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Garment and Textile Workers Union GATWU,
Thursday 15 February, 2007

Garment Worker Hangs Herself in Factory

A tragic incident where a young woman garment worker named Ammu, about 25 years committed suicide by hanging herself in the toilet of the factory on Saturday the 10th of February 2007 came to light in Bangalore on Tuesday the 13th of February. The Bangalore daily newspaper 'Vijaya Karnataka' dated 14th February alleges that Ammu committed suicide due to sexual harassment in the factory. Another daily newspaper 'Prajavani' reported that one of the employees of the factory has been incessantly harassing Ammu. On Sunday the 11th and Monday the 12th February, the factory had not functioned and the body was discovered only on Tuesday.

The factory where the suicide occurred is 'Triangle Apparels' situated at N0.25/26, 3rd Main, Yeshwantpur Industrial Suburb, Bangalore. This is a fully owned unit of M/s Seven Hills Clothing Private Limited. The 'occupier' of the factory is Mr. Madanlal J. Hinduja of the Gokaldas Exports group of companies. The factory is producing clothing for international brands like Mexx, Puma and O'Neil.

Ammu was a resident of Nandini Layout living in a tenement belonging to the Slum Clearance Board along with her mother and two children. Ammu was the sole bread-winner of the family.

Workers say that on the day of the incident, one Kumar who is a floor-in-charge abused Ammu in vulgar language at about 2.30 p.m mainly pressurizing her to work more rapidly to meet production targets. Disconcerted by the harassment and abuse, Ammu expressed her inability to work at such a pace, took the exit pass from Kumar and went to the production manager Ram Prasad. He also abused her, refused to sign the exit pass and ordered Ammu to resume work. Workers say that she has written on her palm and on the exit pass that she was forced to take this extreme measure of suicide due to the harassment meted out to her by Kumar, Ram Prasad and Hemalatha (supervisor).

GATWU and supporting organisations are demanding a high level probe into the incident by the government.

February 16, 2007

Indian Garment Worker's Suicide Prompts Calls for Urgent Investigation

The death of a young woman worker who reportedly committed suicide in the toilets of one of India's leading clothing producers "because she could no longer endure the pressure she was subjected to has prompted calls for an immediate independent investigation into the events leading to her death."

The Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) says that 25-year old Ammu hanged herself on Saturday in the toilets of Triangle Apparels in Bangalore. The plant is a subsidiary of Gokaldas Exports Ltd., which employs some 40,000 workers in Bangalore producing for many of the world's leading brands.

Says ITGLWF General Secretary Neil Kearney: "Workers say that on the day of the incident, Ammu was verbally abused by the floor-in-charge, who pushed her around and threw things at her in order to pressure her to meet production targets.

"Disconcerted by this abuse, Ammu went to the production manager but he too abused her, refused to sign her exit pass and ordered her to resume work. Workers say that she had scribbled a note on the palm of her saying that she could no longer tolerate the harassment meted out by management.

"Ammu lived with her mother in two children in a nearby slum and was the sole bread-winner of the family".

Mr. Kearney says that reports about the circumstances leading to her death are consistent with the many first hand-out accounts he heard from workers on a recent visit to Bangalore.

"Workers complained of targets that were unreachable in a standard day, of being forced to work additional hours without extra pay in order to meet those targets, and coming under immense pressure from supervisors and managers who routinely scream and throw things at them to make them work faster.

"Such behaviour is of course in breach of the labour laws of India and the codes of conduct of the brands sourcing from the Gokaldas chain of companies.

"Not surprisingly, Bangalore's garment industry is suffering from a huge labour turnover rate, which many say is the result of these abusive conditions. Labour turnover is about 180% a year.

The ITGLWF has asked Gokaldas Exports Ltd. to explain why this apparent suicide happened, and what steps the company will be taking to remedy the problems.

Indian Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes has been asked to conduct an immediate independent investigation into the events leading up to Ammu's death, including an examination of the prevailing labour conditions in the industry and a review of whether these are in compliance with the laws of India and the standards set down in the codes of conduct of the industry's principal buyers.

"The Global Union has also draw the case to the attention of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP), which has granted certification to Gokaldas. WRAP has been asked to investigate how such abuse could exist at one of its certified factories."

Leading retailers sourcing from Gokaldas Exports Ltd and from Bangalore in general have been warned about the prevailing labour problems and have been asked to conduct urgent checks on their supply chain in the area in order to avoid this sort of tragic incident from occurring again.

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation is a global union federation bringing together 220 affiliated organisations in 110 countries with a combined membership of 10 million workers.

