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Project Experience

The Garment Sector Roundtable

This was a landmark Meta-Culture project, a first in the region. The multi-stakeholder Garment Sector Roundtable (GSR) brought together various garment sector stakeholders who historically had had competing interests and adversarial relationships. These stakeholders include multi-national brands, domestic manufacturers, industry associations, government, trade unions, NGOs (international and domestic), and research institutions. In September 2009, Meta-Culture was approached by a civil society leader working on issues of labour rights in the garment sector, who recognized that reactive and adversarial forms of stakeholder interaction (e.g., litigation, strikes, protest, etc.) were not proving beneficial to the industry or its workers. He asked Meta-Culture, a professional “third party” facilitator, to explore whether other stakeholders (i.e., brands, manufacturers, government, trade unions, etc.) had an interest in establishing a proactive and constructive forum for building relationships and addressing critical issues in the sector. Meta-Culture proceeded to have conversations with representatives from different stakeholder groups and found there was both need for, and interest in establishing such a forum. Over the next year, Meta-Culture worked to reach out to and enlist the participation of various stakeholders in the sector. Meta-Culture served as a professional third-party convener and facilitator of the Garment Sector Roundtable from the time it was launched in January 2011 until the final meeting in May 2013. During this time, apart from building critical individual and group relationships, the participants reached consensus about the need for two key projects that they agreed would help ensure sustainability of the garment sector in India. One of these is the Women's Supervisory Training Programme, a specialized institute to empower and equip women workers with skills to move up the value chain and create better working conditions for their colleagues. The other is a Joint Fact Finding research project to investigate the causes and extent of labour migration and attrition in the sector. The information thus obtained can then be incorporated into appropriate measures taken to support and sustain the industry over the long term. Such research currently does not exist.

Hindu-Christian Dialogue

In 2008, a series of anti-Christian attacks rocked the South Indian state of Karnataka, which were then widely perceived by the Christian community as a punishment for being outspoken about Christian persecution, and for seemingly having forced several people to convert from Hinduism. The 2011 Somashekar Report which was subsequently commissioned and published by the ruling political party denied any involvement of the state government or the Hindutva groups but this was dismissed by the church and Christians as being inaccurate and an eyewash. It further exacerbated the divisions between the Christian community and the government and did nothing to assuage their feelings of victimhood. It is after this that Meta-Culture, in partnership with a local Jesuit institution, the Indian Social Institute, conceived of a multi-year Dialogue process between influential members of these two faiths. Initially incubated separately, these groups were brought together in May 2013 and have since begun the process of engaging in Karnataka's first ever true inter-faith conversation. Meta-Culture’s focus remains on building capacity in these participants to have deep, real, and constructive Dialogue (as opposed to theoretical, adversarial, and ineffectual debate) with those who have competing perspectives and ideologies. By guiding them to achieve a more complex understanding of each other, and build and maintain relationships based on equity, mutual respect, and trust, the group will soon be on their way to seeking concrete ways to work together towards productive and respectful inter-community interactions.

Addressing critical issues of industrial relations in the Indian industry

The Planning Commission of India has advocated the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to understanding and solving problems around industrial relations in India. This project is being convened by the Confederation of Indian Industry, a leading industrial body, and aims to address issues of temporary and contract workers, predominantly hired in the manufacturing sector. Most Indian contract workers are not unionized and hence rarely receive any of the benefits that are commonly associated with a regular and stable job. Because such labour is characteristically transient and relatively unskilled, wages are also substantially lower and do not include even basic benefits. This creates a situation where the workers and their families are at high risk. Managements, on their part, insist on labour flexibility which would afford them the ability to increase or decrease their work force to insulate them against the fluctuating demands of the industry. This has resulted in tense relationships between the companies and the unions, labour and community leaders. In the recent past, India has witnessed violence and unrest caused by this tension. In July 2012, workers at a Maruti plant attacked supervisors and started a fire that left one supervisor dead and over a hundred critically injured. In April 2010, production was affected in several companies because of a strike by workers at Exide, India’s largest storage battery manufacturer. Meta-Culture interviewed select industrialists in the National Capital Region for their thoughts on the challenges facing industry, and how they think multi-stakeholder dialogue process could help rebuild trust and strengthen relationships between the various stakeholders. Meta-Culture hopes to partner with the CII to conduct a nationwide multi-stakeholder engagement bringing together industry, unions, state government and civil society groups to identify the multi-layered issues at stake, and arrive at a series of agreements that can help address this problem in the long haul.