Follow-up report highlights improvements but warns that root problems remain and bonded labour continues to exist in the cotton indsutry.

Based on Fact Sheet from SOMO & ICN:

Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations  (Somo) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) have released a follow-up report, Maid in India, to the 2011 report Captured by Cotton, which revealed that a huge number of Dalit girls and young women working in the garment industry in Tamil Nadu in South India were employed under the so-called ‘Sumangali scheme’ [Read the IDSN news article on this report here]. This exploitative scheme is tantamount to bonded labour, because employers are withholding part of the workers’ wages until they have worked for three to five years. In addition, it was found that workers were severely restricted in their freedom of move- ment and privacy.

The majority of the Sumangali workers are from lower castes like the Dalit and come from marginalised communities. They are driven to work in urban areas by extreme poverty – lured by promises of a good income and a lump sum to pay for their dowry (which is forbidden by Indian law).

Since the first report, some improvements in employment conditions have been observed at the four manufacturers. Wages have increased, and so has the final amount that workers may receive at the end of their contract. Reportedly, workers at one manufacturer now receive the saved sum even if they quit their job before the contract has been completed. Another manufacturer has adopted a stated policy of only hiring workers who are over 18 years old.

Consultation between manufacturers, buyers, local NGOs and trade unions in the Tirupur Stakeholder Forum has resulted in guidelines for hostels where female workers live (September 2011). Workers’ living quarters have improved somewhat,
with less people per dorm. Workers also said there had been some improvement in the food served in the canteens.

There have also been some token improvements regarding freedom of movement. Permission to leave the factory compounds is granted more easily; sometimes groups
of women are allowed to go out shopping unaccompanied.

However, major problems still persist, including the recruitment and employment of women workers under bonded labour schemes, as well as other forms of unaccept- able labour abuses. Employers still recruit from among the poorest and most marginalised communities. Women workers are still expected to work for long hours of forced overtime, sometimes for up to 24 hours a day. And women workers frequently face physical and sexual abuse.

Companies have a responsibility to ensure that workers’ rights are respected throughout their supply chain. Some have taken steps to address the issues uncovered in SOMO and ICN’s first report. However, more needs to be done. Initiatives to phase out labour abuses should meet certain requirements in order to be effective and sustainable. It is essential that these initiatives are undertaken in a genuine multi-stakeholder setting, in particular involving local civil society stakeholders and the government. A credible initiative needs to set ambitious, concrete and time-bound goals. Furthermore, companies and retailers need to be transparent by informing interested parties about
the progress of their actions. Such initiatives should be supportive of active labour unions, mature industrial relations between employers and unions, and a law-enforcing government.

Read more about the follow-up report and recommendations here

Download the report ‘Maid in India’ here

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Further background information:

See IDSN’s section on caste discrimination and business and CSR 

Read about the Ambedkar Principles: employment principles and additional principles to address economic and social exclusion of Dalits in South Asia 

Read about the Dalit Discrimination Check: a tool developed specifically to help companies prevent discrimination and exploitation of Dalits in their Indian operations and suppliers