Press Release: EU citizens demand transparent and fair production of shoes and leather

Press Release: EU citizens demand transparent and fair production of shoes and leather

For immediate release

Labour Behind the Label

7th April 2016


EU citizens demand transparent and fair production of shoes and leather

A delegation of the Change Your Shoes consortium brought the campaign’s demands to the European Parliament

15 MEPs from different members states and political groups attended the Change Your Shoes meeting in Brussels. They were presented with the European citizens requirements: we want more transparency in the supply chains of shoe and leather industries, strict criteria for incoming goods and better information provided by labels on our shoes. These demands result from 12 open debates, the People’s Meetings, which took place in 12 European member states including London, England, as well as from the Virtual March to Brussels supported by 16.000 European citizens.

Change Your Shoes raises awareness among citizens, brands and policy makers about the need to address the human and labour rights abuses in shoe and leather supply chains: low wages, excessive overtime, unsafe work environment and lack of true freedom of association is the everyday experience for thousands of workers producing our shoes. 24 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide in 2014. 88% of all this production comes from Asia.

At these 12 open People’s Meetings 767 participants, including experts, policy makers, trade unioninsts and accademics discussed and developed proposals on how EU trade and development policy can be improved to better protect labour and human rights of those who work on goods for European market. A summary of the 12 People’s Meeting report was handed out to the MEPs and its key areas demands were presented:

  1. We need more transparency in the shoe supply chain: as people become aware of the low standards of working conditions in the shoe and garment industries arround the globe they come to realise there is not much we know about any specific t-shirt or pair of boots we are buying. It should be mandatory for EU based brands to publish their supply chains so that they could all be readily linked to conditions in specific factories. An EU-controlled label should mark that minimum social requirements are being met.
  2. We demand control of goods entering the EU: goods that enter the EU should be made with respect to human rights and and with fair working conditions. Social barriers should be set to goods trespassing the EU borders as a tool for improving conditions were they are made and trade agreements should reflect that.

“We want the EU to introduce legislation to regulate the industry, protect workers and inform consumers in an easy and accessible way about the conditions under which their shoes were produced and the toxic content they may have”,  states Ilana Winterstein, UK coordinator of the campaign Change Your Shoes.

This demand for more transparency was supported by 16,000 citizens through a mobile application that counted their steps and added them in a Virtual March to Brussels. Together they collected over 63 million steps, although only 59 million were required to reach Brussels from 28 member state capital cities.

Eci Ernawati, from the Trade Union Rights Center in Indonesia, also partner of the Change Your Shoes’ Consortium, explained to the MEPs the specific conditions of labour rights in her country where there is a lack of enforcement of labour law leaving workers without effective protection. Wanti, an Indonesian homeworker, brought her testimony of the conditions of her work. When she can work 10 hours a day she is paid about 800,000 rupia a month; the equivalent to approximately £43. According to Asia Floor Wage Alliance, the living wage in Indonesia is around £243, which means workers like Wanti remain trapped in a poverty cycle despite her long working hours.

Homeworkers in Indonesia, as well as in other Asian contries, have no contract, no health insurance and no security of employment. Acording to Indonesian local governments, homeworkers are not even officially workers and have no right to join a union.

“European brands should be aware of homeworkers conditions and take steps to protect their rights. Homeworkers are not always aware of those rights and have no bargaining power whatsoever in front of the factories they work for from home. They cannot protest because they would be easily replaced, but they need the money for their households” states Eci Ernawati, from the Trade Union Rights Center.

MEPs that attended the meeting were moved and engaged in a fruitful dialogue with the consortium representatives about how they could promote better working conditions in shoe producer countries from the EU.


