But there is still a long way to go. The information provided by these companies is far from complete. Meanwhile, most brands do not publish a supplier list at all, failing to meet even the most basic standards.

Martje Theuws of SOMO said: “Our analysis shows that companies in the luxury segment are particularly lagging behind. This is shocking. If a company knows its suppliers and supply chain, then there is no reason not to publish a supplier list. If a company does not know its supply chain, this raises serious questions about the company’s due diligence.”

The importance of supplier lists

Supplier lists are a well-established tool in the apparel sector, allowing different groups – workers, investors and consumers – to trace the origin of goods. Supply chain disclosure is considered an important step on the long road to ensuring decent working conditions.

Of the 100 companies SOMO reviewed in total, which included 44 luxury brands as well as footwear and other companies that sell leather goods, less than one-third (29 out of 100) publish a supplier list. Only 17 companies provide information on processing facilities and suppliers of raw materials. The luxury goods companies performed below average. Only 20 per cent of the luxury brands (9 out of 44) disclosed their suppliers.

Poor working conditions

Workers in the global leather industry often face harsh working conditions. Low wages, long working hours, and job insecurity are frequently reported in low-wage production countries. The chemicals used in the processing of leather can be toxic and, for workers who are not provided with proper protection, exposure can lead to serious health problems. Labour issues have also been reported in Europe, where migrant workers in particular may face poor employment conditions.

Very limited information disclosed by the brands

Not a single company in our sample discloses information on the wages that workers in their supplier facilities earn. A mere 4 of the 29 companies that publish a supplier list include information on indicators related to freedom of association and collective bargaining in these lists. In the luxury segment, only Zegna provides any information on these issues.

“These companies publish information and reports, some of which present very positive pictures of their corporate responsibility, but the failure to publish full supplier lists is problematic. Scattered information on supply chain issues does not allow for proper scrutiny. Such an approach can conceal as much as it reveals”, Martje Theuws noted.

Voluntary initiatives don’t enforce transparency

More than fifty per cent the luxury brands analyzed (24 out of 44) participate in voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives or certification schemes.

Martje Theuws said: “SOMO’s analysis shows that these kinds of voluntary initiatives do not guarantee supply chain disclosure because they don’t enforce transparency on their members. Therefore, it is extremely important that upcoming legislation on corporate accountability at the European level and in EU members states should include obligations for companies to publicly disclose supply chain information.”

Investigating public information of 100 companies

For this analysis, SOMO selected 100 companies in the luxury goods and footwear segments in the leather industry. Additionally, we included a number of online retailers. Among these 100 companies are some of the largest players in terms of company size, turnover, and market share. SOMO used information from a range of public sources for its analysis, including company websites and the Open Apparel Registry. Together with our report, we are publishing a discussion paper on what kind of supply chain information companies should disclose.

SOMO asked Armani, Coach, Michael Kors and Versace to respond to the concerns about their failure to publish a supplier list. The companies did not reply.

Together for Decent Leather

SOMO’s investigation is part of the programme Together for Decent Leather co-funded by the European Union. SOMO is a participating partner in the programme.