Women homeworkers play a key role in the production of leather shoes for multinational retailers and brands. Whether they are working in Bulgaria, Portugal, India or Chile, homeworkers in the leather footwear industry do a similar job - hand stitching shoe uppers, particularly for moccasin or boat style shoes. They work in poor conditions producing goods with a high retail value.
These women face similar problems - their pay is low and they have no rights or job security. This needs to change and we are campaigning for rights and respect for the homeworkers who stitch our shoes.
Homeworkers in South India
“Whether we like it or not we have to stitch.. It is our means of livelihood.” - Pushka, a homeworker.
Thousands of women in Ambur, South India, work as homeworkers stitching shoes for export to the UK. These women earn less than 10p for a pair of shoes sold in the UK for between £40-£100. Their pay is low but also insecure. They have no guarantee of work from one day to the next.
Sumitra, a homeworker in Ambur explained, ‘Today we may earn 50 rupees but there is no guarantee that we will have work tomorrow.’
The work provides essential income, but pay is below minimum wage, let alone living wage. They have no rights or protection. They are not recognised as workers and do not get employment benefits such as health insurance, pensions, or health and safety protection.
Yet their work is vital to the industry. The hand stitching of the uppers is one of the most labour-intensive stages in the production of many styles sold by UK retailers.
Homework or No Work?
The answer to these problems is not to try to stop homeworking - this would be the worst possible outcome for the homeworkers in Ambur. Homeworkers want to improve conditions, not lose their work, and in Ambur they are organising to fight for their rights.
Gowri described her aspirations as homeworker, “First, equal treatment for homeworkers and the factory workers because both of them are human beings, both of them are spending their energy.. So both should get equal payment for a pair.”
What needs to change?
Brands and retailers need to map their supply chains to understand and recognise the role of homeworkers in producing their shoes. They need to work with homeworkers and their organisations to improve pay and conditions .
Homeworkers should be recognised as workers with equal rights, as acknowledged in the ILO Convention on Homework (177)
We need regulation for greater transparency from companies and legislation that is binding on companies to take responsibility for conditions in their supply chains wherever in the world they are sourcing from.
To achieve this we need to support homeworkers in organising to build a strong voice, and put pressure on companies to listen to their demands.
What do you think?
We have produced an in-depth report, Stitching Our Shoes which details the issues faced by homeworkers in South India, the responsibility companies have to take action and what homeworkers themselves are doing to bring about change.
Since we launched our Stitching Our Shoes report, we’ve been talking to members of the public about what needs to change. We also asked people to share a message of support and solidarity with the homeworkers we are working with in South India. Here is what you had to say:
“You work so hard to support yourself and your family, and you deserve recognition and respect for your work from your employers.”
“All homeworkers should have security of employment and a decent wage.”
“Put the boot into the companies that exploit workers.”
“Workers need a good standard of living, decent wages and laws to protect them.”
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