After last year’s tragic Rana Plaza building collapse killing 1,130 people, preceded by the Tazreen factory fire in November of 2012 that claimed 112 lives, we’ve seen retailers and factory owners try to reform the working conditions of the people that make our garments. But the latest report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands shows that there is still much work to be done when it comes to textile factory workers in the region.
The shocking study reveals slave-like conditions at five textile factories in India’s Tamil Nadu, where over 60 percent of the garment workers are female, many of whom are under the age of 18. The girls interviewed for the piece say they were promised jobs making good money, but once they reached the factories, they were forced to toil 60 hours a week, did not receive contracts and were held hostage in their housing units, forbidden to leave without an escort. They also were not given pay slips, so there isn’t really a record of their wages. This kind of bonded labor is referred to as the “Sumangali Scheme,” which is pretty much a form of modern-day slavery.
K.M. Knitwear, Premier Mills, Best Cotton Mills, Sulochana Cotton Spinning Mills and Super Spinning Mills are all implicated in the report, which notes horrible working conditions and child labor among the offenses. Primark, H&M and C&A have all promised to either sever ties with the mills involved in practices of Sumangali or take action against the mills. H&M has already blacklisted Super Spinning Mills.
It is truly a shame that these workers continue to be exploited in spite of several reports, tragedies and promises from big retailers to reform the system. While change is not going to happen overnight, at this point it seems that we’ve barely even scratched the surface when it comes to addressing the working conditions of those who make the clothes we wear.