Day of action calls for urgent change for workers in the shoe industry

Day of action calls for urgent change for workers in the shoe industry

Waste from leather tanneries in Bangladesh (c) GMB Akash

6 October 2017

Day of action calls for urgent change for workers in the shoe industry

  • Concerned groups will be taking action at shoe stores in Bristol, Exeter, London and Manchester on Saturday 7 October – join an event near you
  • Petition already has over 10,000 signatures asking Schuh, Office, Harvey Nichols, Primark, Boohoo.com and other leading UK brands and retailers to publish supplier information and take responsibility for working conditions

People across the UK are taking to shopping centres this weekend to call for urgent action to improve safety and conditions for workers in the global shoe industry.

Groups are coming together in Bristol, Exeter, London and Manchester after hearing about the dangerous conditions and poverty wages endured by people toiling in leather tanneries and shoe factories to make the footwear we buy on our high streets. On Saturday 7 October, they want to share this message with shoppers and encourage shoe brands to Step Up and respect the workers who make their shoes.

Organised by Change Your Shoes – a partnership of 18 organisations across Europe and Asia – the ‘Step Up’ day of action falls on the World Day for Decent Work, when organisations around the world call for decent wages and safe working conditions for all workers.

85% of all leather sold in Europe is tanned with chromium, often in countries like India and Bangladesh. The leather tanning process produces a toxic chemical called chromium VI which can cause asthma, eczema, blindness and cancer. When it transfers to waste water it causes harmful pollution to the environment and to those living and working nearby. Campaigners are calling on leading shoe brands to move away from the use of toxic chemicals in shoe production. They are also calling on these brands to show that they are willing to be held accountable for working conditions by publishing details of all their suppliers, and to respect the human rights of all workers who make their shoes.

“We all buy shoes. But how many of us know the reality behind the boots and heels we buy?” said Nicola Round from Labour Behind the Label. ““We have written to 11 leading UK shoe brands and retailers, but unfortunately most have not responded fully to our questions – including Schuh, Primark and Boohoo.com. Harvey Nichols and Office have not responded at all. Shoe brands hide behind a lack of transparency and public awareness, but their customers want to know that the people who make their shoes are treated with respect. That’s why people around the country are taking part in this urgent day of action. Over 10,000 people have signed our petition so far, and we want to give more people the opportunity to make their voice heard.”

A parallel petition calling on other leading fashion brands to be more transparent has been signed by over 70,000 people. “There is now a growing and unstoppable movement for transparency in the fashion industry”, says Round, “People across the world are waking up to the links between the shoes and clothes they buy and exploitation of workers by well-known brands.”

As a result of increased campaigning in recent years, many big fashion brands have now started publishing information about their suppliers. Shoe and leather brands are lagging behind, but some steps are being taken. UK brand Clarks has recently committed to publishing supplier information, an important step forward for workers’ rights.

Change Your Shoes interviewed workers from a factory in Indonesia, owned by the Danish shoe brand ECCO. “We were pleased to find examples of good working conditions at this factory,” says Round. “Wages are on living wage levels, contracts are permanent, and workers are able to join a union. Sadly this is not the case for many of the workers who make our shoes. But examples like this prove that brands can be responsible. We will continue to work with all brands to improve supply chain transparency and working conditions. And we call on all brands to make urgent changes to stop workers risking their lives for poverty wages every day.”

Watch: Killer Heels at London Fashion Week

Watch: Killer Heels at London Fashion Week

19 September 2017

We’ve been up at London Fashion Week asking shoe brands to put an end to Killer Heels. Toxic chemicals produced in the tanning of leather in countries like India and Bangladesh are endangering workers’ lives and polluting rivers and soil. It’s time for UK shoe brands to take responsibility.

You can:

  • Watch the video
  • Read more in our blog on Huffington Post
  • Sign the petition calling on shoe brands to Step Up and take responsibility for workers’ safety
Activists demand an end to Killer Heels at London Fashion Week

Activists demand an end to Killer Heels at London Fashion Week

Labour Behind the Label activists demand an end to Killer Heels at London Fashion Week (c) Anthony Wilks

Labour Behind the Label
19 September 2017

Activists demand an end to Killer Heels at London Fashion Week

As London Fashion Week 2017 comes to a close, activists from campaigning group Labour Behind the Label were there to highlight the deadly use of toxic chemicals putting workers lives at risk in the tanning and production of leather shoes. Dressed in boiler suits, masks and gloves, protective work-wear that many tannery workers are denied, campaigners raised awareness of the harmful processes used in making leather shoes.

