A new report by Homeworkers Worldwide finds Dalit women working in global leather supply chains being subjected to discrimination, insecure work, low wages and labour rights abuses, including sexual harassment.

The report, Due diligence in Tamil Nadu leather footwear manufacture, identifies caste and gender discrimination as one of the root causes of worker vulnerability and rights abuses in the sector and calls on brands to address the issue directly with their suppliers. The Dalit Solidarity Network UK and IDSN Director was consulted on the project.

Working with animal hides is historically an occupation assigned to the lowest castes in India, as it is considered ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’, and the report finds that it is Dalit and Muslim women who are predominantly engaged in this work.

Some of the major labour rights risks identified include:

  • Barriers to Freedom of Association and anti-union attitudes
  • Health & safety hazards (strain injuries, exposure to solvent fumes, etc)
  • Low wages, especially for workers employed on a casual basis and homeworkers
  • Excessive, often involuntary overtime
  • Potential barriers to employment and promotion to supervisory grades facing Dalit/Muslim womenIrregular employment of factory workers employed on a daily/contract or piece-rate basis, and of homeworkers employed to carry out hand-stitching through informal sub-contract chains
  • Internal mechanisms for workers

Workers surveyed reported verbal, physical and sexual abuse by supervisors and management, however, the report found that internal mechanisms for workers to raise grievances or discuss conditions with their employers were poor or absent. This indicates that this is an area that needs urgent remedy.

The report is funded by the Ethical Trading Initiative and offers key recommendations for brands who seek to identify issues in their Tamil Nadu leather supply chains and address them.

Homeworkers Worldwide can also help address issues around homeworking in India through the new Hidden Homeworkers project, co-funded by the European Community, working in partnership with Traidcraft Exchange and HomeNet South Asia, and their member organisations.