How can global footwear and apparel brands make this women’s day count?

How can global footwear and apparel brands make this women’s day count?

On International Women’s Day, as the world celebrates womankind and its achievements, we would like to draw your attention towards home-based informal workers (or simply homeworkers) in global fashion supply chains. These women make significant contributions to their families, the global economy and their communities and yet they remain hidden – not recognised as workers and consequently alienated from their rights and entitlements. Our 4-year long programme – the Hidden Homeworkers initiative –  strives to increase transparency and encourage brands and suppliers to accept homeworkers as a non-negligible part of their global value chains.  

It is estimated that there are over 5 million homeworkers in India alone. The vast majority of homeworkers are women – making homeworking a gendered experience. In a study conducted by Save The Children and the Centre for Child Rights, the most prominent reason why women take up home-based work is to be able to fulfil their child care responsibilities. Other reasons why most homeworkers are women, despite being heavily underpaid, include not being allowed to work outside of their homes, limited opportunities for women in the labour market, lack of opportunities for upskilling and absence of alternative sources of income in rural and peri-urban areas.

Even since the pandemic, homeworkers have continued to play an important role in the fashion industry’s global value chains. These sub-contracted women who work on a piece-rate basis, help propel the supply of fast fashion — keeping the production levels high yet flexible, and the costs low. Homeworkers in certain areas of Delhi and many other parts of India are typically married, have children and perform essential tasks by hand such as finishing, sewing embellishments, buttons and eyehooks, inserting drawstrings in trousers, attaching tassels, embroidery etc. Yet since they have no contracts these women are highly vulnerable to exploitative terms and conditions. Deadlines can be unreasonable, wages are well below the minimum wage standards and payments are often delayed. They are frequently not even recognised as workers because social audits conducted by brands generally do not look beyond the first tier of supply chains.

On February 17, 2021, the Hidden Homeworkers project partners organised a webinar in partnership with the Fair Labor Association on “building inclusive supply chains for women homeworkers”. The webinar brought together different stakeholders to discuss some of the best practices available for working with homeworkers in international footwear and apparel supply chains. During this webinar, Pentland Brands shared their journey which began with their desire to understand homeworking within their supply chain in Tamil Nadu, as opposed to simply denying it and keeping homeworkers and their issues hidden.  They utilised their long-standing relationship with their suppliers and partnerships with the NGOs Homeworkers Worldwide and Cividep to garner their trust and cooperation towards operationalising a homeworking policy to improve working conditions for women homeworkers and promote greater transparency and therefore accountability in their supply chain.

Record-keeping for homeworkers is an essential part of Pentland’s homeworking policy – homeworkers are issued a job card to record the work done and payment received, which also gives them recognition and visibility as workers.

This policy also gave the brand a much-needed insight into the hours of work put in by homeworkers and the wages paid to them. By engaging in a time and motion study, they were able to calculate the piece rate for homeworkers, linking their pay to minimum wage standards. This new system, introduced by Pentland Brands in late 2018, led homeworkers’ piece rates to rise by 30%. This is a significant achievement and an example set for other brands to follow.

As COVID-19 continues to push people, especially informal workers, deeper into the clutches of poverty, recognising homeworking and improving conditions homeworkers face should be an immediate concern for governments as well as businesses. Making this commitment is in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which states that businesses should recognize and address human rights challenges their workers face: including homeworkers. It is also consistent with the ILO’s Home Work Convention 1996 (No 177) which expects ratifying States to develop national homeworking policies that enable decent working conditions for homeworkers. The OECD too recognises homeworkers as an intrinsic part of the workforce in the garment and footwear sector and calls upon enterprises to identify homeworking in their supply chains and mitigate any actual or potential violations of homeworkers’ human rights.  

We urge global brands to make this international women’s day count by joining us as we work towards creating more transparent, sustainable and inclusive supply chains for women workers — especially often-overlooked homeworkers. 

Hidden Homeworkers is an initiative of Traidcraft Exchange, Homenet South Asia and Homeworkers Worldwide, with co-funding from the European Union. 

