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Indian apparel exporter's reject bonded labour tag by NGO
Oct '12
Can you imagine, around 35 representatives from the most well-known worldwide apparel brands and retailers sitting on the same side of the table in the Indian textile hub of Coimbatore? On the other side of the table were leaders of the South Indian Textile Association (SIMA), a textile lobby group representing textile mills in South India.

At stake was the reputation of vertically integrated mills, which also manufacture and supply apparel and other textile products to these global retailers. An allegation has been made by a Netherlands based NGO that girls were exploited by these mills and is tantamount to bonded labour.

Representatives of renowned global apparel brands and retailers like Wal-Mart, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Levi Strauss, Mother Care, Inditex, C&A, Bestseller, Primark, GAP, were present at the meeting in which SIMA leaders tried to convince them that the whole industry should not be targeted for the follies of a few.

The precursor to this meeting came from a report published by a Dutch NGO in 2011, which alleged exploitation of young Dalit girls in the textile belt of Tamil Nadu. An update published in 2012, further focused on an employment scheme – Sumangali which promises a lump sum amount at the end of a three-year contract period.

The NGO said that the scheme was comparable to bonded labour and alleged that it had found evidence of salary being deducted every month to make up for the lump sum amount. The issue was subsequently raised in the European Parliament and by governments in Spain and Netherlands.

Speaking exclusively with fibre2fashion, Dr K Selvaraju – Secretary General of SIMA said, “The whole industry cannot be targeted for the wrongdoing of a few mills, which might be practicing this system. South Indian mills are known to properly take care of employees and adopt best working practices”.

A few representatives of those global apparel retailers present at the meeting whom fibre2fashion contacted, but did not want to reveal their identity too accepted that, the system was prevalent in less than 10 percent of the textile and apparel industry in the textile hubs of Coimbatore and Tirupur. A few of them also conceded that the whole industry could not be targeted.

A few representatives who are mainly compliance officers of these apparel retailers also revealed that checks at the units from where they sourced their textile products revealed that most of them followed compliance levels mandated by their respective apparel brand companies.  

Fibre2fashion also spoke to Eastman Exports, a company named in the report released by the NGO. Mr Alegesan - General Manager (Quality Control and CSR) says that there is no scheme like Sumangali operating within the apparel exporting community in the textile cluster of Tirupur.

He also informs that none of these organisations or their representatives have visited their factories nor have they verified any documents or asked for any clarifications. He says “A lot of their reports are presumptions and completely inaccurate and far away from the ground reality. It is unfortunate that such globally reputed organisations have not verified facts before publishing such reports and mixed up several issues”

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