AMSTERDAM-- Big garment brands and retailers have their products made under
exploitative and unhealthy conditions by girls in Tamil Nadu, South India.
The girls, mostly younger than 18 and from a Dalit ('outcaste') background
are employed under the Sumangali Scheme. In its worst form, this employment
scheme stands for bonded labour, as described in 'Captured by Cotton', a
report published today by the Centre for Research on Multinational
Corporation (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). The
report features case studies of four large manufacturers. These enterprises
produce for Bestseller (e.g. Only, Jack & Jones), C&A, GAP, Diesel, Inditex
(e.g. Zara), Marks & Spencer, Primark, Tommy Hilfiger, and many other
European and US garment companies. A number of companies have undertaken
steps towards the elimination of the Sumangali Scheme, but abusive labour
practices remain widespread.
The Sumangali girls are recruited with the promise of a decent wage,
comfortable accommodation, and, the biggest attraction, a considerable sum of
money upon completion of their three-year contract. This lump sum, varying
between 400 and 800 euros, may be used to pay for a dowry. The reality stands
in sharp contrast to the alluring promises: wages below the legally set
minimum, excessive overwork , non-payment of overtime work, restricted
freedom of movement, lack of privacy, no possibility to lodge complaints or
get redress, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, etc. This situation
fits the definition of 'worst forms of child labour' as laid down by the
International Labour Organisation (ILO) for children up to 18 years old. This
is a clear breach of international labour standards and Indian labour law.
The promised sum is not a bonus, but is made up of withheld wages. In a
number of documented cases girls have not received the lump sum they were
entitled to, despite having completed the contractual three year period.
The girls' freedom of action is severely restricted with guards keeping a
constant eye on them. They are compulsory accommodated in basic dormitories,
often within the compound of the factory. This also means workers hardly have
a chance to get in touch with trade unions or advocacy groups.
SOMO and ICN have shared drafts of the report with the companies that are
named in the report. Several companies have responded with detailed feedback
that has been processed in the final version of the report.
Note for the press
More information about the research can be found at the SOMO website:
(Due to the length of this URL, it may be necessary to copy and paste
this hyperlink into your Internet browser's URL address field. Remove the
space if one exists.)
Download: Captured by Cotton:
Click here for the video interview with Martje Theuws (SOMO).