KnowTheChain: Outreach to footwear and luxury goods companies on forced labor risks in leather sourcing

In countries including but not limited to Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, leather processing is characterised by child labour as well as hazardous working conditions. In fact, Pure Earth, an NGO focusing on industrial pollution, has put the Hazaribagh tannery cluster in Bangladesh on the top 10 list of most polluted places globally, alongside with Chernobyl, and Doctors Without Borders set up clinics in this area, "the first time [the organisation has] have intervened in an area for reasons other than natural disasters or war". Further, working conditions in the leather industry in countries including Pakistan and India have been reported to be characterised by low wages, forcing workers to take out loans or work over-hours, as well as by forced overtime or non-payment of overtime. In particular, workers hired through contracts which have not received work contracts, as well as migrant workers and temporary workers struggle to enforce their rights, even more so where members of trade unions are discriminated against. Many of those labour rights violations may be early indicators or eventually lead to forced labour. In addition, in countries including India and China forced labour risks have been documented. 

KnowTheChain's apparel sector benchmark found very limited information on how companies address forced labour risks in their leather supply chain. In order to understand how companies’ headquarter level policies and processes are implemented in lower tiers of the supply chain, and how companies are addressing forced labour risks related to specific commodities, KnowTheChain is reaching out to ten of the companies it benchmarked recently in two sectors where leather is a key material: footwear and luxury brands. The findings will feed into the revision of KnowTheChain benchmark methodology.

The companies included in this outreach are:

Footwear companies:

Luxury brands:

  • Hugo Boss [response] (Following the research period, the company confirmed that in May 2017 it published its supplier list, and in June 2017 it joined the Leather Working Group.)
  • Prada [response]
  • Kering (Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Brioni, Gucci, Saint Laurent Paris, etc.) [responseadditional clarification]
  • Ralph Lauren
  • PVH (Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein) [response]

As part of this outreach, KnowTheChain aimed to get a better understanding companies' practices in relation to their owned brands, e.g. in the case of PVH the research focused on the companies' practices in relation to its owned brands Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

KnowTheChain sent 10 questions to the above companies, requesting disclosure on how the companies address forced labour risks in their leather supply chain. The questions have been developed in consultation with local stakeholders, and are based on some of KnowTheChain's benchmark themes. 

Further, KnowTheChain has reached out to multi-stakeholder and industry associations, to gain further information on how assocations support their member companies in addressing forced labour risks in their leather supply chains.

An analysis of the findings can be found here.

Evidence of poor working conditions in leather industry:

US Department of Labor: List of goods produced with forced labour

  • Brazil (cattle)
  • China (leather)
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27 March 2017

Outreach to footwear and luxury goods companies on forced labor risks in leather sourcing

Author: KnowTheChain

KnowTheChain's apparel sector benchmark found very limited information on how companies address forced labour risks in their leather supply chain. In order to understand how companies’ headquarter level policies and processes are implemented in lower...

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