Report of the Survey of Working Conditions of Garment Workers
The survey on working conditions of garment workers in Noida and Okhala Industrial area was conducted from September 2011 to March 2012. Workers of following four factories were interviewed at the gate of factories:
1. Magnolia Martinique Clothing Pvt. Ltd; A-13, Sector 80, Noida PhaseII (total strength about 1000 workers)
Archive for the ‘India’ Category
Report of the Survey of Working Conditions of Garment Workers
Tags: India, Occupational safety and health, Silicosis
We may be witnessing a watershed moment in India’s labour history.
Advocacy groups in India (all of them home-grown) have pushed for some time to obtain justice for victims of silicosis. This disease is caused by inhalation of dust without protective breathing equipment and causes sufferers to endure constant pain.
It’s sadly very prevalent today in countries lacking high health and safety standards. One industry where it is a problem is in making sandblasted jeans (covered previously). Another is gem-cutting. One small town of Gujurat state numbers 108 silicosis widows out of its population of 9,000 people. Usually these widows are compelled by economic need to follow their late husbands into the same work. This one village also counted 30 orphans who have lost both parents to the disease in this way.
Unfortunately solution via legislative fiat is not as easy as it sounds. To begin with, the country’s occupational health & safety laws only apply to specific, named industries: mining, manufacturing, ports and construction. That alone wouldn’t be so hard to redress but the majority of India’s workforce is in the informal sector (92% according to the Ashoka website) meaning that laws directed at employers will have no effect on them. Gemstone cutting, for example, is an industry based out of home workshops.
It’s been a long, convoluted journey to get anyone to take action on this issue.
Firstly there was a reporting problem. National figures under-estimated the prevalence of silicosis. Nation-wide – as in other nations – silicosis was being reported as tuberculosis. Public interest advocacy was pursued and successful litigation in the Delhi High Court compelled Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) hospitals to accurately measure the disease’s incidence. Also the National Human Rights Commission started accepting complaints relating to silicosis.
The next step was to litigate for an actual right to compensation. This too was successful however the court, foreseeing the complexities of implementation, asked the state governments to legislate on the matter. To date, one has and two haven’t. Negotiations continue but the governments really have nowhere to run on this issue. It seems workers are on the cusp of securing a historic entitlement.
Even once this is achieved, a further issue is deciding who will pay the insurance premiums and setting up an framework that ensures that the body holding the funds sticks to its purpose and does not simply become a source of funds that gets used for political convenience. ESIC, the insurer for the organised sector, currently runs a surplus of $900 million which suggests either their premiums are too high or they are sitting on a lot of unsettled claims. Activists will tell you it’s the latter.
Meanwhile, the people cutting the gems we see in our fine jeweler’s shops continue to die of this preventable disease.
Tags: Assam, Ben & Jerry's, Doom Dooma, Dove, India, Labor rights, Lipton, Rexona, Surf (detergent), Unilever
Unilever, the maker of ubiquitous household products including Lipton, Rexona, Lynx, Dove, Omo and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are being criticised for dragging their feet on labour rights in India.
The IUF is losing patience with the way the company is failing to abide by its historic agreement to recognise the workers union in the state of Assam as a bargaining partner, as detailed on the IUF website.
The company’s actions are a bit incongruous considering what a soft image the company promotes, being a founding member of both the Marine Stewardship Council and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
It seems there was a breakdown of relationships in the Doom Dooma site, with the management locking out the 700 members of the worker-elected union and promoting an alternative association set up in its place by the company.
That was in 2007. The union took the case to Indian court as a denial of the right to free association. At the same time they lodged a complaint under the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises with the UK Government contact point, asking it to enforce them on the company which is headquartered in London.
The local Indian court in 2010 ruled that a new union election could proceed and an agreement for a ballot was drawn up that July.
This is now a year ago. The company has thus far failed to hold the promised election at which workers can decide whether they want to be represented by their original union or the one sponsored by the company.
Consumers … you know what you can do …
Tags: garment industry, Living wage, minimum wage, poverty, textile industry, Wage
There are two benchmark figures in the area of low-income and poverty wages:
- The Minimum Wage (where it exists) is the legally-enforceable minimum rate of pay, set either by legislation or by some administrative process. If it is not observed, it is fairly straightforward to take legal action against the offending employer.
- The Living Wage, on the other hand, is the minimum wage necessary for a person to make ends meet. Ideally this is less than the minimum wage but alas it has long been the case that in many States of the USA the Minimum Wage pays less than a Living Wage. The exact level of the Living Wage constantly changes as costs of living increase.
If an employer fails to pay the living wage there is no easy way to get them to do so!
Enter Asia Floor Wage.