The Hidden Homeworkers project has recently released a report, based on research by Homeworkers Worldwide and Cividep India, into learning around transparency in homeworker chains. The report features brands and other transparency practitioner perspectives on how to overcome opacity in apparel and leather supply chains, though many of these will also be applicable in comparable sectors such as home textiles. A key emphasis of the report, which will be soon followed by a toolkit for brands, is the importance of having progressive policies that permit homeworking in order to drive transparency across the chain. This is key both for businesses that engage homeworkers as well as, most critically, for homeworkers themselves. 

You can also watch a recording of our recent webinar on building inclusive supply chains for women workers here

Pawan Kashyap

Business Associate

Pawan works at Traidcraft India as Business Associate. He is a development professional with 4 years’ experience of working on livelihood having expertise in sustainable agriculture supply chain, social enterprise development & Women, economic empowerment.

He is an MBA in Rural Management from Xavier Institute of Social Service (Rural Marketing as specialized subject). Previously he has work with BIRSA, a social organization on Forest Rights, Livelihood & Sustainable agriculture in Jharkhand

Subodh Kumar

Sr. Business Associate

Subodh works at Traidcraft India as a Sr. Business Associate. He is a young development professional with 6 years of experience. Subodh is an Agriculture graduate from Allahabad Agriculture Institute, Allahabad, Master’s in Development Management from Tata Dhan Academy, Madurai and Post Graduate Certificate in International Organization Management from the University of Geneva. Prior to joining Traidcraft, Subodh has worked with TechnoServe India and Aga Khan Rural Support Program India. Subodh holds expertise in Institution building, capacity building, sustainable agriculture, value-chain development, and market linkages of the various agriculture crops. He has worked in various states including Gujarat, Maharashtra, MP, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha.

Priyashri Mani

Associate Consultant

Priyashri Mani is the Associate Consultant (Women’s Economic Empowerment) in Traidcraft India. She has 10 years of experience in the development sector working with marginalised communities in the areas of livelihood, women’s empowerment, and indigenous people’s rights. She has a Masters’ degree in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) University of Sussex, UK and a Bachelors’ (Hons) in Sociology from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi University.

Jyoti Prakash

Market Engagement Expert

Jyoti Prakash works with Traidcraft as Market Engagement Expert and has more than 15 years of experience in strategy formulation, implementation and management of “Livelihoods, Enterprise development & Market Engagement” projects. His professional strengths include conceptualising and facilitating implementation of innovative strategies and methodologies in the areas of Livelihoods , Enterprise promotion, Market Engagement, Value Chain Development, Institution Building and Development Research.

Rohan Preece

Manager – Business and Human Rights

Rohan Preece is the Manager – Business and Human Rights at Traidcraft India. He has around 15 years of experience across private sector, government and third sector contexts in India, including work with youth, in India and the UK. He has worked on gender-related monitoring and evaluation and documentation assignments for a range of organisations including Save the Children India and, while at Praxis-Institute for Participatory Practices. In his work with Partners in Change, he led a number of projects on business and human rights and corporate responsibility. His work contributed to the establishment of Fair Finance India, a civil society coalition that engages constructively with the financial sector. He has experience of addressing human rights issues in factory settings and in supply chain settings in India and of working with grassroots organisations. His sectoral engagement experience in India encompasses the financial sector, textiles and apparels, footwear and electronics. He holds a MA (Hons) degree from the University of Cambridge and a University of London MA in education and international development.

Dipankar Sengupta

Supply chain expert

Dipankar Sengupta is the supply chain expert at Traidcraft and has a PGDABM (Post Graduate Diploma in Agribusiness Management) from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and a PGDRD (Post Graduate Diploma in Rural Development) from Xavier Institute of Social Service. Before joining Traidcraft he worked with Rallis India where he focused on creating agri-solutions. His work experience includes assignments at Bayer CropScience Limited and Tata Chemicals.

Maveen Pereira

Director programme

Maveen Pereira has over 35 years of development experience working at different levels from grassroots to senior management.  As the Director programme, Traidcraft Exchange, she leads strategic planning, program development and management across South Asia and East Africa. Having worked directly with workers, small producers, she has a sound knowledge of the challenges faced by them in their bid to access markets sustainably.  She helped launch the first Fair Trade label in India – Shop for Change – using a multi-stakeholder approach. Prior to joining Traidcraft, she was faculty in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is a graduate from TISS and holds a PhD in Sociology from University of Mumbai.