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Social compliance and its requirement in the leather industry

By jiyaexim

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Globalization has provided the leather industries with opportunities to approach the labour markets. The ever-increasing global demand for leather and leather products continues to rise, since the global population and the standard of living increases rapidly every year.  

The leather manufacturers faced a return on their demand due to the shift of the global tanning industry to the developing countries. Simultaneously the developing countries flourished generating foreign exchange and local employment.

The Indian leather industry is recognized as one of the most promising foreign exchange earning sector. The leather being one of the most widely traded commodities has an increase in demand, driven primarily by the fashion industry. It has occupied a place of predominance in the Indian economy because of its massive potential for employment, growth, and exports.

Since 1989, the leather sector has suffered successive foreign environment-bans. Along with this, few domestic regulations resulted in the closure of many leather tanneries as well.

Nevertheless, the government regulations and successive compliance measures adopted by the industries ultimately helped the industries to restructure its technology and led to growth in the export industry.

It analysed the far-reaching impact of these environmental directives on the export sector of the Indian leather industry. The significant change in environmental quality, due to compliance measures adopted by the leather sector, prioritised this issue for analysis.

But, with the advent of the 21st century, the ever-growing export industry faced new challenges. There was a demand for affordable best quality leather goods.

The demand was not only for the best quality goods at affordable rates, but also to ensure adherence to the social compliance of local labour laws and strict maintenance of hygienic conditions at the factories.

Social audit now emerged as a new global service. A set of social auditors surveyed a few top leather factories that supplied and exported leather goods in countries. This was done to ensure that the industry stops the practice of low-cost labour and cheap raw materials. Their attempt to easily access the affluent markets with much less production cost was invigilated.

Observingly, the industry exposed crucial social risks including labour rights violations such as child labour and wage theft. It needed immediate attention, adherence to a conformity of social regulations and sector-specific protocols.

So, how were these social compliances assured to adherence?

Due to the suspected unethical labour practices throughout the world. The manufacturers had to ensure the supply of ethically produced leather products.

Previously the auditors ensured that the manufacturers complied with the legal requirements. But later on, the industry owners voluntarily assured fair and ethical labour practice. This aided in maintaining their reputation.

India, being a leather product sourcing destination for many international brands. The increase of leather sourcing entailed the emergence of social compliance programs in the leather goods factories. All compliance programs are not only aimed to follow the legal compliance but also focused on improving workers’ conditions in the export-oriented factories.  

Other disturbing issues like child labour, minimum wages and health & safety at the workplace too were tackled quite successfully by ensuring that they comply with the social regulations.

The industries established a continuous process wherein the involved parties strived to incorporate effective measures to protect the well-being, safety and fundamental rights of their employees. Additionally, protect and enhance the community and environment in which they operate.

This program is based on adherence to governmental regulations, established by certified conformance to international standards such as SA8000.

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The defined parameters for compliance in the leather industry:

 No Child Labour – Child labour is understood as the practice of employing a child who is at an age younger than the legal minimum age. This practice is likely to interfere with his or her right to education or to be harmful to their physical, mental and social development. With concern to the social compliance program, it is the deciding parameter. It merely states that the exploitation of a child or any other vulnerable group of people is unacceptable.

We at Jiya Exim believe No Child should be forced to labour.

The social compliance program affirms that the industry owners should not employ any child younger than 14 years of age. Also, all children under the age of 18 should not be hired to work in a dangerous workplace, night shifts and should be given more breaks in their working hours.

Apart from the  age restrictions, the standard requires that:

  • They should not work during school hours.

  • They should not work for more than eight hours per day

  • They should not be subjected to unsafe working conditions.

Comply with regulatories: The companies should abide by all applicable rules and regulations and the standards pertinent to their specific industry. Organisations should continuously strive to meet industry standards as far as possible. The industries manufacturing activities must comply with the state and local requirements.

Required leverage to employees: Organisations ought to respect their employees and make significant attempts to improve their conditions but simultaneously ensure that they comply with the specific requirements relating to employment conditions.The social compliance program states that the economic upgrading of the industry and changes in market conditions will increase firm revenues per worker. The local situation related to workers’ organization and struggle shall increase in wages and improvements in working conditions.

