Slavery or Sumangali? Exploitation of Dalit Girls Exposed
A report titled Captured by Cotton: Exploited Dalit girls produce garments in India for European and US markets (May, 2011), captures the pathetic condition of dalit girls and women, some even younger than 14 years, who are employed in the garment and textile industry of Tamil Nadu under the government-promoted Sumangali Scheme (see the link below). It provides case studies of 4 vertically integrated garment producers namely: SSM India, Eastman Exports Global Clothing, Bannari Amman Group and KPR Mill.
The report has been jointly prepared by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). Campaign Against Sumangali Scheme (CASS) carried out the field research between May and December 2010. Girls and young women who worked at Bannari Amman Group, Eastman Exports, KPR Mill and SSM India were interviewed by CASS. It has been stated that during the course of interview many girls were afraid to share their experiences due to the fear of being harmed by their former employers.
According to the report, the much criticized Sumangali Scheme was introduced ten years back by textile and garment manufacturers in the Coimbatore and Tirupur districts and has now spread throughout Western and Central Tamil Nadu. It has been estimated that 120,000 workers have been currently employed under the scheme. Sumangali workers mostly come from dalit families (for e.g. Arunthatiyar sub-caste) whose parents work as agricultural labourers, construction workers, sweepers and cleaners etc. Nearly 60% of the Sumangali workers belong to the so-called ‘Scheduled Castes’ or ‘untouchables’ groups. Drought, poor living conditions, low wages, constant exploitation and harassment by moneylenders and upper caste landlords compel Arunthathiyar girls and women to get recruited in the Sumangali Scheme. Most women get attracted to the scheme's promise that a lump sum payment between Rs. 30,000 and Rs. 50,000 would be paid at the end of the contract period, which would help them to pay the dowry during their marriages. In many cases, workers did not receive the lump sum amount that was promised at the end of the contract period.
Globalization has led to feminization of workforce in the garment industry in which labour form a major part of production costs. Female labour is preferred over male since it is cheaper and female workers are seen as more docile and loyal than their male counterparts. 60-80 percent of the workers in the textile and garment industry are hired on a temporary basis in order to cut costs in salaries and benefits and to avoid unionization as temporary workers are less inclined to join trade unions.
The report informs that the export oriented garment industry of Tamil Nadu, which comprises small and medium factories are sub-contracted work in the supply chain by US and European based customers. Although clothing brands and customers have developed codes of conduct pertaining to international labour standards and monitoring of non-compliances, evidence from the field suggests that many of the vertically integrated enterprises (suppliers) have not yet eliminated the Sumangali scheme from their employment status. It has been found that all companies sourcing from India indirectly source from spinning units that uses this exploitative scheme.
Media reports (see the links below) indicate that child labourers and young women are often recruited in various textile and garment manufacturing units in Tirupur. In June, 2008, after an expose by BBC Panorama, Primark axed and cancelled all orders from three companies, based in Tirupur, which used child labour to manufacture clothes sold on UK's high streets. Tirupur People Forum (TPF), an umbrella organization of NGOs covering 17 districts in the south and west of Tamil Nadu, has been engaged in defending the rights of Sumangali victims since 2005. It has been found that young women are engaged as apprentices by industrial enterprises for three years and after completion of term, they are thrown out of service. There was a legal move by the Tamil Nadu government to force employers to have only a fixed percentage of apprentices in its workforce.
Key findings of the report
"Captured by Cotton: Exploited Dalit girls produce garments in India for European and US markets", May 2011, SOMO - Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations & ICN - India Committee of the Netherlands, http://www.indianet.nl/CapturedByCotton.html
"Dalit girls working under slave like conditions in India’s garment industry", 19 May, 2011, International Dalit Solidarity Network, http://www.idsn.org/news-resources/idsn-news/read/article/dalit-girls-working-under-slave-like-conditions-in-indias-garment-industry/128/
"Dalit girls exploited in supply chain of high street retailers", Dalit Freedom Network, http://www.dfn.org.uk/news/news/174-sumangali-exploitation.html
"Child labour prevalent in Tirupur ‘textile production chain'" by R Vimal Kumar, The Hindu, 5 June, 2010, http://www.hindu.com/2010/06/05/stories/2010060561470600.htm
"Wound On A Spindle" by Pushpa Iyengar, Outlook, 23 June, 2008, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?237716
"No child labour in Tirupur textile factories: Govt" by Saurabh Gupta, SME Times, 25 June, 2008, http://smetimes.tradeindia.com/smetimes/news/top-stories/2008/Jun/25/no-child-labour-in-tirupur-textile-factories-govt.html
"After the Gold Rush", http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/CommentAnalysis/CorporateWatch/primark.aspx
"British stick for child labour" by Amit Roy, The Telegraph, 18 June, 2011, http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080618/jsp/frontpage/story_9427490.jsp
"'Adolescent Dreams Shattered in the Lure of Marriage': Sumangali System: A New Form of Bondage in Tamil Nadu", Labour File, http://www.labourfile.org/ArticleMore.aspx?id=826
"Sumangali scheme: relief ordered", The Hindu, 7 October, 2009, http://www.hindu.com/2009/10/07/stories/2009100759620800.htm
"Sumangali scheme and bonded labour in India", Fair Wear Foundation, September 2010, http://fairwear.org/images/2010-09/fwf__-_india_-_sumangali_scheme.pdf