‘Safety gaps in auto supply chains’

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(This story originally appeared in on Jul 10, 2021)

Calling for an introspection in safety protocols of various supply chain firms in the colossal automobile manufacturing ecosystem, a study by the Safe In India Foundation (SII) has underlined gaps in 10 auto giants’ policy framework on ensuring safe working conditions for workers employed in their ancillary units.

The findings point to a “disrespect for the lives of workers and the conditions in which they work”. Describing the automobile giants as “role models”, it says they must set very high standards and “demand respect” for human safety in their supply chains.

According to the report, the SII team has assisted more than 2,600 injured workers from 2016-21 — 440 of these were in 2020-21, a year of curtailed manufacturing activity because of the pandemic — in the Gurgaon-Manesar and Faridabad automobile manufacturing sectors. It says around 70% of them have lost fingers or even hands to factory accidents, leading to permanent disability.

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“More than 90% of the auto sector workers that SII has assisted report that they were injured in factories supplying to one or more of the three largest OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in the region,” says the report.

The SII’s report is an outcome of its analysis of factory accidents and research of policies and practices of India’s largest OEMs, or auto giants. Among its main observations on the policy framework is that safety policies of most auto majors don’t explicitly say they cover contract/casual/temporary workers in their own factories and that seven out of the 10 companies don’t have a supplier code of conduct to align with National Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct (NGRBC).

According to the report, nearly 90% of the injured workers that SII assisted and analysed were migrants, from UP, Bihar and Odisha. Of them, 65% were contractual workers and 95% were not affiliated with any union that could fight for their rights. Further, the report finds that 59% of accidents happen on one type of machine — the power press.

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The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) acknowledged the problem and said the industry should come together to ensure safe working conditions for workers by borrowing from the best practices of automobile giants like Maruti, Tata and Bajaj. “Worker safety is good for business, good for productivity. There have been some good practices, but a lot more should happen. These are some areas that we found important to focus on in our engagement with member OEMs: How to share best practices on safety, how to engage with all levels of the supply chain, and focus on the issue of supplier code of conduct,” said Rajesh Menon, director general of SIAM.

Vinnie Mehta, director general, Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA), added, “The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of HR to an organisation — you need to take care of employees because they are important to business continuity and productivity.”

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