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 summary is based on the full field study report published under the umbrella of Together for Decent Leather. The full report can be found here.

Download the report here

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.



Hides & Hardship. Caste-based discrimination in the leather industry in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan

Leather work is seen in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan as dirty and undesirable. Many of the people who work in the industry – and in India the overall majority – occupy marginalised places in society and often lack any other livelihood option. They are vulnerable to exploitation and have little if any possibility of moving forward in work or in life to break the cycle of poverty and discrimination for themselves or their children.

A specific connection between caste and the leather industry can be identified, while a religious aspect is present as well, especially in India. Since religious minorities face many challenges in these three countries, the interlinkages between caste, religion, and leather work cannot be ignored when looking at discriminatory practices in the industry in these countries.

This paper shows that caste and related discriminatory practices, at times specifically interlinking with religion, are high risk factors for businesses that source leather or leather products from India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. It explains how caste-based and religious-based discrimination presents itself in these countries and how this connects to the leather industry.










Download the report here

Label Check: Leather and Leather-Shoes

Labour rights and social criteria are neglected by the most common leather and shoe labels. The shoe and leather industry does not sufficiently implement the requirements of the German Supply Chain Act, but hides behind voluntary standards. This is the result of a joint research by INKOTA and Südwind Austria.

„Consumers get no information about working conditions and social standards when buying leather goods and shoes; a blatant lack of consumer information. Companies advertise with standards that are not mandatory”, explains Berndt Hinzmann, senior policy advisor at INKOTA.

The six quality labels examined include the “Blue Angel eco-label for shoes”, “Oeko-Tex Leather Standard”, “IVN certified natural leather”, the “Austrian eco-label” and the two business-to-business certification systems “Leather Working Group (LWG)” and “Higg Brand and Retail Module (HiggBRM)”. Only two, the Blue Angel and the Austrian Eco-label, are based on legal regulations. The other schemes base their selection of technical, environmental or social criteria primarily on the interests of the companies involved. The majority of the certification systems described focus on the collection of environmental and material-related indicators.

None of the quality labels include information on living wages or the risk-based approach to due diligence. The certifications also have major shortcomings when it comes to social criteria: in the case of the Leather Working Group, the Oeko-Tex Leather Standard and HiggBRM, no social criteria are necessary for the award of the seal. With the Leather Working Group, it is even possible to obtain the “Gold Medal” label without a social audit. The HiggBRM does not make public any information at all that gives insight into the risk analysis and the measures companies take to minimise or avoid risks along the supply chain.

„There is an urgent need for action to address the structural risks leather and footwear workers are facing. We need a strong EU supply chain law and a review of the implementation of the German supply chain law. Accepting home-made, non-transparent industry standards is not the solution”, states Berndt Hinzmann.

The Decent Leather Label Check examines a selection of quality labels that companies referred to in the company survey “Human Rights Due Diligence in Practice”. The companies stated that they fulfill the requirements of the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act via so-called business-to-business standards.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has identified leather production as a special risk sector. Massive labour rights violations are not uncommon in the production of leather goods and shoes. Low wages, extremely long working days and hardly regulated working conditions are the rule. In addition, there is intensive use of hazardous chemicals, inadequate protective equipment and far-reaching environmental risks.

Download the report here.

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.

Threadbare: Working Conditions At South Indian Leather-based Workplaces

This report on the leather sector focuses on employment and working conditions in the Ambur leather cluster in Tamil Nadu, India, one of India’s largest leather and leather goods production clusters. The respondents ranged from employees of registered factories and tanneries that cater to the export market, to those of smaller unregistered tanneries, all in Ambur. The study aimed to understand wage levels, overtime pay, gender pay gap, working hours, production targets, and access to social security entitlements, among other things.

Important findings:

    • Lack of contract or employment letters makes social security benefits difficult to access
    • A third of workers surveyed get wages less than the minimum wage stipulated by Tamil Nadu government
    • All surveyed workers receive wages less than living wage levels
    • Gender pay gap in shoe factories with male workers drawing higher salaries than female workers
    • Increasing production targets enforced through penalties such as overtime
    • Inadequate worker representation in statutory committees for work, safety, and harassment
    • Discouragement of the expression of freedom of association by the factory management
    • Positive improvements: availability of drinking water, washrooms & canteens at factories

The authors recommend that stakeholders conduct effective due diligence measures for better transparency across their supply chains, and ensure living wages, written employment contracts, effective grievance mechanisms, and an environment that supports freedom of association for all workers.

Download the report here.

