Nest Ethical Compliance Standards for Home and Small Workshops: A much-needed step in the right direction
Nest Ethical Compliance Standards for Home and Small Workshops
There is an urgent need to bring homeworkers into the folds of compliances and regular monitoring for decent working conditions. In India particularly, a lot of handwork is done by women sitting at home with work coming mainly through agents or buying offices.
These workers are not being regulated, similar to those working within the factory, often leading to disparity in both wages and working conditions. Taking the lead in this direction, Nest – a non-profit organization founded in 2016 and working towards building a new handworker economy to generate global workforce inclusivity, improve women’s well-being beyond factories, and preserve cultural traditions of craft – is working hand-inhand with brands, philanthropists, and artisan businesses to develop ethical compliance standards for home and small workshops.
The initiative – Nest Artisan Advancement Project – is in recognition of the enormous industry-wide need for reliable third-party assessment of artisans and homeworker supply chains that are often buried deep within the unregulated informal sector and complex subcontracting supply chains. It is intended that the verifications of these standards reflect the various layers within the complex supply chain of artisan and subcontracted labour. These standards provide the structure for the Nest Assessment Tools and inform any remediation programming, following an assessment.
The standards address various aspects of the supply chain business relationships among artisans, sub-contractors and wholesale and retail businesses. Significantly, the standards do not supplant any local laws, rules or statutes that may apply. The objective is to use these standards to verify the ethical compliance of the decentralized aspects of production, ensuring that policies and procedures dictated by the central business are understood and carried out by all subcontractors and are present in all workshops. If the business is employing multiple subcontractors, it is expected that all subcontractors are following the same guidelines. In situations where multiple craft types are utilized (i.e. weaving and ceramics), it is conceivable that Nest will be verifying only one specific craft technique. If so, the seal will dictate the specific craft which has been verified for the business. The use of a seal will be approved only after the completion of a qualified assessment. The industry has come out in support of the initiative. Says Janhavi
Dave, International Coordinator, HomeNet South Asia (HNSA), Ahmedabad, “In the current scenario when companies are not recognizing homeworkers in their supply chains, the NEST Ethical Compliance Standards for Home and Small Workshops is a welcome move. It does recognize that homeworkers are part of the supply chain and has a well-researched and understood section on wages.” However,
Janhavi points out that Nest has not mentioned ‘homeworkers’ in the entire document. ‘Artisans’ and ‘workers working in home workshops’ are the phrases that have been used alternatively for ‘homeworkers’. “The reality is that homeworkers may or may not be
artisans (or skilled workers).
Many homeworkers conduct small jobs on garments like cutting threads, stitching buttons, putting drawstrings, etc. Also, most homeworkers work as individual workers from their own homes and not from home workshops,” argues Janhavi.
Artisan craft production is cited as a US $ 34 billion global industry and the ILO cites more than 300 million home-based workers in the world. All major issues from working time to child labour to fair compensation to health and safety concerns form an integral part of the standards and have been developed within the standards. Using its internal assessments as the starting point, Nest carried out comprehensive reviews of existing factory auditing standards including SA 8000,
FLA and Fair Trade USA, to build the foundations for the Nest Standards. Nest also consulted with compliance experts as well as numerous artisan business leaders, to further weigh in on the Standards.
HomeNet South Asia (HNSA), as a network of home-based workers across the South Asian region, really appreciates the inclusion of ‘legal minimum wages including piece rate wages’, ‘time motion studies’ to determine piece rates again to meet at least the minimum wages, ‘striving for payment of living wages’ (even though it is only aspirational), ‘sub-contractors to uphold company policies’, ‘inspection of sub-contractors’, etc. While appreciating the initiative as a step in the right direction, it hopes that NEST Ethical Compliance Standards would further work towards a separate compliance standard for homeworkers in supply chain, as a lot of work is being done by homeworkers from their homes and not from workshops. The place of work is the differentiating factor for the compliance standards. Other areas that HNSA is keen to see within the standards are:
Have a section on social security, which not only meets the local legal requirement, but clearly mentions extension of companyprovided social security for all workers, including homeworkers. Recognize that many homeworkers in the supply chains are women and have special section on violence against women at the place of work, childcare and maternity benefits.
A section on skills’ upgradation for homeworkers, through CSR activities, which further boosts production.
Recognition and encouragement of organizing as a tool for reaching out to homeworkers in the supply chains and working towards collaborative solutions.
According to an official release,
Nest views these standards as the starting point as these supply chains have such variability and nuance. Nest knows that each level of the supply chain – whether it’s the central business, subcontractor, small workshop or homeworker – have their own expectations placed upon them in terms of compliance. It takes participation from all levels to lead to a successful system. Nest also anticipates future additions to this set of standards, both through standards review process as well as through the addition of more robust environmental requirements.
The purpose of the Nest Standards is to make home and small workshopbased labour for the fashion and home industries (with potential application for broader industry types) visible and safe, in accordance to standards agreed upon across the entire retail industry.
Nest is currently reaching a population of more than
67,000 individual artisans spread out across more than 50 countries and representing more than 350 artisan businesses practising very diverse craft types. More than 42 artisan businesses across 5 countries (India, Kenya, Mexico, Philippines, and Peru) have participated in the piloting of
Nest Compliance for Homes and
Small Workshops, contributing to improved transparency and increased wellbeing of an estimated 11,000 hand workers.