Chromium tanning accounts for approximately 85% of all shoe leather tanning, and the mishandling of tanning agent Chromium III can result in Chromium VI being produced, a severely toxic and carcinogenic substance which can cause lung cancer, asthma, skin ulcers, nose bleeds, fevers, headaches and eczema in workers. India is the worlds second largest producer of footwear, with leather shoes a key part of their industry, and the UK is one of the main importers of Indian leather shoes. Many tanneries in countries such as India and Bangladesh ignore health and safety regulations, demanding that workers handle dangerous chemicals without training, offering no protective clothing so workers are forced to wade in vats of chemicals with their bare skin.

The UK is one of the world’s largest consumers of shoes, with each person buying an average of five new pairs per year. The near total lack of transparency throughout the shoe industry means it is virtually impossible to buy a shoe on the high street and trace its origins. With UK brands, including Harvey Nichols, Schuh, Office and Boohoo, providing little to no information on where or how they source their shoes there is little evidence that workers rights have been respected. Brands must step up in terms of transparency and provide information on their supply chains to guarantee that workers rights are protected.

Nicola Round, Campaigns Director at Labour Behind the Label said: “We need to put an end to killer heels. Workers in tanneries risk their lives daily to make leather for our shoes, using toxic chemicals without any protection or safety regulations in place, and suffer with cancer, skin and respiratory conditions as a result. We need urgent reform in the shoe industry and greater transparency in order to protect workers. No one should risk their lives making shoes. We call on UK brands to move away from the use of dangerous chemicals and to publish information about their suppliers, respecting the rights of all their workers and showing that they are not afraid to be held accountable for working conditions.”

Sign the petition calling on UK shoe brands to Step Up and take responsibility for working conditions


For more information on the Change Your Shoes project, please see: www.labourbehindthelable.org/campaigns/shoes/

Change Your Shoes is a partnership of 15 European and 3 Asian organisations. We believe that workers in the shoe supply chain have a right to a living wage and to safe working conditions, and that consumers have a right to safe products and transparency in the production of their shoes.

Labour Behind the Label is the UK platform of the Clean Clothes Campaign. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) works to improve conditions and support the empowerment of workers in the global garment industry. The CCC has national campaigns in 15 European countries with a network of 250 organisations worldwide.

Please see www.labourbehindthelabel.org and www.cleanclothes.org for further information.

Giving Labour Rights the Boot: Working Conditions in the Turkish Shoe Industry

Giving Labour Rights the Boot: Working Conditions in the Turkish Shoe Industry

Report: Giving Labour Rights the Boot

Working Conditions in the Turkish Shoe Industry

This study from INKOTA (Germany) reveals the extent of widespread labour law violations being committed within the Turkish footwear and leather industry. EU member states, most notably Germany, are the main consumers of footwear produced in Turkey. Together with Labour Behind the Label and other partners in the Change Your Shoes coalition, INKOTA is calling upon European footwear companies to ensure that human rights are upheld in countries producing their products, such as Turkey, and to publicly report on workers’ rights.

The study investigates the situation facing workers at Turkey’s shoe and leather production sites. As part of the Change Your Shoes campaign, a number of interviews were conducted with individuals employed at Turkish tanneries, leather-processing plants and footwear manufacturers. Their testimonies paint a picture of a footwear and leather industry where structurally caused labour law violations are commonplace. Workers reported earnings that fell short of a living wage, inadequate protection against occupational health and safety risks and an alarming rise in informal employment. There were also reports of excessively long workdays and discrimination against trade unionists.

Download the report here >>

Published July 2017

Action Update: Summer 2017

Action Update: Summer 2017

Find our what Labour Behind the Label have been up to in our bi-annual Action Update.

Our Step Up campaign launched in May to demand transparency from shoe and clothing brands. Read on to find out which brands we’re targeting and how you can get involved, by signing our petition or by joining our army of activists who are out there talking to store managers and demanding change. Also in this update you will read about our speakers tour, our most successful
Six Items Challenge yet and an update about the Bangladesh crackdown which happened at the end of last year which saw workers and activists arrested simply for demanding better working and living conditions.

Read it here: Action Update Summer 2017