India is increasingly attempting to enhance its economic policies and socio-political environment to make it an attractive destination for MNCs to set up their plants. Considering the huge population and intense need for more employment opportunities, a rise in labour intensive textile industry seems like a boon. However, this progress is at the cost of labour exploitation. Wages are so low that it cannot be even considered as a “living wage” as per the standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). On the other hand, we also need to consider the toil on the mental health of these labourers due to extremely poor working conditions. Additionally, this industry is also caught up by another evil of child labour. Fast fashion industry resorts to forced labour where children aged between 5 to 17 years works for 14 to 16 hours a day for 7 days a week. Hence the issue of labour treatment becomes crucial to our analyses.
The apparel industry in India has managed to exploit the labour force and bend labour laws to their convenience in order to maintain their competitive edge. In one of the studies conducted by ILO in 2013 into the labour conditions of this industry, the abusive nature of these factories was unearthed. Four-fifths of the workers complained that they had to work for more hours than they were agreed upon during the recruitment, without getting paid for the extra hours. Less than 4 out of 10 workers receive a formal employment contract. This illustrates that the violation of labour laws starts at the very point of hiring. Besides the low wages, if we look into the working environment, four fifth of the labourers reported to have witnessed instances of threats or abuses in the factory. A bad working environment not only reduces their productivity but also has a serious impact on their mental health and stability.
When we say that the “labour is forced”, by definition it means that any work/agreement that is not offered/ taken up by the worker voluntarily. In India, the labour tends to experience this at 3 different stages. At the recruitment stage, it takes the form of forced recruitment, where the labour contractors employ labourers into a specific job against their will. India also witnesses the incidences of deceptive recruitment where employees receive fake promises about the nature of work and the location. At the employment stage they witness “life under duress” which refers to a situation where they have to work for excessively long hours considered beyond the expected capacity of a worker. We have empirical evidence of the same by ILO, which states that 1 out of 5 workers work for 7 days a week and a quarter of workers for more than 10 hours a day on a regular basis.
Since Independence our Constitution has implemented a number of policies and frameworks against child labour and trafficking. However, empirical data shows that these policies have hardly made any impact on child labour in India. The 2011 Census stated that more than 8.2 million children aged between 5 to 14 years are working as labourers. A significant proportion of this is trafficked throughout the supply chain in the textile industry. About half a million children, mostly girls, work on cotton seed farms, as stated in a study done by Indian committee of the Netherlands. Both the legislation and the individual households are to be held responsible for such acts.
In a nutshell, we are moving towards a capitalist society where individual profits are of utmost importance and the lower strata of the society are left without resources resulting in them becoming more vulnerable. These people are left with no option than to accept the kind of wages and working conditions they are offered. However, living in the world’s largest democracy, every individual has the right to get a minimum standard of living as well as experience dignity of work and labour regardless of the profession. We need to focus on making our human resources more skilled and capable so that they do not have to settle and work in inappropriate conditions and live a life with dignity and respect. Besides, what is the use of such growth in a country that doesn’t benefit its citizens?
● Textile industry is the second largest employment provider for the country but unfortunately the kinds of working conditions rendered are inhuman and exploitative.
● Labour laws and Child trafficking laws have been ineffective in mending the flaws of the textile industry which employs 40 million people directly and 60 million indirectly.
● Child labour not only ruins the mental health of the children presently but also closes all future prospects of their growth and skill development.
● We stand in immediate need to prevent our human resources from being exploited and treated unjustly; development of the few sections of the society should not be at the cost of a larger labour class.
● India: Global brands not doing enough to ensure a dignified life for workers in the garment and electronics industry, reports a study. (2016). Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/india-global-brands-not-doing-enough-to-ensure-a-dignified-life-for-workers-in-the-garment-and-electronics-industry-reports-a-study/
● Child labour in the fashion supply chain. (2019). the Guardian. https://labs.theguardian.com/unicef-child-labour/