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Report: Agra’s Footwear Sector has Widespread Child Labor

Agra—the Indian city home to the Taj Majal—is coming under fire for the prevalence of child labor in its footwear sector.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) and iMentor Development Services Pvt. Ltd., reported that between October 2014 and December 2016, child labor was highly widespread in Agra—where footwear production is the second most important economic sector after tourism. According to FLA and iMentor, a quarter of the city’s population works in the footwear sector—manufacturing roughly 200 million pairs of shoes each year with the help of child labor for India’s shoe market.

Commissioned by the Stop Labour Child Coalition (SCL) and with additional support from footwear brands sourcing from Agra, FLA and iMentor shared their findings in the report, “Children’s Lives at Stake: Working to End Child Labor in Agra Footwear Production.” Findings from the report indicated that insufficient education infrastructure for children and low wages for adults were the primary causes of prevalent child labor in the city. Even though the team found that export-focused factories have implemented measures to prevent child labor, the use of subcontracting and informal piece-rate work may be in part to blame for the prevalence of child labor.

For the project, staff from FLA and iMentor visited Agra to learn more about the city’s education challenges. After surveying 36 families in an area where most people work in informal footwear manufacturing, the team found that nearly 20 percent of children from surveyed families helped their families make footwear. While visiting small manufacturing units, the team found children to be involved in various shoe-making tasks, like hand stitching, machine stitching and thread cutting. While local officials said child labor was illegal at registered manufacturing facilities with five or more workers, home-based work units were more likely to operate on child labor.

Stakeholders said poverty is likely to blame for Agra’s reliance on child labor since actual wages in the home-based footwear industry often are below the legal minimum wage and parents working in the industry don’t make enough money to support their families. A survey conducted by the team, which looked at 200 households from Agra’s footwear manufacturing communities, found that nearly 95 percent of these families relied on the informal footwear sector as a primary source of income. Most families had a combined monthly income lower than INR 9,000 ($147.67), which is the minimum monthly salary rate in India. Because of poverty, there also aren’t enough low-cost or free schools to serve children in these footwear manufacturing hubs, who often work for their families or attend schools that aren’t equipped with the right resources.

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Following the conclusion of the project, the team recommended that Agra develop a “Child Free Labor Zone” pilot in collaboration with brands, civil society, community members, the government and suppliers. With the “Child Free Labor Zone,” participants would work to end child labor in the footwear sector and other industries that are prone to child labor in Agra’s geographical region. In addition to creating a “Child Free Labor Zone,” the team also suggested that international brands sourcing from Agra take additional precautions to prevent child labor at small workshops and home-based manufacturing units.

Brands should directly work with suppliers to provide guidance about child labor risks and obtain information about potential child labor issues in upstream supply chains. Brands can also conduct regular facility audits and focus closely on child labor issues—including unauthorized subcontracting. Lastly, according to the report, brands should avoid engaging in purchasing practices that may encourage child labor, like placing economic pressure on contractors, suppliers and subcontractors to quickly turnaround goods without ethical practices.