Made in Europe under fire

"Made in Europe" stands for quality and fair working conditions. Reports of the CCC and the CYS-initiative paint in part an entirely differently picture.

The recently released reports by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), “Labour on a Shoestring” and “Trampling Workers Rights Underfoot”, as well as the initiative “Change your Shoes”, paint in part an entirely differently picture.
For the first report, “Labour on a Shoestring”, 179 workers at 12 manufacturing plants in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia were surveyed. Results show that the workers in part earn too little, do not get paid for overtime, and are not protected sufficiently from health risks. The second report, “Trampling Workers Rights Underfoot“, is a snapshot assessment of 23 global footwear brands regarding their actions concerning human rights. Through the use of a questionnaire, these companies were asked for information regarding their efforts and work in the area of sustainability and social responsibility. Only 12 of 23 companies responded to and answered the survey, LOWA amongst them.

LOWA Sportschuhe

Making LOWA footwear in Europe was and remains a conscious decision. We have pursued this goal for a long time and will continue to do just that. The countries where we product footwear are Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thus, the countries where we manufacture were in part included in this research by the CCC.
LOWA strongly condemns the deplorable conditions shown in these reports. The decision to manufacture 100% Made in Europe incorporates our assurance of fair and humane manufacturing conditions. We will be intensifying our oversights in this area in order to be absolutely certain that facilities producing for LOWA abide by such conditions.
For the report by the “Change Your Shoes” (CYS) initiative, LOWA was one of 12 companies that responded to the survey. In answering the comprehensive 52-question survey, we also wanted to see where we stand with the efforts we have been making. It is very clear to us that we have not reached the end of our efforts. The path is still very long to reach the point where all workers have reached a level of having comparable Western living standards. This cannot happen overnight and doubtlessly is only achievable within the framework of industry-wide solutions and multi-stakeholder conversations.

Code of Conduct

A key step toward fulfilling this long-term goal is seen in LOWA’s own Code of Conduct (CoC). This is a document that names every requirement that should at minimum be satisfied to be able to work with LOWA. The CoC is based on international guidelines. In particular the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principles of the U.N. Global Compact, the ILO’s fundamental conventions, and the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. All suppliers, business partners and employees are required to abide by the terms of this Code of Conduct. We verify compliance with regularly scheduled and, in part, unannounced audits. We work together with our manufacturing partners to develop an action plan to eliminate violations. This plan must be put in place within a reasonable period of time. If we cannot find a long-lasting and sustainable solution, we may in fact consider terminating the business relationship. Our business relationships have all existed now for at least 5 years, with most of them in place for more than 10 years or even longer. Our CoC governs the following key points, among others: wages, overtime, and workplace health and safety.
Since these topics received most of the criticism in the above-mentioned reports, we would like to share our current situation openly and will oblige the wish for more transparency.

Wages

Every employee must earn the minimum legal wage or a minimum wage consistent with industry standards, of which the highest of the two shall apply. Naturally, this is in LOWA’s view to be seen as only the lower limit. Indeed, the CCC calls for two different levels of wages. The first level must guarantee that every employee earns 60 per cent of the average national take-home pay. The second level should be sufficient for the earnings of the wage earner to support a family of four.

We already fulfil the first wage level and have done so for years, irrespective of the demands of the CCC. This we ensure in all of our production locations. We are currently working on the implementation of the second level. To this end, we are actively involved in an exchange of information as a part of working groups and roundtables, e.g. with the BSI (Germany’s National Association of Sports Manufacturers) and the EOG (European Outdoor Group), to seek a sustainable solution.

Overtime

The maximum number of working hours per week allowed in our facilities is 42 hours, which may not be exceeded. Likewise, the number of overtime hours allowed per week is limited to a maximum of 8 hours. All overtime work must be performed on a volunteer basis and may not be a regular occurrence. In addition, these overtime hours must be paid based on legal standards or standards consistent with the industry.
According to the research by the CCC, this is in fact not a normal industry standard. Per CCC, workers are in part forced to work overtime or on Saturdays. That definitely does not take place in our production facilities. Nevertheless, we will again be paying increased attention to this issue.

Workplace Health and Safety

Protective measures at the worksite must be regularly monitored and ensured. The worksite must never endanger the health of individual employees and potential risks are to be prevented. In all facilities, personal protective gear is available at no charge to employees. Likewise, we will be paying closer attention to whether workers are taking advantage of this gear.
In particular, the health integrity of workers in tanneries was called out in the reports and described as abysmal. From the beginning, LOWA has worked to fight such situations; we source our leather exclusively from highly qualified tanneries in Europe. Of course, these too are subject to regular testing. One of our primary suppliers for our leather is the Heinen Tannery.

“Some effort”

The CYS initiative came to the conclusion that every manufacturer surveyed has room to grow. LOWA landed in the survey’s middle range, in the category called “some effort”. CYS assessed our commitment to this point as “good preconditions” for further action. “The company showed a general openness to engage in dialogue and willingness to improve its sustainability engagement. (...) CYS sees a lot of potential that Lowa will become a responsible company throughout its supply chain.” LOWA’s candour in regards to this topic and its willingness to participate actively in improvements received a positive assessment. We take seriously the potential for improvement shown by the CYS initiative. We will push forward additional measures and, to this end, we will also be actively involved in the future in working groups and multi-stakeholder initiatives.

 

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