workers, a majority of them women, who sweat and toil to stitch
designer garments for global brands in Europe and the US, are
exploited and harassed by employers, an international tribunal
said here Sunday.
"Though the textiles and garment manufacturing sector is the
largest provider of employment and output in India, the working
and living conditions of workers have definitely worsened over the
last two decades with more exploitation and harassment," the
Rome-based National People's Tribunal said in its verdict on
"Living wage as a fundamental right of Indian garment workers".
A six-member jury, headed by Italy-based Permanent People's
Tribunal secretary-general Gianni Tognoni, said that besides low
wages and non-payment for overtime, garment workers are denied
statutory and social benefits, exploited with stiff production
targets and its women workforce face sexual harassment and
In a representation to the tribunal, about 20 trade and garment
workers' unions said multi-national brands and retailers were
responsible for the grave exploitation and human rights violations
of Indian garment workers.
"Such violations in producing countries have robbed workers of a
basic human existence and Asian countries and industry of their
due revenue," the unions petitioned, seeking minimum living wage
and decent working conditions as a fundamental human right.
Barring H&M (Hennes & Maurtiz) AB, the Swedish multi-national
retail-clothing firm, no other global brand or its suppliers in
India was present for the tribunal's hearing, held for the first
time in India here since Nov 22, as part of a series of national
public hearings coordinated by the Asia floor wage campaign.
According to Asia Floor Wage Alliance, wages are below poverty
levels in the Indian garment industry. For instance, the monthly
minimum wage for garment workers in Bangalore is around Rs.4,472
($81 or 63 euros), which is said to be 43 percent of a living wage
enough to support a family.
The $55-billion Indian textiles industry, with $33 billion from
exports, employs a 35 million people and accounts for 14 percent
of the industrial production, which is four percent of the
national gross domestic product (GDP). About two million people
are directly employed in the readymade garment units across the
country, with about 80 percent of them being women.
With a 12 percent share of the country's total export basket,
India is the third largest exporter of textiles after China and
the European Union (EU) and is the sixth largest exporter of
clothing. Readymade garments account for 45 percent of the total
textiles exports. Apparel and cotton products together contribute
about 70 percent of the total textile exports.
Noting that the brands have to recognise their complicity in the
violation of the basic rights of workers, Tognoni said
multi-national retail majors must confront the myth that their
profitability and competitiveness would be negatively affected by
"Our recommendations to them (brands and suppliers) will remain a
mockery where human rights are violated, their declarations of
good will imply an unwillingness to change. The jury demands more
credibility on the part of employers by participating in a
dialogue with parity among stakeholders," Tognoni added.