Press Release: New research uncovers hidden women who stitch our shoes

Press Release: New research uncovers hidden women who stitch our shoes

For immediate release
Labour Behind the Label
8 March, 2016

New Research Uncovers Hidden Women Who Stitch Our Shoes

A new report, ‘Stitching Our Shoes’, launched today, on International Womens Day, by campaigning groups Labour Behind the Label and Homeworkers Worldwide, uncovers the reality of exploitation in the supply chains of many leather shoes sold on our high streets. The UK is one of the largest footwear markets in the world, with each person in the UK buying, on average, five pairs of shoes per year. New research has found that homeworkers, an invisible workforce of women earning poverty wages in precarious employment, form a key part of the leather shoe supply chain.

There are thousands of women homeworkers in the Indian leather shoe sector alone. These women, often married with young children or elderly parents to look after, mainly stitch the uppers of shoes, one of the most back-breaking and labour-intensive parts of production.

In Ambur, Tamil Nadu, India, homeworkers typically earn less than 10 pence for each pair of leather uppers they hand-stitch, which are sometimes sold by British brands for over £100 per pair. This is well under a minimum wage, let alone a living wage. With no health insurance or benefits afforded to their factory counterparts, this pay does not allow for the medical attention necessary to deal with regular health complaints such as skin rashes from the chemicals used in leather tanning, numbness in the hands, back pain and eye strain.

“We have nothing. That’s why we know this is employer exploitation. We have no other way. That’s why we are involved in this work” Shanti, a homeworker from Tamil Nadu region in India.

These are invisible workers, employed directly by factory middlemen without contracts or any legal or social protection. They provide both the low-cost labour and the flexibility that is so sought after by UK shoe brands.

“Today we may earn 50 rupees but there is no guarantee that we will have an income tomorrow. Those who work in the company have some guarantee for work but we don’t. There is no job security” Sumitra, a shoe homeworker earning 7 pence per pair of leather shoe uppers she stitches.

Many brands themselves deny knowledge of homeworkers in their supply chain
and tracing the origin of a pair of shoes back to the workers who made them is virtually impossible due to complex global supply chains and a near-total lack of transparency in the industry.

“Homeworkers provide extremely cheap and flexible labour which suits shoe brands looking to maximise their profits, but is nothing short of exploitation. We need transparency in the industry to ensure the rights of homeworkers are respected and they are paid a living wage. Brands need to recognise homeworkers as part of their supply chains and publish their social audits and due diligence efforts, particularly in regards to treatment of homeworkers, instead of denying all knowledge or responsibility” said Ilana Winterstein, Communications Director for Labour Behind the Label.

‘Stitching Our Shoes’ report is available to download here: https://labourbehindthelabel.org/report-stitching-our-shoes/

Ilana Winterstein, Labour Behind the Label
Communications Director
Tel: 0117 941 5844

Jane Tate, Homeworkers Worldwide
International Coordinator
Tel: 0113 320 3214/ 07960214332

1. ‘Stitching Our Shoes’ report is available to download here: https://labourbehindthelabel.org/report-stitching-our-shoes/

2. 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.

3. Homeworkers Worldwide is a UK based NGO which works to supports
homeworkers around the world in their struggle for rights and recognition. HWW
support grassroots organising with homeworkers, campaigns for companies
to improve conditions for homeworkers in their supply chains and lobbies for
strengthened regulation to better protect homeworkers.

4. 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.

Report: Stitching Our Shoes

Report: Stitching Our Shoes

New report reveals hidden workforce of homeworkers stitching our leather shoes Our new report, ‘Stitching Our Shoes’, uncovers the grim reality of homeworkers in India, the invisible female workforce who stitch the leather uppers of shoes bound for sale in the UK. The...
The women who make your clothes

The women who make your clothes

THE WOMEN WHO MAKE YOUR CLOTHES Approximately 80% of garment workers are women. This is not by chance, but the result of gender discrimination which runs through the industry. Women are desirable in the garment industry because employers take advantage of cultural...
Press Release: Shopaholics, ditch your shoe guilt

Press Release: Shopaholics, ditch your shoe guilt

Shoeaholics, ditch your shoe guilt

Labour Behind the Label’s new Change Your Shoes campaign tackles working conditions and transparency in shoe industry


Ahead of shopping for your perfect Christmas party outfit this year, Labour Behind the Label, part of a network of organisation that supports and defends garment workers worldwide, are launching the Change Your Shoes campaign in the UK.

