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Are Workers in the Auto-sector Mere Commodities? Five Takeaways from the 2020 Edition of ‘CRUSHED’

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

To know the full story of the Indian auto sector is to know the stories of workers like Shyam Dev and Neetu Devi, who lost fingers in multiple accidents in auto component factories.

It is the experience of 1,800+ such injured workers, whom we assisted over the past three years, that forms the backbone of the 2020 edition of CRUSHED, which spotlights the state of worker safety in India’s auto sector.

With thanks to you—our valued patrons—CRUSHED 2020 was launched on September 24, 2020, in a virtual event where an esteemed panel also discussed tangible fixes to the problem and addressed questions from among an audience exceeding 200.

First, the takeaways from CRUSHED 2020:

1. Thousands of Crush injuries continued in the auto sector; most workers in the vulnerable demographic and nature of injuries got worse 86% of these injured workers we assisted in the Indian financial year 2019-20 worked in the auto sector supply chain. Most were under 30 (52%), migrants (88%) and contractual (65%). This is a similar demographic whose frantic attempts to walk hundreds of miles to their hometowns during the COVID-19 lockdown grabbed national headlines. Over 70% of workers we assisted lost their hands or fingers, deteriorating their quality of life permanently.

2. 95% of accidents in Gurgaon-Faridabad occurred in the suppliers of Maruti, Hero, and Honda That said, 19% of accidents occurred in supply chains of other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Ashok Leyland, Eicher, Escorts, JCB, Mahinda, Tata, TVS and Yamaha. (Sum exceeds 100% since the supply chain is often shared among OEMs). One-third of accidents occurred in just 31 factories! and 22% were members of ACMA (Automobile Component Manufacturers Association)

3. Over half (59%) of the injuries continued to be caused by a single machine – the power press

Lack of safety sensors, production pressure, lack of training contributed to almost all these accidents on these ‘dangerous machine’ per law.

4. Poor regulations, fewer inspections, and meagre penalty all allowed safety violations to go unchecked; accident data not reported since 2017

Factory inspections reduced in Haryana over 2011-17. Despite a high conviction rate (80%+), the penalty was a meagre INR 4,000 (approx) on average in that period!

5. Some positive progress with Maruti-Suzuki, Central and State Governments. Not much with Hero, Honda and the OSH Code is a big risk. Since Crushed 2019 in August 2019, Maruti-Suzuki has engaged well with Safe In India. SIAM and ACMA discussions have started well. Hero and Honda yet to engage well.

We believe that the auto industry needs to take the lead in joining hands to save hands. At the report launch panel, join hands we did. Here are some of what they said and their videos:

Rajesh Menon, Director General of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) “ I think it's useful for us to partner with Safe in India Foundation on data based on their experiences with some of the OEMs they have worked with, but of course through us we can try and get a bigger one wider outreach to many more OEMs, get feedback, and engage them on data…. materials department can help in creating SOPs on worker safety and look at training and hand-holding”

Echoing that view, Vinnie Mehta, Director General, the Automotive Components Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA), added: “It’s the top of the value chain that sets the standards and pulls things up. So, a lot needs to be done from the vehicle manufacturers. A lot is expected, and ACMA stands committed.”

Rajiv Khandelwal, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Aajeevika Bureau, said: “The nature of migration is that it is distress-driven. People are paid really poorly, which is why they are obliged to work longer hours, do more shifts, work under any conditions even if they compromise safety.”

Anil Sachdev, Founder and Chairman, School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL): “Leaders’ vision has to be to serve the well-being of their people because they know it's imperative for quality, imperative for productivity, and for building a strong reputation....Boards need a member accountable for safety.”

Prof. Shyam Sundar of XLRI, Jamshedpur, posed this question to OEMs: “Will OEMs map their long supply chain and collect data on industrial accidents taking place down their supply chain?” Here is how SIAM and ACMA responded:

Sandeep Sachdeva, Co-Founder and CEO, Safe in India Foundation: “The first 30-40% of these accidents are not very difficult to prevent....a focus on awareness of these accidents and a push from auto-brands just for power presses can make a dent”.

Is safety cost-effective? In his Foreword to CRUSHED 2020, Errol D’Souza, Director, IIM Ahmedabad, addressed this oft-asked question: “I am convinced that a very large proportion of these accidents can be stopped with little additional cost and a more than commensurate improvement in productivity and financial gains too.”

The full report is available here and a 10-minute presentation on key findings here. Some of the media coverage below:

Business Today: The ugly side of automobile industry Times of India: How many lost hands behind new cars? Hindustan Times: Around 1800 workers in automobile factories have suffered serious injures The Wire: Despite injuries to thousands of workers, the auto-sector safety standards remain poor. In Safe in India's letter in both CRUSHED 2019 and CRUSHED2020, we ask the question from the auto-sector: "Will Angulimala transform again?" We will do all we can to keep pushing worker safety, a key aspect of working conditions that our Indian workers experience 8-16 hours a day! We all have a role to play and we know we can count on your support. Stay Healthy. Stay Safe.

PS: Our work continues on; this is a very long and arduous journey – we look to your ongoing support: Share your comments; spread the word: Share this blog and follow/share our Facebook page, YouTube channel, or Twitter page. Lend a hand: We could use assistance in several areas. Reach us if you can help us part-time or full-time. Offer financial support: Donate here. No amount is too small; it's the thought that matters.

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