Insights into working conditions in India’s garment industry
Published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2015, this report studies the working conditions prevailing in the garment industry in India. It presents findings from surveys conducted during 2012-13 by the Garment Sector Roundtable (GSR) – an initiative facilitated by Meta‑Culture, a Bengaluru-based consultancy firm – and the ILO.
The report inspects the working conditions in ready-made garment factories to evaluate the prevalence of child or forced labour practices. It considers various indicators of forced labour, such as “unfree recruitment, work and life under duress, impossibility of leaving, and penalty or menace of penalty”. These indicators inform the two kinds of surveys which were conducted for the report. The first was a quantitative survey of 483 people (300 women and 183 men) who were current and former garment sector workers from National Capital Region and Bengaluru. The other was a qualitative survey of government officials, owners or managers of companies, labour contractors, trade unions and NGOs.The 58-page document contains six sections: Introduction (Section 1), Research objectives and methodology (Section 2), Working conditions in the garment sector (Section 3), Enforcement, grievances and worker representation (Section 4), Perspectives of other stakeholders on labour turnover (Section 5), and Conclusions and recommendations (Section 6).
Half of the workers interviewed during the survey were between 25 and 34 years of age. The report identified no child workers below 15 years of age, and only two falling in the 15 to 17 years age group.
A majority of workers surveyed (94 per cent) were migrants. Around 92 per cent had migrated from rural areas. About 56 per cent of the migrants had migrated from within the same state. About 38 per cent had migrated from a neighbouring state.
Among the workers interviewed in Bengaluru, 70 per cent had gotten their job through direct company recruitment, 27 per cent gained employment through a personal connection, two per cent got their job by walk-in application and one per cent found work through a labour contractor or recruitment agency.
Among the workers from the National Capital Region, 42 per cent gained employment through a personal connection and 25 per cent did it through a labour contractor or recruitment agency. About 23 per cent got their job through a walk-in application while 10 per cent were directly recruited by the company.
The report notes that around 35 per cent of the workers disliked working in the ready-made garments industry and more than half of the working “sometimes or often” consider leaving their current factory or the industry itself. Some of the common reasons for considering leaving the garment industry were poor wages (162 workers), high production targets (93 workers), poor working conditions (79 workers), and poor relationship between management and workers (66 workers).
Only 38 per cent of the workers surveyed had received an employment contract in writing and less than half of them had a complete or partial understanding of its contents. The report also states that often such contracts do not contain job descriptions or detailed terms and conditions of employment.
A six-day working week was the norm, reported by around 80 per cent of the respondents. Around 20 per cent of the respondents stated working seven days a week and about a quarter often worked for more than ten hours every day. “Overtime is very common, often involuntary, especially when orders have to be delivered quickly,” notes the report. Two-thirds of workers stated being unable to refuse the additional work.
Workers were often threatened or penalised if they refused to work overtime or failed to meet production targets.These often took the form of verbal abuse or intimidation from the supervisors or managers as well as threats of being fired. Penalties in the form of extra work and ill-treatment by the employer future were also mentioned. Some respondents reported physical abuse and beating too.
Workers reported being forced to work even when unwell. One in every five workers had witnessed physical violence and instances of workers being locked inside the workplace. Moreover, 17 per cent of women workers reported instances of sexual harassment at the workplace.
Only 46 per cent of the current workers had taken paid leave in the 12 months preceding the survey. Among those who had not taken such leave, 71 per cent said they were not entitled to any while eight per cent feared losing their jobs if they did. Due to this, workers sometimes had to quit their jobs to visit family for festivals and other occasions, the report states.
The study notes that most workers are registered under social security schemes like the Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) and Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF). However, worker representation at the factory level was lacking, and less than a quarter of the workers are aware of workers’ committees or trade unions at the workplace.
Focus and factoids by Gokul K. P.
PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
ILO Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour
International Labour Organization (ILO)
03 Jul, 2015