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Maid in India’ – Shocking Findings
By Syed Ali Mujtaba
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He has taken PhD in International Relations. He is author of two books and a documentary film maker. His area of interest is media related activities.He’s been a reporter with GroundReport since 2008.
Workers are recruited from poverty-stricken areas within as well outside of the state of Tamil Nadu. A large number of these labour migrants live in (factory) hostels where they have almost no opportunity to interact with the outside world. Workers are expected to work long hours of forced overtime, sometimes up to 24 hours a day under unhealthy conditions. This report, ‘Maid in India’, follows the report ‘Captured by Cotton’, published in May 2011 that revealed that a great number of workers were employed under the so-called ‘Sumangali Scheme’. The Tamil word ‘Sumangali’ refers to a married woman who lives a happy and contented life with her husband with all good fortunes and material benefits. Under the Sumangali Scheme workers are recruited with the promise that they will receive a considerable amount of money after completion of three to five years of employment. This amount can be used to pay for a dowry. This exploitative scheme is tantamount to bonded labour, because employers withhold part of the workers’ wages until they have worked there for three to five years. In addition it was found that workers are severely restricted in their freedom of movement and privacy. ‘Maid in India’ report provides an update of labour conditions in the Tamil Nadu garment and textile industry and examines the current situation at the four garment manufacturers originally investigated for ‘Captured by Cotton’, i.e. Bannari Amman, Eastman Exports Global Clothing, K.P.R. Mill and SSM India. It also informed 70 international brands, retailers and buying houses including C&A, Diesel, Philips Van Heusen (Tommy Hilfiger), Quicksilver, Primark, Decathlon and others that source from the investigated manufacturers about the shocking findings of its report. In addition, the report looks into what efforts have been undertaken by various parties to achieve improvements. It also presents an overview of recommendations on how to continue to improve conditions. The findings of the research show that, to varying degrees, improvements have been implemented at the four manufacturers since the publication of ‘Captured by Cotton’. One manufacturer has stopped using the Sumangali Scheme in all its operations. Another manufacturer has phased out the Sumangali Scheme in its end-product facilities. Improvements regarding freedom of movement have been reported at all four manufacturers. Permission to leave the hostel accommodation is granted more easily and sometimes groups of women are allowed to go shopping unaccompanied. The report recommends that all players, manufacturers, buying companies, trade unions, local and international civil society organizations, governments and others need to acknowledge the persisting problems. Companies, individually but also collectively, should respect and protect national legislation and international standards regarding human rights; whichever offers the highest protection to the concerned workers. To detect human rights abuses, focused investigations and tailor-made audit methodologies, as well as close consultation and collaboration with local stakeholders are required. The human rights risk assessments must also take into account local cultural notions regarding human rights. In the absence of law enforcement or functioning labour inspection, companies have a responsibility to ensure labour rights. For instance, the absence of state-determined and enforced minimum wages for the garment industry does not relieve manufacturers and buyers from the duty to ensure workers are paid a living wage. It is of the utmost importance to have, for instance, SIMA, TASMA and the relevant Indian governmental agencies at the table, as well as the brands and retailers that thus far have been unresponsive. Initiatives should focus on scale and leverage, without, however, lowering the normative bar. To deal with workers’ needs and complaints, grievance procedures should be put in place. Such grievance procedures should meet the following core criteria: legitimacy; accessibility; predictability; equality; compatibility with internationally acceptable rights; transparency. Responding to the report, Business Social Compliance Initiative, an initiative of Foreign Trade Association (FTA) says its participating companies are committed to addressing labor abuses that can be associated with the Sumangali Scheme. The Tamil Nadu government has also taken cognizance of the report and is finding solutions to the labour issues that affect workers in the state. —- Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org