Behind the showroom: the hidden reality of India’s garment workers

Labour rights abuses and grave human rights violations, including bonded labour, are enduring on India’s garment factory work floors, said FIDH in a report launched today in New Delhi. To conceal indecent working conditions, garment factory managers and owners deploy extremely well-orchestrated show-responses to external visits by auditors, foreign buyers and NGOs alike.

The Rana Plaza tragedy put the spotlights on the dire working conditions at the other end of the global production chain. Unfortunately this is not an isolated case: Indian garment workers also face labour rights abuses that urgently need to be addressed.” said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

The report is based on an FIDH mission of observation featuring visits of garment factories and on-site hostels as well as interviews with local trade unions, NGOs and experts in the states of Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

India’s complex internal historical dynamics are mirrored in the garment industry, and can in part account for the persistence of human rights violations which characterise this sector. Precarious working conditions, including overtime work, salaries below minimum wage, and disproportionate use of contract labour and apprenticeship are still commonplace in India’s garment factories. Adolescent girls continue to work under the Sumangali scheme, an employment pattern comprising elements of bonded labour. Garment workers are subject to disconcerting control and pressure, and according to local experts and NGOs, verbal and physical abuse of women workers are recurrent issues in factories and hostels. Discrimination against women, migrant workers and workers from “lower castes” is deeply entrenched. Government labour inspections are weak and inadequate, while there remain important legal and practical obstacles to the establishment of trade unions, virtually absent from the factory work floors.

Current corporate social responsibility requirements are unable to conceal precarious working conditions. The report highlights the limits of social audits and the insufficiency of brand’s compliance policies to address complex human rights abuses.

Through a series of recommendations, FIDH calls on Indian authorities to adopt the necessary legislative and policy changes to address the situation, and on multinational and Indian enterprises to exercise leverage and take all necessary measures to ensure respect for workers’ rights and to ensure they are able to claim their rights, including at the spinning mills level.

We are all aware of the limits of social audits. Global brands sourcing in India need to do more if they are serious about respecting workers’ rights. said Karim Lahidji.

Download the report Behind the showroom: the hidden reality of India’s garment workers

Read the executive summary in Hindi and Tamil

Tamil version Executive Summary Behind the showroom
Hindi version Executive Summary Behind the showroom
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