The philosophy of the Tata Group has been guided by its founder’s vision, which forms the cornerstone of this vibrant group that stands out in the global scene as a brand that symbolises trust, not only for the business proposition offered to all its customers or communities it serves, but as it works on an all-inclusive model. As such, 66% of the shareholding in Tata Sons, is held by two philanthropic trust partnerships: Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Allied Trusts; and Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Navajbai Ratan Tata Trust.

These trusts work on multiple initiatives across India and beyond, and also provide financial and knowledge support to more than 600 NGOs. Apart from the two trusts, there are specific initiatives each company in the Tata Group are engaged in including:

  • skill development
  • education
  • sustainable livelihoods
  • health
  • relief
  • environment
  • support for the disabled
  • affirmative action.

The beginning of an emerging leather enterprise

India’s foray into modernised techniques in leather-making and recent growth had its genesis in the vision of Mahatma Gandhi, who mentioned trade in India of My Dreams.

"It is estimated that rupees nine crores worth of raw hide is annually exported from India and much of it is returned to her in the shape of manufactured articles. This means not only a material, but also an intellectual drain. We miss the training we should receive in tanning and preparing the innumerable articles in leather… Add to this, the fact that the intelligentsia have a proper opportunity of coming in direct touch with the villagers," Gandhi wrote.

In 1972, the Seetharamiah Committee was appointed by the Government of India to look into the export potential of the leather industry and encourage exports of finished leather.

This paved the way for the group to set up a world-class leather manufacturing facility, in one of the areas of the state of Madhya Pradesh, with a vision to create a platform to attract industries in the region and, thereby, help drive opportunities for employment of the rural population residing in the zone. The factory started its production in 1974 and, since then, made its mark in the world of leather as one of the finest producers of finished leather and leather products.

What began with production of 40,000ft2 a month has now grown into a capacity of more than four million square feet of finished leather a month, serving the world’s leading brands in footwear as well as leather articles/accessories like bags and garments. This is aside from the two million square feet of world-class technical leather capacity, catering to the automotive and upholstery sector.

Since entering into footwear, Tata International (TI) has grown to an in-house capacity of making seven million pairs of shoes per annum, which will grow to more than ten million pairs in the coming years, across multiple locations globally.

Socio-environment as a core belief

In line with the group’s belief, the tannery deployed the latest technology at the time and rose to be a leader in driving a sustainable business model, with utmost care for environmental protection. The effluent treatment plant has all the modern facilities with a bio digester and reverse osmosis (RO) to create a zero-discharge plant. With capital expenditure and environmental areas being important issues, for the next two years 33%, of total investment has been earmarked to build capacities in ETP, RO and house a MEE plant – notwithstanding the fact that it is the first tannery in India to be accorded the Gold status certified by the Leather Working Group (LWG). To its credit, the TI tannery uses shaving dust to produce ‘Prota’, which is a sought after product by chemical manufactures.

Empowerment and employment of women

As a socially responsible company, TI is deeply committed to being an integral and responsible member of the communities in which it operates. In this regard, TI has pioneered initiatives under the Utkarsh brand that are focused on proactively creating economic and social empowerment among disadvantaged communities, and making a real impact on improving the welfare of families and communities.

As part of the Tata Group’s Affirmative Action Programme, the ‘Nav Chetna’ initiative, under the Utkarsh brand, meant a new message was launched at Dewas. TI has made a significant, measurable social impact in disadvantaged communities while continuing to achieve its commercial objectives. It has created employment and business opportunities through training, and employing local skilled labour with up-skilling and employment programmes. In fact, TI has employed more than 34% of its workforce from scheduled caste/scheduled tribe communities, with a significant proportion being women.

The model in Dewas is an exemplary case of what TI has achieved in the area of affirmative action, and is now being used as a model to be replicated in Chennai and Chitoor. This programme on social uplifting brings together widely dispersed traditional artisans, rural and urban unemployed youth, and gives them self-employment opportunities to the extent possible, and provide continuous and sustainable employment. This helps arrest migration of rural youths to urban areas, increases the wage earning capacity of artisans, and contributes to the increase in the growth rate of rural and urban employment.

The programme has been carefully designed to address the following challenges the company faced in this region to get quality workforce in adequate numbers and yet engage with the community it worked in, for a win-win situation:

  • engaging with women in the community to overcome the perception that women don’t work in factories
  • lack of quality education posed another difficulty
  • limited skills and quality competency training.

Impact of Nav Chetna

The endeavour has led to making more than 6,000 artisans employable owing to benefits from the training received; 50 SHGs have been created and, as of now, 12 self-sustaining entrepreneurs are in the field. Income levels for these artisans have seen a four-fold increase, along with the critical social benefits of ensuring higher education of females and an improved social status of the employed women.

Healthy children, healthy future

TI has adopted four schools in the local area to carve out modern education institutes as part of its social vision for 2020. These schools are located in four different villages – Binjana, Rajiv Nagar, Sanjay Nagar and Amona. The main focus is to disseminate the message that a healthy body ensures a healthy mind for children. As part of the strategy to fulfil its social vision, TI launched the ‘Swasth Bachche, Swasth Bhavishya’ campaign. Every month, a free medical camp is held covering each of the villages by rotation to provide health check-up, followed by free medication and care for children of the villages. The employees show their support by volunteering, to create an atmosphere of inclusion from all quarters.

Investment in people

Any enterprise progresses and succeeds when the key resource of the organisation, its people, are aligned to drive improvements cutting across functions and work practices. TI has laid the foundation in terms of a simple model (see ‘People excellence’, left). With all these building blocks in place, TI is poised to march ahead in its ultimate goal of touching as many feet globally as possible through its offerings of leather and leather products, satisfying the needs of its customers.