Indian Garment Industry Vows to Stop Abusive Child Labor
Globally, 218 million children are engaged in labor of some kind.
After pervasive reports of abuse, clothing factories in Southern India are being asked to enforce new labor standards to safeguard the rights of teenage workers, according to Al Jazeera.
The new standards will prevent factories from assigning teenage workers to overnight shifts, limit daily shifts to no more than nine hours, and allow teenagers to take time off during their periods.
"The idea is to help manufacturers understand how an employee should be treated, right from recruitment to retirement," Selvaraju Kandaswamy, secretary-general of the Southern India Mills' Association (SIMA), which drafted the guidelines, told Al Jazeera.
"We also want to create confidence in the mind of the global buyer that workers' needs are being taken into account and we have zero tolerance to any form of abuse,” he added.
Because the guidelines are voluntary, it’s unclear whether or not companies will adopt them, and it’s also unclear whether enforcement measures will be taken to hold companies accountable.
Either way, SIMA’s announcement underscores the rampant exploitation and abuse that occurs in India’s textile industry, which employs more than 45 million people, 70% of whom are women, according to Al Jazeera.
Clothing factories throughout India are often poorly regulated and ventilated, and harmful chemicals that are banned in other countries are widely used, subjecting workers to health risks.
Workers are also subject to the whims of their employers, who often fill their production lines on a seasonal, contractual basis, in time with the demands of global fast fashion.
Many women in the industry report being sexually harassed and assaulted, denied wages, verbally abused, intimidated against forming unions, and forced to work upwards of 60 hours per week, according to Human Rights Watch.
The contractual nature of jobs, meanwhile, means that employees are often fired with little notice. This is especially true for women who become pregnant, according to HRW.
A lack of oversight also results in widespread use of child labor, the Guardian reports.
“There are many girls in countries like India and Bangladesh, who are willing to work for very low prices and are easily brought into these industries under false promises of earning decent wages,” Sofie Ovaa, global campaign coordinator of Stop Child Labour, told the Guardian.
Multinational clothing brands have repeatedly come out against child labor and other labor abuses, but because of the fractured nature of global supply chains, they exert little to no control over factories in countries that create cheap clothes, making their declarations of support little more than window dressing, according to HuffPost.
SIMA’s attempt to make conditions better for teenage garment workers is a step in the right direction, but human rights advocates say that more has to be done on the governmental level to prevent abuses and create a floor for wages and rights.
"This code is very important because it updates employers about the latest laws and will create a safer workplace for the thousands of women employed in the industry," Kannagi Packianathan, chairwoman of the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, told Al Jazeera.
"We are also working in tandem to create clear ground rules where women employees are concerned and are insisting on the prevention of sexual harassment laws being implemented,” she added.