Hundreds of workers still being injured in Indian automotive plants, warns report

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Hundreds of workers continue to be injured in the supply chain factories of India’s automotive industry, according to a new report published by the Safe in India (SII) Foundation, a non-profit organisation that campaigns for improved safety standards in the sector.

Around 800 workers employed in factories in Haryana that supply components for various automotive brands suffered serious and debilitating injuries in the financial year 2021–22, reports SII. Many of the injuries involve hands, fingers and limbs being trapped and crushed in power press machines used to cut and shape metal. Most of the injured workers are migrants and contracted staff, who are among India’s most vulnerable demographic.

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In its new report, SafetyNiti 2022, SII analyses the publicly available occupational health and safety (OSH) policies and procedures of India’s top 10 automotive sector brands for their own factories and their supply chains.

The report analyses and compares the OSH policies of the top 10 ‘original equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs – i.e. the biggest automotive brands), against international and national OSH-relevant laws and guidelines. The aim is to assess whether they are adequate to prevent accidents in their supply chains and whether the top brands’ OSH policies for their supply chain and contract workers have improved since the previous report, SafetyNiti 2021, was published in July 2021.

However, the 2022 report only analyses the presence – or absence – of OSH policies in general and provides some views on their apparent quality. It does not analyse or comment on the quality
of the implementation of the policies, says SII.

SII says that while it has been made aware of injuries to 3,955 manufacturing workers in the industrial areas of Haryana in the five-year period between 2016–22 (around 80 per cent of them automotive factory workers), in the last financial year (2021–22) it observed a spike in the number of overall manufacturing sector injuries in Faridabad.

According to SII, Faridabad’s overall manufacturing industry (including automotive plants) appears to have even poorer working conditions than Gurugram’s. In 2021–22, 562 manufacturing workers in Faridabad received assistance from SII after suffering injuries while 463 injured workers were supported in Gurugram.

“Approximately 80 per cent of workers in the automobile sector assisted by SII in the FN21–22 reported that they were injured in factories supplying to one or more of the three largest OEMs in the Gurugram-Manesar-Faridabad belt: Maruti Suzuki, Hero and Honda,” states the report.

“Although this has reduced from 90 per cent in the past year, the impact of Covid-19 on this trend is unclear. These three, therefore, remain the largest OEMs with most potential to improve this situation.”

Migrant workers continue to be the most vulnerable and account for the largest proportion of injured workers in the automobile manufacturing supply chain sector, the report found. In 2021–22, 87 per cent of the injured automotive workers assisted by SII were interstate migrants from across India; 80 per cent of these had migrated from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This proportion dropped from 92 per cent in the previous five years reported in SII’s CRUSHED 2021 report, probably on account of reverse migration during Covid–19 lockdowns, says SII.

However, SII says its analysis of the available OSH policies of the top 10 automotive brands covering their supply chains and contracted workers “reveals some progress” in 2021–22.

For instance, it says four of the OEMs have published a supplier code of conduct documenting the environmental, social and governance expectations they have for their suppliers, compared to two in 2020–21; and nine of the 10 now have their human rights policy available in the public domain, compared to seven in 20–21.

However, it says that while all 10 OEMs say they have an OSH policy for their own factories, only six have it available in the public domain (the same as in 20–21).

Also, the OSH policies of most OEMs do not explicitly state that they cover contract/casual/temporary workers and other categories such as apprentices, even in their own factories; and none of the OEMs appear to have a standard operating procedure or a comprehensive OSH implementation plan for their deeper supply chain, the same as in 20-21.

Also, none of the OEMs have publicly reported on whether they are pursuing activities and targets in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 8.8, which encourages all businesses to seek to protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers and those in precarious employment.

Commenting on the findings, Chitra Khanna, head of the safety initiative at SII, said: “We have started seeing progress with some of the auto sector brands in their OSH policies and actions for their supply chain – especially Maruti and Honda in Haryana. While Tata Motors, Bajaj, Hyundai, Eicher and Hero have also started participating in constructive discussions.”

Sandeep Sachdeva, co-founder and CEO of SII, added: “This is a national issue. We have been advocating for safety for workers in the auto sector supply chain since 2018.

“We are encouraged by the improved participation by seven of the top 10 brands, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) and the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association.

“However, thousands of workers continue to be disabled every year and we need to see a reduction in these numbers, consistently for three years to congratulate anyone or ourselves. This is important not only for our workers but for India’s labour productivity.”

The SII is calling for all OEMs – and the automotive industry’s trade associations – to take action to further improve their OSH policies and the OSH performance of their own factories and those in their supply chain.

Among other things, it recommends that OEMs demand a minimum level of compliance from their supply chains (for example, by checking that supply chain workers are covered by the employees’ state insurance social security scheme); ensuring all contract workers in their own factories are covered by their OSH policy framework; improving the transparency and accountability of accident reporting in the supply chain; weeding out habitual OSH offenders in the supply chain; and rewarding the safest factories, commercially.

Writing in the foreword to the report, Sandeep Sachdeva said that SII would continue to try to influence the OSH performance of the automotive industry, “until our little ripples become waves that provide... an improved quality of life to 10 million-plus workers in the auto sector supply chain and help the country improve its OSH credentials”.

Read the SafetyNiti 2022 report.


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