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Next and Shop Direct support Indian mill workers

Fashion retailers Next and Shop Direct are continuing to support female fabric mill workers in southern India, as part of a non-governmental organisation-led (NGO) project.

The first phase launched in July last year and, with the help of Scandinavian retailer Varner and NGO Save the Children, has helped around 9,500 locals thus far.

Phase two will kick off before the new year and will continue to focus on the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where an additional mill will also receive support. This brings the total to three mills and five villages.

Plans include a new education programme for six-to-15-year-olds, an app for workers to provide feedback,  community centres and resource groups.

Hoping to improve employment conditions for young women in southern India’s fabric mills, workers have already received training and support to “boost life skills, confidence and awareness of employment rights, with the aim of enhancing peer interaction, improving relationships between workers and managers, and establishing better policies, procedures and grievance handling systems”.

Other activities include: raising awareness of issues affecting female mill workers among employees, families and local communities; creation of village communities to protect child rights and observe labour laws; awareness days on gender equality and labour welfare; sessions for young women; and the creation of an “adolescence parliament”.

Teachers and students have also learned about children’s rights, labour laws and the “negative consequences” of leaving education early.

Carly Bilsbrough, head of CSR at Shop Direct, said: “The feedback we’ve received from mill workers and local communities has been very positive, and we’re now working hard to finalise plans for the Next phase.

“In the longer term, we’re keen to work with other retailers, mills and communities in Tamil Nadu to improve the lives of young women and their families on an even greater scale.”

Chris Grayer, head of corporate social responsibility at Next, added: “Next continues to work in collaboration with other retailers to further research and establish best practice for worker recruitment in southern India’s fabric mills.”


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