Top apparel brands promise better India worker living condition

Five international companies promised serious action against violations of workers' rights committed by their partner garment factories in India.

February 22, 2016

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Five international companies promised serious action against violations of workers' rights committed by their partner garment factories in India.

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In response to a recently published report by human and labor rights group India Committee of the Netherlands or ICN entitled "Unfree and Unfair" that highlights the poor living conditions and restricted freedom of young migrant women workers in Bangalore, five global brands have pledged swift action to improve the workers' plight. The companies, namely C&A, H&M, Inditex, PVH and Gap, all source products from factories in the area.

Bangalore is the capital city of Karnataka state and among the leading garment hubs in India. It is home to approximately 1,200 apparel suppliers, about a quarter of which is unregistered. While the majority of workers come from within the state, an estimated 10 percent of employees arrive from neighboring states or even farther away, making differences in language and customs a big challenge.

ICN's data were gathered from a mix desk research and interviews with more than 100 workers. The respondents are employees of four garment factories, namely K Mohan & Co., Texport Industries, Arvind Ltd Exports and Shahi Exports. Arvind manufactures garments for H&M while Shahi is a long-term supplier for C&A. Texport's clients include H&M, Gap, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Sears.

Among the major problems the ICN found out are cramped living spaces that lack basic amenities, strict curfew time, verbal abuses and unequal wages. Upon receiving the report, the buyers vowed to take serious action against these.

According to ICN, the companies promised to review curfew regulations at factory hostels and talk to industry experts, brands and stakeholders to "implement a comprehensive industry-wide program to 'institutionalize' international standards for recruiting workers, accommodation, grievance management, training and development of migrant workers".

C&A, H&M and Inditex plans to work together in improving the working conditions of the migrant garment workers, and cooperate with local trade unions. They also sought the help of a local NGO to help train workers and provide a grievance handling system.

Apart from these, H&M will set dormitory guidelines for all factory hostels in its supply chain while C&A promised to look deeper into the situation in Shahi. H&M is also an advocate of green manufacturing and ethical treatment of animals.

Indietex intends to evaluate its whole supply chain in India, targeting better facilities and help desks to handle grievances and provide counselling.

PVH, meanwhile, is currently developing guidelines to address the issues while Gap said in a statement that it is "working closely with ETI and other brands to contribute to an industry-wide multistakeholder forum comprising of industry, brands, local unions and other civil society organizations to effectively address the issue in Bangalore and to find long-term sustainable solutions." Gap also announced recently an ambitious goal to foster sustainable business.

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