Tainted Garments: The Exploitation of Women and Girls in India’s Home-Based Garment Sector
This report was published in January 2019 by the Blum Center for Developing Economies, University of California, Berkeley. Siddharth Kara is the principal investigator and author of the report.
The report analyses the working conditions of girls and women in the home-based garment sector in India. The Indian garment industry is second only to China in manufacture and export, the report states. It finds that mostly women and girls from marginalised communities work in the home-based garment sector, and manage to earn no more than 0.15 US dollars per hour.
The study was undertaken in urban, peri-urban and rural areas around New Delhi, Jaipur, Shahjahanpur, Meerut, Bareilly, Sikandrabad, Farrukhabad and Hapur in northern India. In southern India, the study was conducted around Tirupur and Pollachi in Tamil Nadu.
One thousand four hundred and fifty-two garment workers who worked from their homes were contacted during the research. This included full and part-time workers. These workers provided “finishing touches” on garments through embroidery, tasselling, button work, and more.
This 56-page document is divided into 8 sections: Executive summary (Section 1); Overview of Research (Chapter 2); Overview of the Garment Sector in India (Chapter 3); Previous Studies of India’s Garment Sector (Chapter 4); Discussion of Relevant Law (Chapter 5); Discussion of Results by City (Chapter 6); The Garment Supply Chain (Chapter 7); Recommendations (Chapter 8).
As high as 99.3 per cent of workers belonged to Scheduled Castes or were Muslims. As high as 95.5 per cent of the workers were female.
Most individuals worked for six to seven days every week, for close to eight hours every day.
According to the report, 99.2 per cent of the workers carried out their tasks in conditions that were qualified as forced labour under Indian law. This means that they received less than the minimum wage mandated by the government. Furthermore, female workers earned considerably less than their male counterparts.
About 17.3 per cent of all the studied cases were those including child labour. The youngest worker contacted during the research was only 10 years old. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, of the Government of India defines a child as someone less than 14 years of age and prohibits them from working in certain occupations and hazardous conditions.
The report lists aspects of the home-based garment sector that are detrimental to workers. Other than low income, there is almost complete absence of medical care in case of injury and illness, the absence of trade unions which can address and champion their grievances like unfair penalties and delays in payment, and no written agreements between the workers and their employers.
There are significant differences between the findings from northern and southern India. For example, higher literacy rates in southern India account for better maintenance of records and tracking wage payments among the workers. While 41.3 per cent of workers in northern India reported delay in wage payments, only 15.8 per cent of workers in southern India suffered such delays.
The report states that it is likely that higher literacy rates among workers contribute to higher wages for the same kind of work.
Despite the evidence of slightly better conditions in southern India, workers from both southern and northern India said that they did not feel like they earned enough to live a decent life. Only 8.6 per cent of workers in the north and 14.2 per cent of workers in south felt they earned enough for a decent life.
The report provides city-wise details on parameters such as workers’ satisfaction with their work, wage differences between men and women, reasons for taking up such work, occupational hazards. In New Delhi, 342 workers were contacted. All of these workers, the report states, worked in conditions on forced labour under Indian law.
Home-based garment work included hours spent hunched over, in dusty and ill-lit conditions. Of the total workers included in the report, 23.2 per cent reported suffering from chronic physical ailment or injury.
The report therefore makes ten recommendations to enable women and girls to continue working in the sector albeit without the threat of exploitation. These include forming a home-based garment worker union and formalisation of the sector through registrations and written contracts.
Focus and Factoids by Aditi Dikey.
Blum Center for Developing Economies, University of California, Berkeley