By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, June 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Indian police have rescued 27 child workers from a factory making biscuits for one of the country's leading brands, a local child welfare official said on Monday.
Police and child welfare officials raided the factory used by Parle Products Private Limited, makers of some of India's most popular biscuits, in the eastern city of Raipur over the weekend after receiving a tip-off.
Parle Products said it had strict rules against the use of child labor for both its own factories and would investigate the Raipur factory, which was operated by another company.
"The boys have told us that they were working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. packing biscuits and running the machines," said Kantanath Sinha, a member of the Raipur child welfare committee.
"At least three boys are below 14 years of age."
Indian labour law allows those aged between 15 to 18 to work only in select non-hazardous industries and for limited hours.
A global Child Labour Index released last month by the consultancy Verisk Maplecroft ranked India 47th worst of 198 countries and said it had made "no tangible improvement" since a previous study in 2016.
"The factory, in this case, is not owned or run by Parle Products and is operated by a third-party sub-contractor," said Mayank Shah, a senior executive at Parle Products.
"We are nonetheless concerned by the allegations and are currently investigating the matter."
The company said it had five of its own factories and contracted work to another 70 across the country to make its Parle-G biscuits.
"We have initiated manpower audits across all our third-party suppliers," it said in an emailed statement.
"Moving forward, we will also be implementing strict hiring and employee policies and ensuring these through surprise checks at the third-party contractor premises in order to ensure that such instances do not occur in the future at these units."
The children, who were all from neighbouring states, are now staying at a shelter home and will be sent back to their families.
"This is a first of its kind crackdown in Raipur," said Arif Shaikh, superintendent of police in Raipur.
"Child labor is definitely done in an organised manner and our crackdown will continue across industries. We are also talking to the rescued boys to understand how they were employed and who is involved."
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)