Shop Direct, NEXT & Varner work together to improve conditions for young women in South India’s fabric mills

Shop Direct, NEXT, Varner and the non-governmental organisation (NGO) SAVE have engaged almost 9,500 people in the first phase of a project to improve employment conditions for young women in South India’s fabric mills. The partnership is now gearing up for a second phase, due to launch later this year.

Phase one began in July 2018 and focussed on two mills and five villages in the state of Tamil Nadu. 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.

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. 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.

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

Following the success of phase one, Shop Direct, NEXT and Varner are working with Tamil Nadu-headquartered NGO READ on the design of a second phase which will launch before the end of 2019. 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.

Carly Bilsbrough, head of CSR at Shop Direct, which operates online retailers Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com, said: “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.”

Chris Grayer, head of CSR at NEXT, commented:“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.”

ENDS

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About Shop Direct

As the UK’s largest integrated pureplay digital retailer and financial services provider, Shop Directhas annual sales of £1.96 billion.

Later this year, we will rebrand to The Very Group as part of plans to bring our name and identity in line with our largest and fastest growing retail brand Very.co.uk.

Our other brands are Littlewoods.comand LittlewoodsIreland.ie. We receive an average of more than 1.4 million website visits every day, with 74% of online sales completed on mobile devices.

We exist to make good things easily accessible to more people. With our multi-category range of famous brands, market-leading technology and data capabilities and unique financial services products offering flexible ways to pay, we’re well placed to deliver on that promise.

We sell more than 1,800 famous brands, including big name labels and our own exclusive brands. We have four million customers and deliver 49 million products every year. Our free click-and-collect service, CollectPlus, delivers to 7,000 stores across the country, increasing ease and convenience for customers.

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