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Resuming the Factory Support Programme

By 15 March 2024April 2nd, 2024No Comments6 min read

After a one-year hiatus, the Factory Support Programme resumed in 2023 with Paradigm Shift as implementing partner. In addition, a pilot programme was carried out by Cividep in Bangalore. The programme aims to improve working conditions in the readymade garment supply chain of participating companies by improving dialogue between workers and management and strengthening grievance mechanisms at factory level.

Project activities continued and were restarted with EK Fashion, Fabienne Chapot, Erve Europe, The Sting Companies, WE Fashion, O’Neill and Prénatal and one or more of their suppliers and their buying agents. The brands and their buying agents played a crucial role in nominating and motivating suppliers to participate in the training trajectory. The importance of improved labour-management dialogue and effective grievance mechanisms was discussed in detail with suppliers prior to the implementation of training sessions. Brands explained how improvements in these areas can benefit both workers and the business. The commitment of brands to support suppliers in this journey is key, especially when serious grievances were raised by workers.

Training approach of Paradigm Shift

In each factory, the training process begins with an informal assessment to understand the status and functioning of the works committee and the internal complaints committee. Dialogue sessions are then held with top and middle management to establish common ground, understand the production and human resource challenges facing management and agree on next steps. Workers’ rights awareness sessions are then organized for all workers, followed by works committee elections and capacity building for committee members.

The training programme does not consist of fixed training modules; instead, interactive training and facilitation methods are central to the approach. To build trust in the committees and increase their visibility, elected representatives visit production sites and departments to share information and collect workers’ grievances. The committee representatives discuss the complaints raised and develop plans to address them.

Workshop approach of Cividep

The pilot programme focused on creating conditions for open communication between management and workers. To ensure this, a series of facilitated dialogue sessions are held with factory management and workers (both separately and collectively). The initial sessions are centered around creating a mutual understanding of the purpose and process, as well as building trust between management, workers and the Cividep facilitators. These sessions provide an opportunity to openly share challenges that the garment industry faces in the production cluster. The next phase consists of facilitated dialogue sessions between management and workers together in which management and workers exchange their concerns amicably and search for common ground. The final phase consists of review meetings with factory management and the respective brand.

Background information: Worker-management committees in India

The 1947 Industrial Disputes Act provides for the establishment of a works committee for any factory with 100 or more workers and a grievance redressal committee for factories with 20 or more workers. These committees can take up issues or grievance related to laws and policies applicable to the company.

The 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act provides for the establishment of Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) in factories with 10 or more workers. ICCs prevent and redress gender-based violence and sexual harassment at the work floor.

In most of the garment factories in India the above-mentioned committees exist on paper only, they do not function as prescribed in the respective Acts.
Improved worker-management dialogue, structured in the form of worker-management committees or otherwise, can play a crucial role in addressing and preventing issues and grievances that workers face daily on the shop floor. 
Worker-management committees are not a substitute for unions and the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. In fact, according to Indian legislation, worker committees are not allowed to do this.  

2023 Results

In 2023, Paradigm Shift implemented the training program in 15 production units of 12 garment suppliers in Tamil Nadu and the National Capital Region (NCR). The baseline assessments conducted in 11 factories showed that 6 factories had committees on paper and were not functioning, 2 factories had no committees and 3 factories had committees that were functioning. 

In Bangalore, a pilot project was launched with two brands, two suppliers and Cividep, a labour support organization, as the implementing partner. Cividep’s approach is slightly different: instead of using the workers’ committee structure, it facilitates dialogue between management and workers outside the established structures, focusing on creating an environment for open communication and exchange between management and workers. In separate workshop , a group of workers and factory management were prepared for the process. Dialogue sessions between them were facilitated accordingly. Cividep also uses participatory and creative methods, including role-playing. 

By the end of 2023, all factories across all programme locations (including the Pilot in Bangalore) were at different stages of implementation. In factories where elections had taken place and committees had been set up and trained and/or dialogue sessions between management and workers had been held, workers began to share their grievances with committee members and factory management. Workers raised a range of grievances, including discrimination in the allocation of work (particularly relevant in the case of piece-rate work), sanitation and health facilities, crèche facilities, verbal and sexual harassment, transport to and from the factories, working hours and wages, and access to social security schemes.  

In 6 factories, worker-management committees drew up action plans to address the grievances raised, and in 6 factories management took action to address the issues. Grievances related to working hours, wages and social security are being discussed with senior management, brands and buying agents, as remediation of these issues has wider implications for production planning, costing and human resource management.  

The training programme has also provided a better understanding of the composition of the workforce, the number of migrant and local workers, contract workers, piece rate workers and the risks associated with these groups of workers. 

The next steps for the Factory Support Programme

Training activities will continue in 2024. Exchange and training meetings between committee members from different factories are planned. Handling and redressing grievances can be complex. There is a need to strengthen committee members’ knowledge of labour laws and their skills in documenting, investigating and redressing grievances.  

In the pilot project in Bangalore, it is being discussed how worker-management dialogue can be integrated in day-to-day operations in the factory. Through the workshops and dialogue sessions, the importance and advantages of dialogue were effectively communicated to supplier management. They will be encouraged to integrate these insights into the statutory committees, ensuring the continuation and sustainability of the initiated dialogue process. 

Worker-management committees or other structures that can facilitate dialogue between workers and management are not a substitute or replacement for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Nevertheless, they can serve as structures for workers to voice their problems and grievances and get them addressed, especially in the absence of unions. Mondiaal FNV, is contributing to the project by preparing a paper that clarifies freedom of association as a human right and sheds light on works committees as mechanisms for social dialogue and workers’ representation. On that basis, the paper furthermore explores the relations, linkages and possible progressions between functioning Works Committees and freedom of association.