When was the last time you checked where your shoes were manufactured? If the label reads India, you may have had shoes produced by a woman who is paid less than $0.14 per pair, which are then sold for a minimum $60.
According to a report from Homeworkers Worldwide and Labor Behind the Label, India’s growing shoe industry relies on a middleman or rather, middle-woman, who works from home, earning less than the minimum wage and lacking any legal rights. While factories are employing workers at better wages to assemble the shoes, manufacturers are saving money by exploiting and outsourcing the labor intensive process of the stitching of footwear. The women are not even receiving the minimum wage required in India (126 rupees, roughly $1.91).
Worse, almost all of the women that are involved are from marginalized communities.
The working conditions for these women are horrific. The labor requires them to sit on the floor, crouched over shoes, stitching for long hours. This repeated activitiy of pushing thread through leather for hours upon end leads to neck, back and shoulder pain, eyesight problems and injuries to their fingers and hands.
“At times I work late at night. But when I do so, I can’t work the next day, my fingers are swollen.” ~ Sumitra, homeworker in India
Despite the horrific work conditions, these women told Cividep India and British NGOs, the creators of the report, that even in these conditions, they had little choice because of their responsibilities to their family.
India is the world’s eighth largest exporter of footwear. In 2014, there were 200 million shoes exported worldwide. But unfortunately, these conditions are not limited to India. There are similar working conditions in Eastern Europe, north Africa and even Western countries like Portugal and Bulgaria.
While these women may have limited choices as consumers, we do. Educate yourself on the brands you are choosing and be vocal to brands that choose to charge you for shoes at the expense of the health of women worldwide.