AFW is a coalition of unions and other activists who pursue fair wages for garment workers in Asia (they refer to the Living Wage as a ‘Floor Wage’). This week they published revised minimum monthly rates for the six major garment manufacturing countries:
- Bangladesh 12248 BDT
- Cambodia 692903 Riel
- India 7967 Rupees
- Indonesia 2132202 Rupiah
- Srilanka 19077 Rupees
- China 1842 RMB
These rates are equal to 540 USD at purchasing-power parity.
According to AFW, the ‘gap’ between the Living Wage and the Minimum Wage in these countries is, on average, 1 to 2. Guangdong, China’s manufacturing province, comes close but still falls short.
AFW have also assembled a helpful guide for retailers and sourcing companies who want to take CSR seriously, explaining how they can meaningfully commit to fair wages in garment production.
Tags: Dubai, Labor rights, migrant workers, United Arab Emirates
You may be picking up my theme in this blog is that ‘nothing in life is free’. We should either be prepared to pay the premium for ethical sourcing or live with the fact that the people who make our household products often do so under appalling conditions.
Today I’d like to look at something a little more abstract: travel. It is a big ticket item in household discretionary spending, even if it doesn’t result in anything tangible beyond a snow dome or keychain.
Of course travel destinations are generally, you might say, “pre-existing”. They were built for a purpose unrelated to tourism, even if tourism later becomes the tail that wags the dog, e.g. the Tower of London, Macchu Pichu, China’s Great Wall.
However the 21st Century economy sees lack of significance as no barrier and building projects are devised to generate tourism where none existed. Disneyland and Las Vegas did this so successfully; everyone wants a piece of the action.
The Emirate of Dubai decided if it was good enough for Nevada, it was good enough for them. They also wanted to turn their city into the Singapore of the Middle-East, finance-wise. They might still pull it off; 6.8 million visitors a year can’t be wrong, can they?
Hopefully a few of them pause between coladas to ask, Who built those glitzy towers and resorts?
The UAE has a bizarre labour force. The 20% of the population who hold Emirati passports generally live a generous tax free existence and many do not have to work at all. There are a small number of mostly white expatriates. A colossal 90% of the workforce are migrant workers, mostly from India and Pakistan.
The people who build the shimmering towers themselves live in makeshift labour camps beyond the city limits, sleeping eight to a room in filthy living conditions. Just this week it was reported that there have been two suicides in one of these camps.
The workers have very limited rights, a fact compounded by their tenuous citizenship. Traditionally workers have used strike and protest to advance their conditions. However when 4,000 migrant Dubai workers tried that in 2007, they were all deported.
More recently workers have also found themselves stranded when their employer goes belly-up, as they need the employer’s sponsorship to remain in the country.
Home governments have not been very energetic in pushing for improvements to the situation because they are quite happy to be receiving a small portion of the Emirates’ wealth sent back to workers’ family members in the form of remittances.
The UAE government has taken some measures to improve the situation, stipulating minimum conditions for work contracts and announcing in 2007 that it would allow the formation of construction unions (although, to date, none have appeared).
But when your friend shows you the photos of the glass city in the desert, remember that it didn’t just materialise, mirage-like, it was built by thousands upon thousands of workers who are deliberately being kept out of the frame.
- Two suicides, Khaleej Times, 11 March 2011, via migrant-rights.org
- Labor Protests Become More Common in Recession-Hit Dubai, The Epoch Times, 27 January 2011
Tags: China, Guangdong, India, manufacturing sector, Migrant worker, minimum wage, Pearl River Delta, Wage, wage growth
- China’s labour market: The next China, The Economist, 29 July 2010
- China now has third-highest labor costs in emerging Asia, China Briefing, 19 January 2011
- India poised to reap rewards of move away from China, SupplyManagement.com, 24 January 2011
Tags: Tetley, safety equipment, Tea, Tata Tea, maternity leave, health and safety, tea plantations
In May 2010 Gopal Tanti, a tea plantation worker, collapsed and died after spraying tea that ultimately finds its way onto your supermarket shelf in Tetley’s teabags.
Gopal was only 25 years old and his collapse, it seems, resulted from exposure to toxic pesticides without any safety equipment. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he may have survived but was denied medical treatment on the scene. As word got out, a spontaneous protest broke out. Police arrived and shot and killed two of the protestors.
Earlier, in another plantation that supplies Tata (owner of Tetley’s), Arti Oraon, an eight-month pregnant tea plucker was denied maternity leave and compelled to keep working. When her 1,000 co-workers protested against her treatment, management locked them out with no food or rations for three months!
Today they are seeking compensation for their lost livelihood over this period. You can support them by sending a message of support to Tata/Tetley’s.
Watch an interview with one of Arti’s co-workers here: