Indian apparel manufacturers to take legal compliance seriously to change 'child labour' image


Growing pressure from developed countries, especially the EU and the US, to meet global standards on labour has pushed Indian apparel manufacturers to take legal compliance matters in their own hands to change the image problem plaguing the country.

The apparel export promotion council of India (AEPC) under the textiles ministry is helping domestic textile industry to adhere to global norms through development and implementation of tools to help factories certify, monitor and improve universal standards.

"Initially we aim to bring in 400 factories under our ambit each year. This is a huge number as this program is a first in the country and we will progress surely but cautiously," said Chandrima Chatterjee, director, Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC).

The drive is part of the bigger initiative launched by AEPC called DISHA, that aims to spread awareness regarding the importance of social compliance amongst textile exporters and define a common code with global endorsement.

India, which is known as the child labor capital of the world, has been blacklisted for the third consecutive year by the US government for continued use of child labour in various sectors.

Chatterjee, however, feels that there was no need for stronger labour compliance norms in the country, which were quite strict. What was required was better management of existing norms. "We strongly believe that there is no need to increase the labour compliance norms in the country. On the other hand, it is imperative to manage the existing standards in a better manner so that our industry not held ransom by global buyers, she said.

AEPC held stakeholders consultations under its compliance program Disha (Driving Industry towards Sustainable Human Capital Advancement) recently to fast track streamlining of compliance codes in the country.

"We will develop intensive training on legal requirements on core issues like child labor, trafficked labor, wages amongst others and enable accreditation by international agencies like the International Labor Organization to ensure global acceptance of the program," explained Lakshmi Bhatia, Director, Free Labor Association at the conference attended by representatives from ICRIER, STR, Ethical Trading Initiative, TUV Rhineland, WRAP, ILO.

The country's exports have been severely hit due to these listings given that US is the largest importer of garments from India and forms 4.4% of USA's total garment imports from the world. Also, various brands in the European region too have blacklisted imports from India.

According to the latest data, growth in apparel exports by a mere 1.5% in February 2012 recorded the third worst monthly performance in 2011-12 fiscal. However, during April-February 2011-12, garment exports grew by about 19% owing to weaker rupee whereas the US and Europe together account for about 65% of India's total garment exports.

"Consumers in US and EU have increasingly become very conscious about global standards particularly related to women and children. So in order to survive, the Indian industry needs to take cognizance of these requirements," Chatterjee said.

This was originally published in the Economic Times dated May 8th, 2012, written by Amiti Sen, associated with the Economic Times Bureau, New Delhi.

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