In the cut-throat world of garment manufacturing, those most vulnerable are the people making the clothes. With incredibly high production targets and low profit margins, Indian manufacturers face immense competition, both domestically and internationally. Brands, and the demands of fast-fashion, place immense pressure on manufacturers. This burden often falls on the lap of vulnerable factory workers. Garment workers are largely uneducated females who have little to no knowledge about their rights. Often, they have travelled from their hometowns to urban industrialized regions in order to gain employment. Thus, they are frequently in places foreign to them with no real support system or knowledge. It is in these circumstances that these workers are very susceptible to exploitation and abuse.
Shahi, however, takes immense care to curb any potential exploitation. With multiple internal committees, suggestion boxes and HR help-desks, workers are provided multiple avenues to air any grievances. Furthermore, Shahi’s Organizational Development (OD) department’s sole focus is to improve worker welfare and shop-floor conditions. Over the past many weeks, I have had the pleasure of working within this department and observing some fantastic initiatives firsthand. What stood out to me was the number of educational programs Shahi had for workers. The largest of this is the Personal Advancement for Career Enhancement (PACE) program. This program provided workers with life skills training by covering modules on communication, financial literacy, problem-solving, time-management and many others. Since the its initial implementation in 2007, thousands of women have graduated from this course. There have been rigorous assessments conducted that have demonstrated PACE’s benefits, these include higher likelihoods of promotion, lower attrition, better time management, increased worker satisfaction and higher rates of efficiency. Thus, with more efficient workers and lower attrition-rates, there are great business benefits of such programs. This is an embodiment of Shahi’s core principle that worker welfare is good for both business and society. The OD team at Shahi implements a number of such programs, thereby providing tremendous educational opportunities for workers, while giving back to the business in the long term. This heavy investment in worker empowerment drastically curbs exploitative practices that are often associated with garment factories.
To further Shahi’s tremendous commitment towards worker welfare, the OD department strives towards creating a safe environment that facilitates freedom of association amongst workers. Traditionally, worker’s attempts at freedom of association and collective bargaining have been severely crushed by management – however, Shahi desired to change this. Thus, my project this summer was to develop a framework that would provide workers with avenues for collective organization and safe freedom of association. Workers’ collectives would fulfill many roles ranging from grievance redressal to worker education. Furthermore, ensuring the freedom of association would enable workers to act in their own best interests. Hence, this was a major step towards overall worker empowerment. It is through initiatives like these that Shahi sets themselves apart and transcends the traditional imagery of exploitation evoked by garment factories. By maintaining this intense focus on worker welfare, they successfully limit the exploitation of workers. Furthermore, this enables them to successfully achieve the customer’s high demands without compromising on working conditions. I look forward to coming up with some innovative ideas that provide worker welfare as well as business related benefits!