A recently released report says there's a serious risk that workers are trapped in forced labour conditions in the spinning mills of Tamil Nadu that produce yarn and fabrics for international clothing and textile industry.
Undertaken by Amsterdam-based Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (or SOMO) and Advocating Rights In South Asia (Arisa), the large-scale research studied 29 spinning mills in the state and concluded "labour conditions in Tamil Nadu spinning mills are appalling". The yarn and fabrics from these mills are processed into garments and household textiles for European and North American markets.
Because of the complexity of the supply chain, and a lack of transparency about trade flows and the precise buying relations of brands and retailers, it is difficult to confidently map all links from spinning mill to consumer, says the report. Through research, SOMO and Arisa found direct and indirect links between the 29 spinning mills and 10 companies operating internationally: Carrefour, GAP, Ikea, Marc O’Polo, NEXT, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, The Cookie Company Group, WE Fashion, and Zeeman.
The report, "Spinning Around Workers’ Rights", which used the 11 indicators for forced labour developed by the International Labour Organisation to assess the working and living conditions, states that under pressure and threats, workers are made to work excessive overtime. Many workers come from other states in India, do not speak Tamil and belong to marginalised groups. "Employers take advantage of the vulnerable position of these labour migrants, who are often recruited with false promises and end up living miserably in hostels that are by and large isolated from the outside world. Since the corona crisis this situation has only worsened: more forced overtime, less salary and mass dismissals," states the report, which involved interviewing 725 workers, with additional research into the supply chain relations between mills, garment factories and international brands/retailers.
Even the weaving communities of Tamil Nadu are going through a tough time. In March, the weaving community of Nilayur village near Madurai had alleged the state government had done nothing for the development of weavers in the state.
Speaking to ANI, Santha Ram, the vice-president of Bharat Handloom Weavers Association, had said the silk that is produced in Nilayur is exported to Gujarat and Maharashtra. "Our lives have been affected the most, during the time of corona pandemic. The silk that is produced here is exported to Maharashtra and Gujarat."
Ram said that there are 500 handloom weavers in Nilayur village near Madurai. "We all have faced a lot of problems during the lockdown due to the corona pandemic. This Tamil Nadu government has done nothing for weavers. We expect that at least the next government would do something for the weaver community."
He further said that the government must waive off the loans of the weavers. "The government must waive off all the loans and debts on the weavers and furthermore government must also provide weavers with pucca houses."