March 6, 2007
Report of the Fact Finding Team on the Death of Ammu, a Woman Garment Worker, In the factory Premises [click here]

Memorandum to Minister for Labour, Karnataka
March 7, 2007

Joint Action Committee for the Rights of Garment Workers


The Minister for Labour,
Government of Karnataka.

Date: March 7, 2007

1. We wish to bring to your notice gross violations of human rights and labour rights within the garment industry in Bangalore. The industry employs over five lakh workers within the city itself. A majority of the employees are poor women, whose labour and earnings support a large number of dependents. Despite substantial growth in turnover and profits in the sector, the companies remain bad employers. Workers are very often paid even less than the statutory Minimum Wage, and made to work beyond the legal 8 hours per day, without any overtime payment. They are subjected to intense work pressure and harassment at the workplace. There is practically no unionisation or collective bargaining in the sector. We would highlight two instances of gross violations of rights, which illustrate the situation and merit your immediate attention.

2. Ammu, a young worker employed by Triangle Apparels 6, a company of the Gokudas Exports Group, was found dead on the factory premises on 13-2-2007. The post mortem report suggests that she committed suicide on 10-2-2007. Several co-workers reported that she was very badly harassed by the Production Manager, Assistant Plant Manager and plant supervisor, and that her suicide was the result of the harassment. There have been suggestions of foul play. The management of the company along with the local police officers sought to cover up the whole incident, without the company accepting any accountability. They instead tried to portray Ammu as being a disturbed person, and probably having committed suicide for reasons that had nothing to do with the workplace. They even sought to “buy” the silence of the family members of Ammu by paying them some Rs.1.75 to 2 lakhs. There are conflicting reports of even the compensation given to Ammu’s family members.

3. There are several issues that this incident raises. First, there is widespread incidence of harassment of workers in the garment industry. Even within the best of companies, claiming to have so-called best industry practices, audits by the largest international brands, and accreditation from international agencies like SA-8000, harassment of workers is rampant. Gokuldas Exports is the largest garment manufacturing concern in the city. The Group employs over thirty thousand workers, and has an annual turnover of over Rs.700 crores. If a company of this Group can have harassment to the extent where a worker is forced into taking her life, we can imagine what other smaller companies are like. Second, even when incidents of harassment are reported, the reaction of companies is to deny and cover up. They are aided in this by the total insensitivity of the various regulatory agencies, including the Labour Department and the state police machinery. To our knowledge, the officers and supervisor implicated in the Ammu case have not even been suspended by the company. Third, in a situation where the immediate action of the company and regulatory agencies is to cover up and prevent any open enquiry, even fair compensation to the victimised worker is not available. Ammu was about 25 years old when she died. She could have been in service for at least another 30 years. Even if we were to calculate lost earnings for 30 years at her present wage level of about Rs.30000 per year, the compensation would work out to Rs.9 lakhs. What Ammu’s family has got in terms of an arbitrary settlement is a mere pittance.

4. The second instance is the suspension from employment on 11-12-06 of Ms. V.P.Rukmini, employed with Texport Creations Limited. Ms. Rukmini as the General Secretary of the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU) has been active in advising workers of their rights, and taking up with the Management violations of labour rights. The suspension of Rukmini is motivated, and done solely to prevent workers coming together to fight for their legitimate rights.

5. The Management has gone to court and obtained a temporary injunction against GATWU and its office bearers from communicating anything about the company with outside agencies. GATWU is faced with a similar court ruling for its attempt to take up labour rights violations at Fibre and Fabrics International Limited and Jeans Knitwear Private Limited. These injunctions are a blatant attempt by the managements of these companies to quell the collective voices of workers. They violate the fundamental right to free speech.

6. GATWU has taken up both the suspension of Rukmini and the two temporary injunctions, and is confident that it will be able to resolve the matters favourably, through appropriate legal remedies. However, given the structure of the legal system, the management can drag on cases through numerous appeals and frivolous litigations. This is a common strategy adopted by managements in large companies to prevent workers from exercising their legitimate right to unionise. We would add here that it is the situation of the absence of trade unions and all other mechanisms for workers to collectively take up their rights at the workplace that allows companies to blatantly harass workers and deny them their rights.

5. This is a sorry state of affairs for a city that prides itself as being the choice destination for investment and modern business. All the companies referred to in this memorandum are among the largest and most modern of companies in the garment sector in Bangalore, who claim to be model employers and large export revenue earners. It is in particular a matter of shame that vulnerable sections of women workers are not even allowed to collectively articulate their grievances because of management pressure. This is the situation that leads to physical and emotional breakdown, and even untimely death of the workers. In the long run, poor wages and working conditions, and a rule of fear, is not a good prescription for healthy business development and growth. The example of the IT sector, with companies like Infosys and Wipro are available as role models of an alternative scenario where workers are compensated adequately, and are partners in the growth and profits of the company.

