H&M has blacklisted a southern Indian textile mill following allegations of rampant labor- and human-rights abuses in the the country’s garment hub of Tamil Nadu. Flawed Fabrics, a report released by Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), in collaboration with the India Committee of the Netherlands last Tuesday, details the deplorable conditions that are endemic to the region’s 1,600 mills, most of which are staffed by girls and young women. Compiled using a mix of desk research and in-depth interviews with 150 workers at five different mills, the research paints a grim picture of the supply chains of some of the world’s best-known brands, which, in addition to H&M, include C&A, Hanes, Mothercare, and Primark.
HOUSE OF HORRORS
The report concludes that “several core labor rights are being violated. Girls and young women are being lured from their home villages by false promises and are working under appalling conditions amounting to forced labor” through a practice known as the Sumangali scheme.
“Child labour is a reality in the mills,” the report adds. “Among the workers interviewed for this research, 60 per cent were below the age of 18 when they joined the mill.” The youngest were 15 when they first signed up.
In addition to 60-hour weeks, restricted movement, and hardly any outside contact, workers are packed in rooms with up to 35 people. Bathrooms are shared by 35 to 45 workers.
Overtime cannot be refused, nor are nightshifts non-obligatory, SOMO says. “Supervisors
are relentlessly pressing workers into a fast pace of work,” it says. “Humiliating disciplinary measures are applied. Workers are only allowed short breaks. Physical conditions at the mills are unpleasant with high humidity, lack of fresh air, and cotton dust flowing around. Protective equipment and health and safety training are inadequate in many cases.”
There are no pay slips and rarely any contracts. While research showed that monthly salaries range from €20 to €52 ($25 to $65) at the five mills, there is no assurance of a minimum wage.
ACTIONS AND REACTIONS
Of the five facilities named in the report, H&M has banned Super Spinning Mills, which the retailer says is only tangentially connected to its operations through one of its suppliers in Bangladesh.
“As this third-tier spinning mill is unwilling to cooperate with H&M in a transparent way and since we have come so far in our transparency work, we see no other option than to blacklist Super Spinning Mills,” the company says in a statement. “This will mean that H&M requires that our suppliers do not order yarn from this spinning mill for H&M orders.”
Primark, which is linked with Jeyavishnu Spintex, the spinning division of K.M. Knitwear, says it will work with the mill to implement the “Fair Hiring, Fair Labour” program it established with Verité, a member of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking.
For its part, C&A, which has ties with cotton-yarn spinner Best Cotton, says that Sumangali is “completely unacceptable and could result in the termination of a relationship should we find that the system exists in our suppliers’ operations,” although “it will not be possible to abolish the system” without the support of its local partners.
Primark denied any relationship with Sulochana Cotton Spinning Mills, but admitted that its contractors sometimes sourced from Jeyavishnu,
“The company notes that working and employment conditions there are generally better than in the other mills surveyed in the report,” the retailer says in a statement. “However, Primark accepts that this mill has issues that need rectification and will continue to work with them to resolve them.”
[Via Women’s Wear Daily]