We get lots of questions on how we maintain and ensure that our footwear factory overseas is providing a quality work environment for all employees. It’s a great question and we’ve written about such related practices previously here in the Sole Blog. But when trolling through some of these earlier posts I realized that we have not specifically laid out our criteria, findings, and notes in one clear and concise post. So here it is!
- Worker pay. The workers at Sarada Indistries, the factory we employ in Vijayawada, India, pays a fair wage to all workers well above the country base line for pay in this industry which I have to tell you is scary low. Unfortunately we do not have direct control over this as we do not own the factory. We have spent significant time there though, and in speaking with workers directly have learned that they are paid well and often it is the best paying job in the area for them!
- Worker conditions. After having spent significant time on the factory floor Rao and I can comfortably describe the factory as: Highly Functional. Much like you would expect a Toyota auto factory except WAY smaller and less high-tech. Everything and everybody has a specific purpose and process they follow. Defining functional means that adequate lighting and safety precautions are in place, each worker has a comfortable space to work within, a breeze and fresh air comes through large open windows, and ceiling fans provide a nice cooling effect in the warm South Indian climate. Hazardous materials are not used in the production of Common Soles footwear, in fact, our products are so simple that most materials and tools used to assemble them can be found in the typical homeowner's garage throughout the US.
- Child labor. Obviously no company can 100% guarantee this. It doesn’t matter who you are or what certifying body has given their stamp of approval, this isn’t a 100% guarantee. I just wanted to state that because many folks don’t realize just how twisted and serious of a situation this is. We of course tackled this issue with our factory as well and can promise you to the best of our abilities that we found no evidence of child labor at all – even with dozens of factory visits of which many were at random.
What made us feel especially good about this issue at our factory is probably the most solid response we could ever have gotten on why Sarada does not employ children. The answer basically boils down to this: The crafting of footwear is a time honored tradition in India. Often those who make footwear are the sons of footwear makers who were the sons of footwear makers, and so on, for hundreds of years. That familial legacy carries much pride with it and so there is no way a child could possibly be worthy of working alongside an experienced adult in crafting footwear. Children are indeed schooled in their parent’s trade, but this is often after their standard school day and in the home. Just like a parent who is a carpenter or mason would teach their child about their occupation here in the US.
Hopefully this blog post provides some additional insight for all you curious souls out there! I also recommend some good reading on Joseph Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel's Alta Gracia brand and operating their fair labor factory in the Dominican Republic via a quick article from the New York Times. July 16, 2010