6. We, therefore, as individuals and organisations concerned with the democratic rights of all working people, appeal to you to take up the matter for intervention at the level of the Government and the Labour Department. We specifically request you to take up the following in your capacity as the Minister for Labour in the state:

  1. Call for a tripartite meeting of representatives of the Labour Department, garment industry employers, and employees’ organisations to discuss issues of labour rights, and in particular prevention of harassment at workplace and the right to unionise in the garment sector.
  2. Ensure open and impartial investigation of the causes that lead to the death of Ammu at her workplace at Triangle Apparels 6, and proper fixation of criminal and civil responsibility on the company and the concerned individual officers and supervisors.
  3. Ensure a fair compensation to the family of Ammu, mediated through the Labour Department. The Labour Department should also be enjoined to take this up as a test case to prescribe a clear and transparent mechanism for accountability and compensation in all future cases of harassment of workers.
  4. Convene a meeting of representatives of the Management at Texport Creations and GATWU along with Labour Department officers, to examine the possibility of speedy and amicable resolution of the various labour disputes in the company.
  5. Instruct the Labour Department to be especially vigilant to ensure that the legitimate right of workers to unionise is not hampered by management coercion in the garment industry; and that any complaint of harassment at the workplace is dealt with speedily.
Thanking you, and hoping for an early and positive response on our specific requests from you,

Yours sincerely,

The Hindu
March 8, 2007

Probe into worker's death sought

Memorandum submitted to Chief Minister; candlelight vigil today

* A fact-finding team investigated the case
* Memorandum draws attention to violations of human rights

Bangalore: Even as women the world over celebrate March 8 as the International Women's Day, the plight of working women in many sectors is far from satisfactory.
One of the starkest examples of this is the garment industry, which employs nearly three lakh women in Bangalore.
A fact-finding team, which investigated the death of a garment factory worker in Bangalore, has thrown up the seamier side of the industry which has seen a large economic boom in the recent years.

Labour rights
The Joint Action Committee for the Rights of Garment Workers has drawn attention to "gross violations of human rights and labour rights" in the garment industry, which has a large number of women employees, in a memorandum submitted to Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.
These violations came to the committee's notice while it was investigating the death of the garment worker, Ammu, in February 13, 2007.

The committee has organised a candlelight vigil on Thursday at Town Hall in Bangalore to focus on the conditions of women in the garment industry, with specific reference to the death of the woman.
While observing that the death of the 25-year-old worker was the result of the harassment allegedly by her superiors in the factory over an extended period of time, the committee has said that this incident points to larger violations in the industry as a whole.
The committee, which consists of 15 non-governmental organisations, labour organisations and human rights groups, has said that garment workers are often paid below the statutory minimum wage, made to work beyond eight hours and subjected to harassment thought the industry is seeing an economic boom.
These violations are always denied by the companies themselves and covered up by the authorities and the police, claimed Hassan Mansoor of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Shakun of Vimochana here on Wednesday.

Another instance
Citing another instance of alleged harassment, the committee has pointed out that V.P. Rukmini, general secretary of Garment and Textile Workers' Union, was suspended by her employer for taking up issues of labour rights violations.
The management of the company for which Ms. Rukmini worked has even got an injunction against the union and its office-bearers against communicating anything about the company to outsiders, the committee has said.
The committee has noted that these cases hold a mirror to the "sorry state of affairs of a city that prides itself as being choice destination for investment and modern business."

Tripartite meeting
The committee has appealed to the Chief Minister to ensure that a tripartite meeting of the Labour Department, garment industry employers and employees organisations be held, an impartial investigation of the death of Ammu be initiated and the Labour Department be instructed to be vigilant on protecting the rights of workers in the garment industry.
The member organisations of the committee include Vimochana, Fedina, Garment Mahila Karmikara Munnade, Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women, Garment and Textile Workers' Union, Alternate Law Forum, People's Union for Civil Liberties and Hengasara Hakkina Sangha.

Press Clippings (click on picture for enlargement)

March 8, 2007
'Deccan Herald', March 8, 2007
March 8, 2007
'???', March 8, 2007
March 8, 2007
'Indian Express', March 8, 2007
March 8, 2007
'The Hindu', March 8, 2007
March 9, 2007
'???', March 9, 2007
March 9, 2007
'???', March 9, 2007

Landelijke India Werkgroep - 22 maart 2007