The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a human rights organization, spoke to workers from almost half the mills in Tamil Nadu, the largest producer of cotton yarn in the country. Most female workers employed in the 734 mills involved in the research were aged between 14 and 18, it said, and up to 20 percent of the workers were younger than 14. It said employees were forced to work long hours by employers who often withheld their pay or locked them up in company-controlled hostels. Many also faced sexual harassment.
“We have raised the issue for five years now, but even to us the scale of this problem came as a shock,” ICN Director Gerard Oonk said in a statement. K Venkatachalam, chief advisor of the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association, said he was not aware of the research. He said the state government had recently filed a report to the Madras High Court “clearly stating that these issues are no longer prevalent in the industry.”
“The matter has been closed,” Venkatachalam told. India is one of the world’s largest textile and garment manufacturers. Tamil Nadu is home to some 1,600 mills, employing between 200,000 and 400,000 workers. Traditionally the dyeing units, spinning mills and apparel factories have drawn on cheap labour from villages to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes, most of it for Western high street shops. Most workers are young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste or Dalit communities, who often face sexual harassment. “Supervisors torture girls to extract work beyond their capacity,” ICN quoted an 18-year-old former worker as saying.
Thomson Reuters Foundation