Remuneration and other benefits: Organisations cannot withhold or deduct salary for any reason unless permitted by national law. The employees should receive overtime compensations and other benefits. The company should comply with all applicable regulations relating to wage and working hours, including minimum wages, overtime reimbursement and other elements of compensation.

Work duration: The organisations should maintain employee work hours which must comply with the local standards and applicable laws of the jurisdiction. Usually, the maximum standard working time is 48 hours and 60 hours per week including the overtime of 12 hours.

The derivatives grant suppliers more leniency concerning the working hours. The organisations should allow at least one day of rest after six consecutive days of work. However, in exceptional cases the national law enables them to make the employees work extra provided they are given the overtime compensation. Although this overtime work should not exceed 12 hours.

Forced Labour: To meet the ever-increasing supply needs, some organisations resort to compelling labourers to work. The social compliance program entitles the organisation to refrain from forcing any labourer to work for them against their will. They should work as per their will not by compulsion. They cannot directly or indirectly make them work against their consent. Also, the laborers should not be forced to work by withholding their personal documents, salary or benefits.

Health and safety: The welfare and safety of the employees is a comprehensive requirement for companies to be compliant regarding the elimination of dangers in the workplace.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) a measure utilised by workers to limit exposure to hazardous situations. They should be provided with access to safety eyeglasses, hardhats, high-visibility clothing, gloves, earplugs, hairnets, safety boots, safety harnesses, respiratory equipment, and hazmat suits.

SA8000 PPE requires that the organisations should rely on PPE controls only after effective health and safety hazard elimination and minimisation efforts have been exhausted, or as an additional control measure when other controls have been applied.

To ensure the welfare and safety of the employees, the requirements are:

  • Organizations must consider the impending health risks for expecting and nursing mothers.

  • The staff should be given appropriate protective equipment to prevent any injury.The employees should be allowed to use clean lavatories, potable water, and sanitary facilities for storing their food.

Non-discrimination: Even today the cultural differences create perceptions and biased behaviour. The organisation should ensure that all the terms and conditions of employment should base on an individual’s ability, instead of judging them by physical characteristics or beliefs. Employees must not be exposed to physical punishment, threats of violence or physical, sexual, psychological and verbal harassment.

The SA8000 standards refrain organisations from discriminating against their employees by race, origin, caste, gender, religion, political association, and other attributes.

Freedom to affiliate: Organisations must give their employees the right of choice. They should be given the freedom to choose whether they want to associate with the organisation or not. Law can somewhat assert this point. It grants employees to make their trade union and work as a group. SA8000 affirms organisations to allow workers to elect their representatives freely. It also protects workers belonging to unions from discrimination, harassment or intimidation.

Work environment: The organisations should provide adequate working conditions for the employees. It should include sanitation, First Aid, drinking water, emergency exits, safety procedures for hazardous activities and accident prevention. Also, other facilities like proper maintenance of all machinery, meal breaks, sufficient ventilation, temperature controls and lighting and residential facilities.

They should assure all of this complies with the worker safety laws and regulations.

Management system :For being SA8000 compliant, the management should take corrective actions, preventive measures, policies, and documentation.

  • The senior management must convey their intention of being  SA8000 complaint to the staff in the form of a written policy statement

  • The organisation should document the conformance and implementation of the compliance appropriately.

  • They must set up a Social Performance Team (SPT) to identify, assess risks and oversee implementation of the SA8000 standards.

  • The staff should be trained to implement the SA8000 standard.

Environmental: The inclusion of environmental standards is a new variable in the access of global trade and market. The organisations should ensure compliance with environmental laws relating to the recycling and disposal of dangerous materials.

At JIYA, we strive to achieve global requirements with respect to social compliances and its directives. All our units strictly adhere to environmental and social policies. Our SPT convene at regular intervals and take feedbacks from all the employees with respect to their grievances and other issues.

Our goal is not only to provide customer satisfaction, but also take care of our employees and the environmental issues as well.   

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