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Tell us who made our shoes! Thousands call on leading UK brands to come clean, and to stop endangering workers

Tell us who made our shoes! Thousands call on leading UK brands to come clean, and to stop endangering workers

Campaigners with the petition outside Office Shoes in London_Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label
6 December 2017

Tell us who made our shoes! Thousands call on leading UK brands to come clean, and to stop endangering workers

  • 13,606-strong petition received in person by Schuh, Debenhams, Harvey Nichols and Boohoo.com, as well as leading brands across Europe
  • Campaigners disappointed that no response has been received from Office Shoes

13,606 people have called for leading UK shoe brands and retailers to step up and tell us who made our shoes, and to stop endangering the lives of the people who make them.

The petition, organised by Labour Behind the Label and the Change Your Shoes coalition, was delivered to 11 brands in the UK and 15 brands across Europe, on behalf of thousands of citizens who want to know that their shoes are made by people who do not risk their lives when they go to work each day.

24 billion shoes are produced every year – three pairs for every person on the planet. 87% of shoes are made in Asia, where millions of women homeworkers stitch shoes for our high street stores but endure extremely low wages, health problems and insecure work. In leather tanneries, the use of toxic chemicals and dyes can expose workers to toxic substances, including Chromium 6 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.

Increasing demand from Europe, and competition between brands to provide the cheapest, fastest products, means shoe workers in Asia and Eastern Europe are under pressure to produce more and more, often working unpaid overtime in factories and facing dismissal or intimidation if their try to speak up for their rights. These poor working conditions are hidden from us because most brands keep their supply chains a secret.

But now citizens across the UK and Europe are waking up to these problems, and want to know that their shoes are not harming people or the environment. Thousands of people are calling on big brands to publish information about where their shoes are made, to stop using toxic chemicals in the production process and to provide living wages and decent working conditions.

Nicola Round from campaigning group Labour Behind the Label said, “In London, Debenhams received our petition and said they are on track to publish their supplier list online this year. This is a welcome step towards greater accountability and we look forward to meeting them again soon. In Livingston, UNISON Scotland handed the petition to Schuh who said they are open to our recommendations. In Manchester we were joined by local group Stitched Up to hand the petition to Boohoo.com, who have so far not provided an adequate response to the concerns raised in the petition. Harvey Nichols in London also received our petition and we look forward to further discussions with them.

“But we are disappointed that Office Shoes declined to receive the petition in person, and have so far failed to respond to the campaign despite letters, emails, phone calls and a personal visit from campaigners. We are concerned that a leading brand appears to be actively ignoring questions from a growing number of citizens about the conditions in which their shoes are made. We will continue to try and speak to Office about their supply chain and about steps they can take to identify risks and protect workers’ safety and rights.

“We’ve handed each of these brands a shoe box containing the petition signatures, along with testimonies from workers in India and Bangladesh to show the reality that shoe workers face each day. Rizia, a tannery worker in Bangladesh, earns less than £40 a month and says she cannot sleep at night because of the itching on her skin. Selvi, a 21-year old homeworker in India earns just 6-7 pence a pair for stitching leather uppers for shoes, hard work which causes pain in her shoulders. We want brands to investigate and identify risks to workers in their own supply chains, and take steps to improve conditions for the people who make their shoes.

“The petition has also been sent to Asda, Boden, Dr Martens, Sports Direct, Primark and Very.co.uk. Boden and Dr Martens have replied to our original letter, but we are awaiting a full response from the other brands.”

In Germany the petition was handed to Deichmann, who said they will work on improving conditions for workers in their supply chain. In Poland the largest shoe company in the country, CCC, received the petition and said they will take steps to monitor their supply chain. In Italy, the 13,606 names were handed to luxury brand Prada, who have so far been unresponsive to the demands for transparency. In Spain the petition has been handed to Camper who have recently begun to publish some information about their suppliers. The petition has also been handed to four brands in Finland.

Ms Round said: ““The growing movement for transparency cannot be ignored. A parallel petition calling on global garment brands to be more transparent, including Primark, has received over 70,000 signatures.

“As a result of public pressure, major brands have this year committed to publishing supplier information, including Clarks in the UK who responded positively to an earlier letter from us about the need for greater transparency. Many brands are still not keen to talk about working conditions, and there is still a long way to go until workers in the shoe industry get a fair deal. But it’s promising that some big brands are now waking up and see that the only way forward is to listen to customers’ concerns and workers’ needs, and show they are willing to be held accountable. We will continue to work with shoe brands to improve supply chain transparency and working conditions, to stop workers risking their lives for poverty wages every day to make our shoes.”

The Change Your Shoes coalition presented the petition to MEPs in Brussels on 20 November, demonstrating that there is public pressure for change in the shoe industry, and calling on the EU to make it mandatory for companies to disclose the names and addresses of their suppliers.

Will H&M deliver on its promise to pay a living wage in 2018?

Will H&M deliver on its promise to pay a living wage in 2018?

25 November 2017

Garment workers are waiting for an answer – will H&M deliver on its promise to pay a living wage in 2018?

Four years ago today, fashion giant H&M made a bold promise that, if kept, would mean a game changer for the industry. On 25 November 2013, the company vowed to pay what H&M calls a ‘fair living wage’ to the garment workers in its supply chain by 2018. On the fourth anniversary of H&M’s historic statement, with 2018 just around the corner, Clean Clothes Campaign – including UK-based Labour Behind the Label and global partners – are anticipating the moment next year when every garment worker who stitches clothes for H&M will receive a living wage.

