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Improving the lives of Indian women
Improving the lives of Indian women
News Oct 23, 2017

Our Indian team helped women at an industry-leading stone factory to be recognised as official employees.

Women are often marginalised in the workplace in India and don’t have the employment benefits that many in other countries take for granted. Social security; receiving minimum wage; even just being named as official employees by the company they work for is something many Indian women don’t get. Head of TFT India Girish Kowale explains more in this video.

Since January 2019, TFT has become Earthworm Foundation.

This is one of several areas we are working to address and improve. Our Indian team have helped a number of women working at an industry-leading stone factory to be recognised as official employees. They now get social security, enabling them to save money for the first time, as well as free medical insurance for themselves and their families. This is one small instance of how we’ve approached the issue. But we want to shine a light on it to show that it can be overcome, because there is a challenge in bringing this change to a nationwide scale. Equality at the workplace in India is an enormous undertaking.

A 2016 United Nations study estimated around 120 million women work in what is known as the informal sector. A combination of traditional views and industry norms mean these women do not always enjoy the same work benefits as most men – getting paid lower wages and not getting pensions, heath insurance or sick leave.

Stone factories and quarries are subject to all forms of audits in order to tackle such issues. The trouble is they usually know when auditors are coming. With women and casual workers not officially on the payroll, they are often asked to leave when the audit takes place. Otherwise, it will be flagged up as an issue – there are women working here? Why aren’t they on the payroll?

Laws have been put in place to make such things mandatory. But the stone industry is pretty informal, and enforcement of local laws isn’t always that stringent. Putting women on the payroll also costs factories money and time spent on extra paperwork to make the necessary changes. The outcome of audits for women is their situation isn’t taken into consideration and life goes on as it was before. Our team, led by Girish Kowale, takes a different approach.

“It’s all about a change in mind set,” Girish said. “We don’t go to factories to tick boxes. We don’t always tell them we’re coming either. Our work is geared at developing relationships built on trust with them. Once they see we’re not here to try and damage their business, we usually see positive results.”

The aim is to identify the shop floor reality and the solutions to it. Of course, there is still a great deal of work to do in the industry to improve standards. But our experience working in this area over the last decade has taught us to focus on the solutions as opposed to just the problems. Better to take one step along the path to improvement instead of getting weighed down by the huge scale of the task of improving industry standards.

“Small changes can change lives, as they have done in this case,” Girish said. “We continue our work to improve more lives. And when we are told it is not possible to put women on the payroll in our many visits to factories and quarries in the future, we can show them it is. We can support them to do the right thing and change more women’s lives too.”

As well as talking about this example on our visits to other companies in India, we will also share with members of our Responsible Stone Programme. Our members are retail buyers and factories across Europe, India, China and Vietnam who import stone; whom we work with to improve working conditions in the places their stone originates from. In the greater scheme of things, The Forest Trust is an organisation of a little under 300 people. But our experience has taught us that change happens when different groups are able to work together to find solutions.

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