Change your Shoes: EYD 2015 – Starting point of the way to an ethical and sustainable shoe supply chain

Thursday 30 April 2015

The main goal of the project is through advocacy, enhanced by better and relevant information, to enable the consumers to instigate policy change that, in the interests of human rights, will ultimately improve the working conditions and well-being of those further down the production chain in the shoe industry. The action will take place in 20 European countries.

The proposed action builds up of the European Year of Development 2015 (EYD) as a key opportunity to bring development onto the political agenda and closer to EU citizens. The EYD also raises the opportunity to mobilize participation of EU citizens in policy formulations around the post-2015 agenda.

Through a systematized, pan-European campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of chromium use in leather tanning and working conditions in tanneries and production sites, the partners to the project encourage the shoe brands and retailers to demonstrate allegiance to more sustainable practices through the supply chain. The main ecological and health problem in leather production in developing countries is the use of chromium that releases the carcinogen Hexavalent Chromium [Chromium (VI)]. This highly toxic chemical is not only endangering the workers in tanneries but also consumers in Europe, so the project will lobby European and national Eco labels to include a ban of the use of chromium in tanneries as well as lobbying the European Directorate-General for Health and Consumers for a mandatory labeling of leather shoes using chromium tanned leather.

The project will also encourage and support best practices from European shoe brands and present best practice from Europe Aid projects.

The project will implement and promote an exchange between workers’ rights organizations in production countries and European consumers through campaigns that will ensure that European consumers are able to understand and put pressure on European brands to improve the working, health and environmental conditions in production countries. This will support shoe production workers in developing countries and will lead to living wages, abolition of child labor and a healthy and safe working environment, especially for workers without a strong voice such as women and migrant workers. In the longer term – as we are living in an interdependent world - the shoe industry in Europe and especially in the CEE will benefit from a halt in the race to the bottom of wages and workers’ rights in the global shoe industry and be able to provide workers with decent and sustainable workplaces.

As this project covers the social and environmental impacts of unsustainable production patterns the co-applicants are a mix of human rights and workers’ rights organizations. Additional associates are national and international trade unions, human rights and workers’ rights organizations and consumer organizations.

The EYD 2015 represents an opportunity to raise awareness amongst EU citizens that they can both instigate policy change and influence EU policy to bring about coherence within development policy as well as consumer and economic policy. By emphasizing that EU citizens are deeply connected with people in developing countries through wearing of shoes produced there, media and information campaigns will make EU citizens aware that their lifestyle choices come with responsibilities. At a personal level they will then be willing to engage in discussions on the post 2015 agenda, especially on aspects of a Decent Life for All. EU citizens will get the opportunity to participate in “People’s Meetings” and put their demands to the EU. The inputs of these “People’s Meetings” and the findings of a Europe-wide piece of Opinion Research will lead to an Ideas Document to improve EU policy, especially EU development policy.

A media campaign will then show best practice examples of EU development activities and promote the list of further ideas and demands collected previously. To gain support for the demands and ideas from additional EU citizens a Smartphone app entitled “Virtual March to Brussels” will be launched during the media campaign. The demands and ideas will be handed over to MEPs and EU Reps at the end of 2015.

After gaining momentum during the EYD, the project will deepen the information and campaign work in the following years by further spreading information on the dangers of toxic chemicals in shoes for consumers and on the demands for a living wage and chromium free tanned leather via a social media campaign, materials and websites. Findings on violations of workers’ rights and ecological damage will be confronted with best practice examples of socially and environmentally responsible companies.

Having been made aware of violations of workers’ rights and ecological damage in different production countries, EU citizens will be engaged to support workers in production countries in their demand for a decent life. A complaint mechanism will be established that will inform EU citizens on actual workers’ rights violations, and give EU citizens the opportunity to demand the active engagement of shoe brands who are producing in these factories to end this violation of international labor law. To coordinate these activities in production countries and EU member states, meetings of the partners will be held. Workers’ representatives from production countries will visit EU member states to inform them on their demands and the progress of their work in the pilot factories.

The project will conduct a shoe brand assessment of European companies to define frontrunners and companies with no CSR and ecological measures in place. One reason for this is to inform EU citizens about the standards of European shoe companies and to help them in their consumer decisions. The other reason is to build up pressure on shoe brands to take responsibility for their supply chain.

One way for companies to work on improving the social and ecological standards in their supply chain is to join existing label and monitoring organizations who are working on such issues in shoe production. This “label check” will not only help EU citizens in their buying decisions but will also be a guideline for European companies as to the best label initiative or monitoring organization to join.

The present project benefits from synergies with the action “Mobilizing Europe for a Living Wage for Garment Workers”. Although the two actions deal with different sectors (garments and shoes / leather), experiences and successful tools will be shared and taken into account.

The action will contribute to the EYD 2015 and it will create important synergies with the ongoing awareness raising and educational work of the partnership organizations on decent work and the importance of CSR for development as an example for interdependencies between developing countries and Europe (e.g. Clean Clothes Campaign, Campaigns for fair working conditions in the electronic and toys sectors) and finally it will enforce the ongoing EU-wide process of imposing more and more restrictions on Chromium VI in leather products sold in the EU.

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