Twenty-four-year-old Vijay Kumar who hails from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh worked on a power press machine for an auto parts manufacturing company in Manesar, Haryana. He met with an accident in December 2017 while working on the machine in which he lost fingers of his left hand. Not only did he lose his finger but the family which was due to accept Kumar as their son-in-law rejected him subsequently.
On February 15, 2021, the power press machine that 35-year-old Pinky Devi was working on severed two fingers of her left hand. The machine makes automobile parts. Four months on, she is still awaiting financial assistance from her employer.
The two testimonies are among the 2,700+ stories of injuries to workers in the Gurgaon-Faridabad automotive belt that the team of Safe in India Foundation (SII) identified and provided due assistance in the past four years, including the COVID-19-induced lockdown period.
The belt which houses factories of Hero MotoCorp, Maruti Suzuki, Yamaha, Escorts, JCB, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India and Suzuki Motorcycle India, also has a huge base of parts suppliers that employs thousands of workers. There are numerous other such belts in the country in Pune, Chennai, Bengaluru, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Telangana and Rajasthan.
SafetyNiti 2021, a report prepared by SII provides a top-down analysis of the publicly available Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) policy documents of the top 10 auto brands in India.
“The auto brands’ OSH policies and practices are currently inadequate to promote and ensure worker safety in their deeper supply chain. Without improving these policies and their implementation urgently, we cannot expect a reduction in these accidents that are maiming thousands of workers every year. On the other hand, if we can get this right, given that the Indian auto sector is about half of the Indian manufacturing GDP, this will have a positive spillover effect on all Indian manufacturing and thereby on Indian labour productivity, which, ranked at 115, is one of the lowest in the world,” Sandeep Sachdeva, Co-founder and CEO of SII.
The report added that according to their 2020 public opinion poll, auto brands hold the main responsibility for improving working conditions in their supply chain.
“After all, they have created and are the beneficiaries of this supply chain. They also have the most commercial influence to drive the safety culture in these factories. Their influence over creation and implementation of government labour policies is obvious,” Sachdeva added.
SII reviewed publicly available documents of ten auto brands, Ashok Leyland, Bajaj Auto, Eicher Motors, Hero MotoCorp, Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India, Hyundai Motor Company India, Mahindra and Mahindra, Maruti Suzuki India, Tata Motors and TVS Motor Company. Automotive companies are responsible for the entire supply chain which are split into Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers.
The report states that the OSH policies of most OEMs do not explicitly state that they cover contract/casual/temporary workers in their own factories. None of the OEMs has a standard operating procedure or an OSH implementation plan for their deeper supply chain. None of the OEMs appears to have a stated human rights policy in the public domain, although they mention “respect human rights”, or similar language in some of their other documents.
Of the 10 OEMs, SII found the publicly available OSH-relevant policies of Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, and Mahindra to be relatively better in their coverage of OSH, though they too have considerable ground to cover, particularly with regard to their deeper supply chain.
SII could not find any relevant best practices in the available policies of Hero MotoCorp. A mail sent to Hero MotoCorp, which is also India’s largest two-wheeler maker, remained unanswered at the time of publishing this article.
India is the world’s fourth largest automotive market which manufactures everything from basic mopeds to large multi-wheel tractor trailers to construction equipment. The country is also the world’s biggest market of two-wheeler, three-wheelers and tractors. The industry contributes 7 percent to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but in contrast, India’s labour productivity is ranked 115th, among the lowest in the world, potentially also due to poor working conditions.