Amy Victoria Benstead
University of Manchester, UK
& Linda C Hendry
Lancaster University, UK
The invisible worker: Who's stitching your shoes?
This paper investigates how vulnerable homeworkers are supported in global supply chains. Home workers are the hidden workforce in the fashion industry and products such as footwear require hand stitching which often takes place by women in their homes in rural, low income areas. Current social sustainability practices in the industry focus on the visible workforce in Tier 1 factories. Yet homeworking takes place in dispersed global supply chains often organised through a network of agents resulting in a lack of visibility. Legislation protecting the workers is also often weaker. Homeworkers are therefore a vulnerable workforce and can be subject to exploitation.
Current sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) literature has considered the link between buyers and first tier suppliers for managing sustainability and researchers are beginning to consider how responsibility can be delegated amongst sub-suppliers in complex multi-tier supply chains. In the context of homeworking, research has focussed on NGO led initiatives rather than buyer driven action for improving working conditions. Using a longitudinal case study, this paper considers the buyers’ perspective and their ability to drive change.
Initial findings suggest that homeworking gives women an identity, the opportunity to access flexible work and support their family. Evidence shows improvements can be made through working with a local and international NGO to map the supply chain and further understand the challenges facing the homeworkers. This has led to internal changes relating to policy and purchasing practices and external improvements to the working conditions for the homeworkers such as fairer pay. These research findings will be of benefit to the fashion industry aiding managers to improve their social sustainability in the context of homeworking.