Made up of 18 organisations across Europe, Indonesia, India and China, the campaign is calling on the EU for regulations which promote, protect, and respect workers’ rights throughout the supply chain. Specifically, the campaign is calling for shoe workers to be paid a living wage and for companies who sell shoes in the EU to be forced to publish all information on their supply chain, from the factory to shop floor, including the use of toxic chemicals and working conditions.

The campaign has launched the Change Your Shoes app, which is free and takes just seconds to download. The app informs you about the shoe industry, sets out the demands for change and allows you to record your steps in support of the petition – donating them for the virtual march to Brussels.

This is no cobblers – by downloading the app you will be taking a small step to improving the conditions for shoe workers globally, and making your soles feel better.

So what do we know about the shoe industry?

Over 24 billion pairs of shoes were made globally in 2014 – that’s more than 3 pairs of shoes per person. The vast majority of shoes are made in Asia (88%), where working conditions frequently pose a serious health threat to employees.

The shoe industry is currently opaque and lacks transparency. Systemic human rights abuses pervade shoe making, from poverty pay, long working hours and denial of trade union rights, to significant risks to workers’ health and the environment through harmful chemicals and dyes.

The use of hazardous and toxic chemicals in leather products seriously endangers workers, as well as the consumers in Europe. For instance a by-product of leather production, Chromium VI, releases highly toxic carcinogens.

Earlier this year the Change Your Shoes campaign commissioned a European Nielsen survey. This found that 50% of Europeans have little or no information on shoe production. The survey also found that 63% of Europeans believe that the EU should impose regulations on goods entering the European market to ensure workers’ rights are protected.

By downloading the Change Your Shoes app when buying your Christmas party gear, and virtually stepping your way to Brussels, you can feel good in your shoes – and not just because they look good.

Your support will be a step towards the EU introducing legislation to regulate the industry, protect workers and to inform consumers in an easy way about the conditions under which their shoes were produced and the toxic content they may have.

Commenting on the initiative, Ilana Winterstein, from Labour Behind the Label said:

“We all love to buy a pair of killer new shoes for that long-awaited Christmas party, but how many of us actually know anything about where our shoes are made? Few of us are aware that only 2% of the shoes price is paid to the workers who made them, or that many leather tanning poses a serious risk to the workers’ health.

“The Change Your Shoes campaign is calling on the EU to make a difference to the lives of the millions of women employed to make our shoes. This step-change in regulation would protect workers, and help inform consumers about the toxins in the shoes they buy.

“Downloading the app, which will take just a matter of seconds, can help you walk tall this Christmas – no matter how high your heels are – in the knowledge that you are helping to ensure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh are a thing of the past.”


Notes to Editor:

About Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label supports garment workers’ efforts worldwide to improve their working conditions, through awareness raising, information provision and encouraging international solidarity between workers and consumers.

More information on Labour Behind the Label can be found here: https://www.labourbehindthelabel.org/who-we-are/

More information on the Change Your Shoes campaign can be found here: www.labourbehindthelable.org/shoes


About the Change Your Shoes app

The Change Your Shoes app can be downloaded for free from Google Play or the Apple Store on your smart phone.

The app sets out the demands for changes to the shoe industry, and allows you to record your steps and donate them for the virtual march to Brussels – steps will be collected from supporters all over Europe.

About People’s Meeting for the European Year of Development

Labour Behind the Label are hosting a people’s meeting on 12th December at Resource for London. The event marks the last of their activities as part of the EU International Year of Development and will be focused on the EU and workers’ rights.

The address for the event is:

Resource for London

356 Holloway Road


N7 6PA