Exploitative working conditions mark Pakistan’s leather industry

Work in Pakistan’s leather industry is precarious and exploitative, with little accountability on the part of the government, tanneries and factories, even though Pakistan is a significant exporter of leather goods to European and North American markets. This is the main conclusion of research by the Karachi-based NGO NOW Communities. Over 150 workers were interviewed in the little-researched Pakistan leather sector. Many leather workers, mainly illiterate or poorly educated men, are afraid to speak about their work and living conditions. NOW Communities focused on building trusting relations with workers, and on offering worker rights training.

No running water, low wages

The workforce in the Pakistan leather sector comprises mainly men from low-income extended family households that lack running water and other basic services. Most interviewed men had spent all or most of their working lives in the leather industry, yet few had permanent employment, and many had no documentation regarding their employment. The basic wages are low. Overtime was standard, but very badly paid. Very few employers provided non-monetary benefits such as transport, food rations, an on-workplace dispensary, first aid, medical check-ups, or health insurance.

Only a quarter of the interviewed men were registered with social security schemes. Few knew about their leave entitlements or had experienced paid or unpaid leave. There were adolescent workers in the research sample, and some interviewees mentioned the presence of child labour in the tanneries where hides are cleaned and processed for the production of leather goods, and at other leather manufacturing workplaces. The workplaces in the report are part of the global supply chain of international brands and retailers sourcing leather and leather-based products in Pakistan.


Pakistan’s domestic legal framework for the protection of labour rights could help low-paid workers if properly enforced, but it is hampered by institutional corruption and lack of political will. Pakistan’s international trading partners, governments and companies, show little accountability for the industry’s poor working conditions.

“If international brands and buyers would apply fair purchasing practices, this would enable suppliers to create better labour conditions for workers, in line with the highest international business and human rights standards. Also, we urge buying companies to support unionisation at supplier level and the development of the labour movement”, stated Farhat Parveen from NOW Communities.

The report offers a series of recommendations to various actors. As a priority, NOWC and Together for Decent Leather are calling upon international buyers and retailers sourcing leather and leather goods in Pakistan to provide full supply chain transparency, including suppliers of raw materials, tanneries and all types of manufacturers, enabling labour rights organisations in Pakistan and internationally to monitor buyer–supplier relations. Buyers should also apply fair purchasing practices to enable suppliers to create better labour conditions for leather workers in line with the highest international business and human rights standards.

Read the full report here.

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

Shine a light on leather – Analysis of 100 companies

The global leather garment, footwear, and accessories industry is notoriously associated with human rights and labour rights violations as well as environmental damage in the different production stages. Workers often toil for long hours and low wages in deplorable conditions. Union-busting, gender and caste  discrimination, and child labour occur regularly. Workers struggle with health issues because they work with toxic substances and unsafe heavy machinery, often without adequate protective equipment. Environmental damage includes groundwater pollution through the discharge of untreated wastewater.

There is an urgent need for greater supply chain transparency in the sector. Workers, trade unions, and workers’ support organisations need to know which corporate actors have a responsibility to address labour rights violations, for example.

This paper analyses the current state of supply chain transparency in the leatherbased apparel, footwear, and accessories industry. For this paper report SOMO has investigated the level of supply chain transparency of 100 international buyers in two specific leather-based segments of the global garment industry: luxury goods and footwear. These segments typically produce a wide variety of items. Additionally, we included a number of online retailers (“e-tailers”) in the selection, in view of their increasing market share. Among the 100 selected companies are some of the largest players in these segments in terms of size, turnover, and market share.

SOMO used information from various sources to undertake this analysis. These included Fashion Revolution’s 2021 Transparency Index, which reports on 250 major players in the garment industry, Veraart Research Group’s Retail-Index, and Refinitiv Eikon. We also looked at the supply chain transparency requirements that responsible business initiatives, multistakeholder initiatives (MSIs), and sustainability certification schemes have in place for their member companies. We checked the scope of such requirements and whether they are merely “soft” suggestions or genuinely “hard” standards.

Download ‘Shine a light on leather Analysis: supply chain disclosure practices of 100 companies in the leatherware industry’

See our online table with the data of the analysis.

Shine a light on leather – discussion paper

This paper makes the case for improved public disclosure of disaggregated and detailed supply chain data by international buying companies with the aim of increasing respect for the labour rights of workers in international supply chains. We make proposals in the paper for data categories and elements that brands and retailers should eventually include in their facility-level disclosures.

With this paper we aim to provide input into current discussions on enhanced supply chain transparency among brands, retailers, fashion conglomerates, workers and/or workers’ organisations, civil society organisations, responsible business initiatives, and governmental actors.

We publish this paper alongside our accompanying new report ‘Shine a light on leather Analysis: supply chain disclosure practices of 100 companies in the leatherware industry.’ The report provides an analysis of the current supply chain disclosure practices of 100 selected companies in two segments of the leather-based global garment industry: luxury leather goods and leather footwear.

Download paper ‘Shine a light on leather. Discussion paper on transparency in the leatherware supply chain’