The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and Arisa, an independent human rights organisation, have alleged forced labour at the spinning mills in Tamil Nadu.
In a report ‘Spinning Around Workers’ Rights,’ SOMO and Arisa allege existence and risk of forced labour in the spinning industry in the State.
For the report, 725 workers, including 284 women, in 29 spinning mills were interviewed between October 2019 and January 2020. Additional research was done into sourcing relations and trade flows, using trade databases and publicly available supplier base information, says a press release. Further, 15 of these workers were interviewed in October last year to understand the impact of COVID-19. Many of these units were directly or indirectly part of the supply chain of some of the international brands.
The press release said that the SOMO-Arisa report uses 11 indicators for forced labour developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to assess the working and living conditions of spinning mill workers here. Of these, five were found to be most relevant: abuse of vulnerability, deception, intimidation and threats, abusive working and living conditions, and.
Majority of the workers interviewed had received incorrect information during their recruitment, about the working and living conditions in their prospective jobs and when they began working, the found that their wages were lower than expected, working hours were longer than they had been told, and annual leave was unpaid. They also found that money was being deducted from their wages for food and accommodation, contrary to what they had been told during recruitment, the report alleged.
“Forced labour should be considered a major risk throughout the entire Tamil Nadu textile sector,” the report said.
The aim of SOMO and Arisa is to help enable structural improvements to employment, working, and living conditions for workers in the Indian textile and garment industry, and in particular, for the most vulnerable worker groups, it added.
The Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council (Texprocil) Executive Director Siddhartha Rajagopal said the methodology of the study is “defective” as the sample size is not representative. The report tries to “generalise stray incidents.” He added that the findings are baseless and motivated to discredit the Indian spinning industry and tarnish the image of India in the overseas market as a supplier of goods adopting fair labour practices.
The Southern India Mills’ Association (SIMA) secretary general K. Selvaraju said the study does not represent the entire spinning sector in Tamil Nadu. The sector has over 2,000 mills, employing nearly seven lakh workers. The mills in the organised sector are regularly monitored by several departments of the government. Further, the migrant workers who went to their home States during the first wave of the pandemic have returned to work, and did not go away to other States or sectors. The study does not give details about the mills or workers. There may be “stray instances” of violations in the smaller units but that does not represent the industry.
The SIMA and Texprocil plan to conduct awareness camps on the new labour codes, take up a third party audit at the mills on labour compliance and educate the mills in six months on labour compliances. “We strongly advice payment of the stipulated minimum wages, weekly off, etc. All the major textile industry associations are working hard with the member units for the last few months on labour issues,” he said.