Civil Initiatives for Development and Peace (Cividep) India has been working with SOMO on different projects since 2008, and is a member of both the OECD Watch and GoodElectronics networks – hosted by SOMO. Laura Ceresna is Policy Advisor for Corporate Accountability at Cividep in Bangalore, India. We find out more about Cividep’s work.

Cividep India was formed in 2000. It works to empower workers and communities and to ensure that businesses comply with human rights, labour rights and environmental standards. Cividep India educates workers, campaigns for corporate accountability and carries out research in the electronics, garment, leather, plantation, mining and banking sectors. A crucial difference between Cividep and other NGOs in India is their focus on labour rights and corporate accountability, rather than human rights in general.

Originally from Berlin, Laura Ceresna is a graduate in International Development Studies from Amsterdam University and now works in Bangalore. As Laura explains: “Cividep wants to ensure a living wage for all workers in India that enables them and their dependents to lead a life in dignity. Stricter implementation of existing laws, especially on freedom of association are necessary to enable workers to exercise their rights effectively or access remedy whenever they have been violated. We also advocate for binding regulations to hold corporates to account for their adverse impacts on human rights and the environment.”

Making it possible

“Cividep has significant expertise on corporate accountability issues and is well experienced in providing training on the complaint mechanism of the OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and other grievance mechanisms”, says Virginia Sandjojo, who coordinates the OECD Watch network that is hosted by SOMO. “They have been successful in doing outreach on these non-judicial grievance mechanisms in India and the region.”
“Cividep has successfully carried out research in recent years into the problems women in particular encounter in the garment industry in India,” adds SOMO researcher Martje Theuws. “They have a lot of contact with these women, informing them about their rights and encouraging them to make their voices heard.”

Laura explains: ”Through our collaboration with SOMO we are able to conduct relevant projects to protect labour and human rights in India but we have also had the opportunity to participate in important trainings and events around the world. We give trainings to workers and trade union activists from the electronics and garment industry in India on subjects like occupational health and safety and social benefits. Both GoodElectronics and OECD Watch played an important role in making these trainings possible. In the electronics industry we also organise ‘study circles’ four times a year, which are attended by about ten to fifteen workers, who decide the study subject together.”

Forming unions within Foxconn and Nokia

Phony Equality

Labour standards of mobile phone manufacturers in India

Laura names a couple of joint publications about the electronics sector as some of the highlights of SOMO’s collaboration over the last few years. “The joint report ‘Phony Equality’, published in 2011 under the makeITfair project in collaboration with SOMO and Finnwatch, was a great success as we could conduct management interviews and visit the factories including the shop floor for the first time.” The latest joint report between SOMO and Cividep was published in May 2015 and was called ‘Nokia disconnected’. Laura was involved in the early stages of the report, carrying out desk research and analysing the experience of workers, collected through interviews gathered during field research. “Our observation was that the ‘bridge programme’ launched by Nokia to support employees in finding new jobs and providing suitable education wasn’t well received by workers. They didn’t think it corresponded with their reality. We got the feeling it was more of a symbolic measure than actually supportive.”

“Cividep has been working on labour issues in the electronics industry for many years,” says Pauline Overeem, researcher at SOMO and coordinator of GoodElectronics. “It is an active and vocal member of the GoodElectronics Steering Committee. Gopinath Parakuni, Director of Cividep, is also part of the Board of Trustees of Electronics Watch, a new initiative focused on socially responsible public procurement of ICT hardware. In India, Cividep focuses on supporting workers and workers’ organisations in the electronics industry along the Chennai-Bangalore highway, and in particular in ‘Sriperumbudur special economic zone (SEZ)’ where various electronics manufacturers are located. The organisation contributes to workers organising by informing them of their rights. Cividep has, for instance, developed a series of handbooks explaining India’s labour laws to workers.”

“Through SOMO’s support we were able to build the capacity of electronics sector workers predominantly in and around the former Nokia SEZ to claim their labour rights and form and join trade unions”, says Laura. “The actual formation of unions within factories of Foxconn and Nokia could be viewed as concrete results of our work.”