Communities case study
Empowering workers in India's mills
Why Southern India?
Implementing training programmes that engage workers and the communities in which we operate helps us improve conditions in our suppliers’ factories.
In India, concerns have grown in recent years regarding labour rights violations around the practice of hiring young women into spinning mills in southern India.
For us to address these concerns we recognised the importance of collaboration, so partnered with retailers Next and Varner, along with local NGO, SAVE, to develop phase one of the project. The project’s aim was to increase awareness and bring about positive change amongst agents, mill workers and wider communities themselves.
Thousands of people have been reached through our community programme, which was designed to raise awareness of issues affecting female mill workers, as well as their families and local communities. Village committees were established to ensure the protection of child rights and observance of labour laws, while families with young children took part in interactive sessions to learn about issues related to underage employment.
Other community activity included mass awareness days on gender equality and labour welfare, using digital content and actor performances. Young women aged 12 to 17 took part in sessions on personal development, health and life skills leading to the creation of an ‘adolescent parliament’. In schools, teachers and students learned about child rights, labour laws and the negative consequences of leaving education early.
We wanted to ensure the adoption of fair recruitment practices among agents across five villages. Setting up agent coordination committees created an ongoing dialogue between agents, mills and the wider community. Having a preferred pool of ethical recruiting agents also raised the level of expectations for what is required from them if they are to successfully recruit into the mills in this area.
Within the mills, we worked to ensure better relationships between workers and leadership teams.
Thousands of workers received training and support to boost life skills, confidence and awareness of employment rights. This training enhanced peer interaction, improved relationships between workers and managers, and supported in establishing better policies, procedures and grievance handling systems.
Since the project launched, we have reached over 31,000 people. 15 local agents agreed to adhere to best practice recruitment guidelines. We have also managed to conduct grievance redressal and life skills training with over 1,000 workers.
We will continue to evolve this project, setting up community centres in villages to support worker pre-departure training. We will also launch an app allowing workers and their families to raise grievances and seek remedy. We aim to build on the success of programmes like this and further our ambition to have a positive impact on all the communities we operate in.