Session on vulnerable workers at the OECD forum on due diligence in the garment and footwear sector

On the occasion of the 2021 OECD Forum on due diligence in the garment and footwear sector, Together for Decent Leather is hosting the side session  ‘Together for Decent Leather – From precarious jobs to decent work’. The session will take place on Tuesday, 2 February, from 9:30 to 11:00 am. During the session, the consortium will discuss the most vulnerable worker groups in the leather garment and footwear sector, the key risks of labour rights violations they face, who is responsible for solving the problems and what should be done.

Vulnerable workers

The Corona pandemic has dramatically laid bare the vulnerable position of workers in global supply chains, including workers in the leather goods supply chain. Particular groups of workers (informal homeworkers, contract workers and daily labourers) in Asian production countries, such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, have been hit disproportionally.

The Session

The multi-stakeholder side session that is hosted by Together for Decent Leather will look into the causes and consequences of precarious and insecure work, and the challenges that vulnerable groups of workers face in this sub-sector of the garment industry.  The ways forward will also be addressed.

In the first panel, Pradeepan Ravi (Cividep India), Farhat Parveen (NOW Communities Pakistan) and Ashraf Uddin (Bangladesh Labour Foundation) will speak about vulnerable leather workers in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. What are the obstacles homeworkers and tannery workers face? How to improve their living and working conditions?

In the second panel, Jürgen Janssen, head of the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (PST) will share how the PST addresses labour issues in garment supply chain and make parallels to the leather sector. Sara Brennan, head of Corporate Responsibility at Pentland will elaborate on the actions the fashion company takes to improve the working conditions for the homeworkers within its footwear supply chain. Gertrude Klaffenboeck (Suedwind Austria) will outline how today’s national governments, international policies and guidelines, as well as corporate policies largely fail to protect the rights and livelihoods of vulnerable leather workers and explain how mandatory human rights due diligence can make a difference.

> Go to the webpage where the session will be hosted

Together for Decent Leather is a three-year programme, carried out by an Asian-European consortium of seven civil society organisations. Their goal is to improve working conditions and to reduce labour rights abuses, focusing on leather garment and footwear production hubs in South Asia.

Together for Decent Leather launch

On Tuesday 10 November, a European-Asian consortium of seven civil society organisations has launched the three-year programme ‘Together for Decent Leather’. The Together for Decent Leather consortium aims to improve the living and working conditions of workers in the leather value chain. During the launch, consortium members shared their knowledge about the leather industry in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the impact of Corona pandemic in the leather sector, labour rights challenges for leather workers in the three focus countries and what the programme aims for.

Problems in the leather-based industry

In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of people work in dire circumstances to produce leather-based garment, footwear and accessories. The problems they face include poverty wages, forced overtime, social security and child labour. Workers have health issues because of working with toxic substances and unsafe heavy machinery, often without adequate protective equipment. They also suffer from social exclusion and discrimination based on class, caste, origin, ethnicity, gender and religion. Specifically vulnerable groups are women workers, Dalits and Muslims, migrants, and homeworkers. Workers in this sector do not enjoy the fundamental enabling rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The launch

During the online launch twenty-six interested participants from diverse backgrounds, among which NGOs, the private sector, governments and research organisations, engaged with the consortium to learn about and discuss challenges in the leather value chain in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Leather goods supply chain – One of SOMO’s researchers shared insights into the leather goods supply chain, a complex system with a wide variety of actors involved, which include millions of workers. The lack of transparency in the supply chain makes it difficult to map out the exact relationships within the sector. Yet SOMO provided a clear and comprehensive overview of the leather sector in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and Bangladesh and share of international exports.

Corona impact on the leather industry – Subsequently, the impact of Corona on the workers in the leather-based industry was reported on. The Corona pandemic led to massive dismissals of leather workers, loss of income, union busting and abuse by creditors. Moreover, measures to protect workers from getting infected are lacking and wages are not still back to pre-Corona level.

Labour rights challenges – In-depth presentations about the labour working conditions of homeworkers and workers in factories and tanneries shed more light into the challenges faced by these workers and supporting organisations in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Interesting discussions and exchanges with participants followed. Matters of caste discrimination, living wage projects, protection of homeworkers and trade unions were issues raised by participants and are taken on board by consortium members.

Programme aims – Together for Decent Leather is looking forward to further engage with participants and other stakeholders and work towards an ending of labour rights abuses in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The consortium demands state actors and the private sector to take responsibility by adhering to and promoting the highest international labour and human rights standards.

Possible measures to improve the situation for leather workers suggested include payment of living wages to all workers in the value chain, providing occupational health and safety measures, engaging in social dialogue with relevant stakeholders, implementing and enforcing robust labour law, ensuring transparency and traceability in the leather supply chain and performing thorough human rights due diligence in supply chain, including work carried out by sub-contractors and homeworking.

About the programme

This three year programme aims to improve working conditions and reduce labour rights abuses by promoting adherence to international labour standards and corporate social responsibility in leather based garment footwear and accessories value chains in production hubs in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The programme is organised by an European-Asian consortium, consisting of the following organisations: ARISA (the Netherlands), the Bangladesh Labour Foundation (BLF), Cividep India, INKOTA (Germany), NOW communities (Pakistan), SOMO (the Netherlands), Südwind (Austria).