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Pilot to improve conditions in India’s fabric mills expands

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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A pilot by Shop Direct, Next, and Varner alongside non-governmental organisation Save, which focused on improving employment conditions for young women in South India’s fabric mills, is gearing up for a second phase, due to launch later this year, following the initial success.

Phase One began in July 2018 and focussed on two mills and five villages in the state of Tamil Nadu, where approximately 950 workers have since received training and support to boost life skills, confidence and awareness of employment rights, with the aim of enhancing peer interaction, improving relationships between workers and managers and establishing better policies, procedures and grievance handling systems, explained the retail companies.

This was supported by village-based outreach to more than 8,500 people, designed to raise awareness of issues affecting female mill workers among potential employees, their families and local communities.

Community activity included mass awareness days on gender equality and labour welfare, using digital content and actor performances, while 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’ and in schools, teachers and students learned about child rights, labour laws and the negative consequences of leaving education early.

The project also worked with mill recruitment agents to ensure fair, ethical recruitment practices, by creating a pool of preferred agents and establishing a code of conduct, regulated by a committee.

Carly Bilsbrough, head of corporate social responsibility at Shop Direct, which operates online retailers Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com, said in a statement: “The feedback we’ve received from mill workers and local communities involved with our programme has been very positive and we’re now working hard to finalise plans for the next phase. In the longer term, we’re keen to work with other retailers, mills and communities in Tamil Nadu to improve the lives of young women and their families on an even greater scale.”

Following the success of phase one, Shop Direct, Next and Varner are working with Tamil Nadu-headquartered non-governmental organisation Read on the design of a second phase which will launch before the end of the year. Working with an additional mill as well as the mills and villages from phase one, this will include an education programme for children aged six to 15, the launch of an app for workers to provide feedback and setting up community centres and resource groups.

Chris Grayer, head of corporate social responsibility at Next, added: “As part of our commitment to protect human rights in our supply chain, NEXT continues to work in collaboration with other retailers to further research and establish best practice for worker recruitment in South India’s fabric mills.

“The success already achieved from the first year’s work has provided benefits, underlining the value of collaboration and recognising the efforts of all stakeholders who have worked together on this programme.”

Shop Direct