Captured by Cotton: Exploited Dalit Girls Produce Garments in India for European and US Markets
40 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2011
Date Written: May 1, 2011
In India, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, girls and young women are recruited and employed on a large scale to work in the garment industry. The promise: a decent wage, comfortable accommodation, and, the biggest lure: a considerable sum of money upon completion of their three-year contract. This lump sum may be used to pay for a dowry. Although the payment of a dowry has been prohibited in India since 1961, it is still a general practice in rural India for which families often incur high debts. The recruitment and employment scheme - the Sumangali Scheme - that is the subject of this report is closely linked to the payment of a dowry. The Tamil word Sumangali refers to a married woman who leads a happy and contented life with her husband with all fortunes and material benefits. The reality of working under the Sumangali Scheme however, stands in sharp contrast to the attractive picture that is presented to the girls and young women during the recruitment process. Excessive overwork, low wages, no access to grievance mechanisms or redress, restricted freedom of movement and limited privacy are part and parcel of the working and employment conditions under this scheme. The promised end-of-contract sum is not a bonus, but part of the regular wage that is withheld by the employer. Often women workers do not even receive the full promised lump sum. Without exaggeration, the Sumangali Scheme in its worst form has become synonymous with unacceptable employment and labor conditions, even with bonded labor.
In this report, the widespread use of the Sumangali Scheme in Tamil Nadu is illustrated by four case studies of such vertically integrated enterprises of which the European and US buyers were identified: Bannari Amman Group, Eastman Exports, KPR Mill, and SSM India. This report aims to provide civil society organizations, policy makers, companies and consumers with clear examples of problems related to the Sumangali Scheme and other laboor rights violations in the Tamil Nadu garment industry. Evidence of the occurrence of the Sumangali Scheme in the supply chains of European and US brands and retailers is provided.
Keywords: garment industry, India, sumangali, exploited labor
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