Tainted Garments: The Exploitation of Women and Girls in India’s Home-based Garment Sector by Siddharth Kara offers the most comprehensive investigation yet into the conditions of work for women and girls in India’s home-based garment sector. Approximately 85 percent of the home-based garment workers documented for the report exclusively work in supply chains for the export of apparel to major brands in the United States and European Union. These Indian workers consist almost entirely of women and girls from historically oppressed ethnic communities who earn approximately $0.15 per hour. The primary aim of the report is to provide insights into the lives of these workers in the hope that governments, companies, and nonprofits will be able to better coordinate on solutions to address the exploitation documented.
The Report highlights who Dalits are key victims of exploitation in India’s home-based garment sectors. See the caste-related extracts from the report here:
Quoted from Tainted Garments:
An extensive study by the University of California on the home-based garment workers in India found 99 per cent of workers toiled in conditions of forced labor under Indian law, which means they do not receive the state-stipulated minimum wage. Over 99 per cent of the workers were found to be either Dalits or Muslims. The study found that most workers received between 50 percent and 90 percent less than the state-stipulated minimum wages. The prevalence of child labour was over 15 per cent and many cases of bonded labour were also documented .[i]
“I do not earn enough in this work. I am living in hell.” – A 25-year-old garment worker near Meerut
This report offers the most-wide reaching and comprehensive investigation yet into the conditions of work for women and girls in India’s home-based garment sector. Women and girls tend to constitute a disproportionate portion of home-based work, and the exploitative conditions that come with them, which in turn perpetuates the subordinated and oppressed status of women and girls. Due to the lack of transparency and the informal nature of home-based work, wages are almost always suppressed, conditions can be harsh and hazardous, and the worker has virtually no avenue to seek redress of abusive or unfair conditions. Power imbalances relating to gender further perpetuate the exploitation of female home-based workers, as their liaisons (i.e., labor subcontractors) tend to be male and can often be verbally abusive or intimidating in order to secure compliance. Conditions are worsened by the fact that there is little to no regulation or enforcement from the state regarding conditions for home-based workers in India. The primary aim of this report is to provide insights into the lives of India’s home-based garment workers in the hopes that governments, industry, and non-profits will be better able to coordinate on solutions to address the exploitative conditions documented.
Approximately 85% of the home-based garment workers documented for this report exclusively worked in supply chains for the export of apparel products to major brands in the United States and European Union, and the remaining 15% worked in a mix of export and domestic production. The home-based work performed by these individuals typically involves the “finishing touches” on a garment, such as embroidery, tasseling, fringing, beadwork, and buttons. The Summary Findings of the research are included in Table 1 below. At first instance, it must be noted that there are several stark differences between the conditions faced by home-based garment workers in northern India versus southern India. Indeed, one could argue that there are in some ways two different home-based garment sectors in India — northern and southern. Women and girls tend to constitute a disproportionate portion of home-based work, and the exploitative conditions that come with them, which in turn perpetuates the subordinated and oppressed status of women and girls.
A total of 1,452 cases were documented by the researchers: 1,122 cases within 50 kilometers of eight cities in the north, and 330 cases within 30 kilometers of two cities in the south. Most individuals work six to seven days per week, usually around six to eight hours per day. The youngest individual documented was ten years old, and the oldest was 73 years.
The three most important findings of this research are:
- 99.3% of the workers are either Muslims or belong to a heavily subordinated community, called a “Scheduled Caste.”1
- 99.2% of workers toil in conditions of forced labor under Indian law, which means they do not receive the statestipulated minimum wage. In fact, most workers received between 50% and 90% less than the state-stipulated minimum wages. Only a handful of males working near the city of Jaipur received proper wages for their work.
- 95.5% of workers are female.
These three facts demonstrate that home-based garment work in India is predominantly pennywage labor conducted by minority and outcaste women and girls.
Three additional findings are of note are:
1) almost none of the workers (0.1%) receive any sort of medical care when they suffer an injury at work;
2) none of the workers (0.0%) belong to a trade union; and
3) none of the workers (0.0%) have a written agreement for their work.
The lack of unionization and written contracts promotes the informal, shadowy nature of home-based garment work and allows many of the exploitative conditions the researchers documented to persist, particularly the severe underpayment of wages.
In addition to the aforementioned findings, the following results are of interest:
”Almost all of the individuals documented in this project were working on garments bound for export to major brands in the United States and the European Union.”
“I never receive my payment on time. I have to cry to get payment from the contractor.” – A 23-year old garment worker near Bareilly
“My parents could not afford fees for school, so I do this work instead.” – A 13-year old garment worker near Sikandrabad
“We are slaves to the Contractors. They give us less wages, but we have no alternative.” – A 30-year-old garment worker near New Delhi
Females in and around Jaipur documented for this project earned one-fourth what their male counterparts did, representing a startling wage disparity. The rate of child labor (20.6%) was approximately the same as New Delhi — one out of five
Sikandrabad had by far the highest rate of child labor of any city in this project at 31.9%. Approximately three out of four workers (75.5%) began home-based garment work as children. Severely depressed wages and the very high rate of child labor make Sikandrabad an area in dire need of ameliorative efforts targeted for home-based workers.
[i] Kara, Siddharth (2019) Tainted Garments: The Exploitation of Women and Girls in India’s Home-based Garment Sector. University of California. Available on https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ixp7QunDHOkOwJstndfaeBpQHBh_-Bmq/view