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Global apparel brands to help Bengaluru workers
Jan '16
After a damning report by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a Dutch non-governmental group, highlighting appalling living conditions, low wages and lack of freedom of movement of workers in garment factories in Bengaluru, clothing majors such as H&M, Inditex, C&A and PVH have committed to improving the lives of workers in the city.

American brand Gap Inc., which also sources apparel from Bengaluru, did not respond to the report by the ICN, according to a statement by the Dutch non-governmental group. A draft of the report, Unfree and Unfair, was presented to the companies in November 2015, Thomson Reuters said.

The condition of garment workers in South Asia have been under the spotlight following the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, in which over a thousand workers were killed, many of them employed by suppliers to Western retailers.

While the apparel and garment sector is a major employer in the Indian economy, the ICN report paints an unflattering picture. According to the ICN report, hostels run by the Bengaluru factories lacked basic amenities such as beds and clean water, and that workers earned between 95 euros (Rs 7,000) and 115 euros (Rs 8,472) per month, just above the official minimum wage of 93 euros (Rs 6849) to 103 euros (Rs 7,588).

Bengaluru, a hub for apparel exporters as well as for information technology companies, draws migrants from different parts of the country seeking better economic prospects.

There are an estimated 1,200 garment factories in and around Bengaluru, making apparel for large global brands.

Many of the workers are women from poor backgrounds who do not know the local language and are unaware of their rights, making them more vulnerable to exploitation, according to the ICN report based on interviews with 110 migrant workers at four garment factories in the city.

"Global companies have a responsibility to ensure better conditions for the workers, as they are directly benefiting from their labour," Raphel Jose, vice president of supply-chain sustainability at the Centre for Responsible Business in Bengaluru, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"This is an area where the brands can come together and collaborate with a local agency and pressurise the industry to improve conditions." Dutch clothing retailer C&A, Swedish retailer H&M and Spain's Inditex, which owns the Zara and Massimo Dutti brands, will work together and liaise with local trade unions to provide training and address workers' grievances, ICN said.

Inditex will evaluate the state of workers at its suppliers and factories across India, while PVH Corp., which owns brands including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, is developing new guidelines for its suppliers, ICN said.

"If the brands commit to these issues and their plan of action, we expect that considerable progress can be made in addressing the working and living conditions of young migrant garment workers in Bangalore," ICN said in the statement. (SH)

Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India

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