H&M actually paying garment workers a living wage would be a ground-breaking development, as up until today poverty wages remain the norm in the global garment industry, including throughout H&M’s supply chain. The wages that garment workers, most of which are women, currently receive are miles away from what would constitute a living wage: a salary that would enable a worker to live a decent life, including a healthy diet for a worker and their family, proper housing, access to medical care, access to education and transportation and some discretionary income, to use in case of unforeseen events.

Over the past five years since declaring their living wage initiative, H&M has been notoriously opaque regarding its plans, which has raised questions as to whether their promise was merely a publicity stunt to allay public concern about their fast fashion brand. Currently, average wages at H&M supplier factories in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and India are only slightly above the national minimum wages. In Bangladesh, for example H&M claims that workers at its suppliers earn on average $87 per month, which is even below the World Bank poverty line of $88 per month. As a result of their low wages, workers and their children suffer from malnutrition. Estimates on what a living wage constitutes vary, but on average they indicate that wages in Bangladesh would need to triple in order for workers to afford a healthy diet, proper housing, access to medical care and access to education for children. The dire situation of workers stitching clothes for H&M in Bangladesh became particularly clear in December 2016 when thousands of workers spontaneously hit the streets to protest for higher wages in the district of Ashulia, many of which worked for factories supplying H&M.

The low minimum wages in garment producing countries are set nationally by the government. However, these governments are slow in raising wages out of fear of losing garment orders critical to the national economy, leading to an international race to the bottom. Ineke Zeldenrust, of Clean Clothes Campaign, explains: “Brands could influence these wages, by reassuring governments that raising minimum wages will not make them leave, investing in long term relationships with their suppliers and assuring them that they will continue to receive orders even if prices go up, and taking direct responsibility for wages through direct payments on top of their orders to their supplier factories, to increase wages to living wage standards. As the most important player for Bangladesh’s exports, H&M can have considerable influence over these wages.”

Shortly after the great fanfare of their remarkable living wage promise, H&M set out to reformulate this promise towards a less ambitious course. Instead of paying all the workers in its supply chain a living wage directly, H&M clarified it would only put ‘mechanisms’ in place which would enable payment of living wages to at least 80% of the workers its supply chain. The actual practical and measurable steps to achieve this goal have not been shared publicly, nor has H&M been transparent about its wage pilot projects. This precludes workers and labour organisations from tracking progress of H&M’s living wage promise.

The goal that H&M set itself in 2013, to pay a living wage to 850,000 garment workers in their supply chain, while ambitious, is certainly possible and affordable for a company with the size, profit, and power of H&M. For example, the company’s chairman himself, Stefan Persson, could easily provide the H&M workers with a top up on their wages until the moment that H&M has sorted out the payment of a living wage. He is currently worth 19.9 billion dollars, which would be enough to pay all H&M garment workers in Bangladesh a full living wage for the next thirty years.

Ineke Zeldenrust states: “H&M certainly has the financial means to ‘walk the talk’, and has stated time and again they want to be a leader on these issues. We have looked at the numbers and if H&M were to reallocate just one year of its annual advertising budget towards wages, they could pay their Cambodian workers a living wage for 6.5 years.”

H&M’s net profit in 2016 was over $2 billion USD (18,636 million SEK). It would cost H&M only 1.9% of this profit to pay all its workers in Cambodia the additional $78 USD every month they would need to meet a living wage standard. 

Notes to the editor:

Benchmarks on what constitutes a living wage in Bangladesh differ. The current minimum wage (5,300 taka) is only 27% of the average of these estimated living wages.

 

Global Living Wage Alliance (2016) Wage Indicator Foundation (2016) CPD & Berenschot (2013) Asia Floor Wage Alliance (2015)
BDT 16,460 (Dhaka)
BDT 13,630 (satellite cities)

> BDT 12,200

 

< BDT 18,000

BDT 17,786 BDT 37,661
Current wages would have to almost triple to reach living wage standards. Current wages would have to double to triple to reach living wage standards. Current wages would have to triple to reach living wage standards. Current wages would have to septuple to reach living wage standards.
http://www.isealalliance.org/sites/default/files/Dhaka_Living_Wage_Benchmark_Infographic.pdf http://wageindicator-wages-in-context.silk.co/page/Bangladesh CPD & Berenschot (2013) Estimating a Living Minimum Wage for the Ready Made Garment Industry in Bangladesh. https://asia.floorwage.org/

 

Labour Behind the Label campaigns for garment workers’ rights worldwide. Labour Behind the Label represent the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) in the UK. The 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.

Contact:

Ineke Zeldenrust, Clean Clothes Campaign, ineke@cleanclothes.org, +31 20 4122785/+31 6 51280210

Watch: Unpredictable and insecure: shoe workers in Agra, India

Watch: Unpredictable and insecure: shoe workers in Agra, India

Unpredictable and insecure: shoe workers in Agra, India

 

 

For contract workers who make shoes in Agra, work is unpredictable. Their salaries are low, they have no social security and cannot form trade unions to make their voices heard.

Sign the petition calling on shoe brands to publish supplier information and respect workers’ rights.

This video has been produced by Nazemi for the Change Your Shoes campaign.

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