Indian 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 violence.
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 wage increases.
"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.