Sudha, now 20, has lost all her savings due to frequent gynaecologist visits. This adds to the everyday struggle of stitching about 400 parts of clothing in the factories.
Sudha is one of the several women working across Tamil Nadu’s garment industry who were given pills to reduce period pains by their Supervisors.
An investigation carried out by Thomson Reuters Foundation based on interviews with about 100 women in Tamil Nadu’s garment industry has found that to increase profit margins, these drugs were given to women workers without any medical advice, violating the labour laws.
Many of these women working across the factories were unaware of the side-effects of the pills until the side-effects started to show.
A lot of workers were advised to stop working, considering their alarming health conditions. But, they could not afford to miss work and wages.
“Half my salary of Rs 6,000 rupees would go in paying off the loan and a big amount on my trips to the doctor. It became a cycle I was not able to break. And even though my health became worse, I needed to keep working to pay the bill,” Sudha told The Reuters.
A lot of women were initially scared to speak up about the long hours, the periods pain and the exploitation.
Dangerous Side-effects To The Pills
The women worker were given unlabelled drugs at work with no mention of any brand, composition or expiry date. More than half of the women had serious health issues after consuming it.
For those who started experiencing the side-effects after almost a year, health problems ranged from anxiety, depression, urinary tract infections, fibroids and miscarriages.
Female workers often complained that dustbins were not cleared and washrooms were not cleaned, which made it unhygienic and difficult to use.
Two doctors who examined the pills informed that they were non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They could reduce menstrual cramps but had possible harmful side-effects if taken frequently.
Labour Laws Violated
As per the Indian labour laws, factories must have one toilet for every 20 workers.
As per the rules, in every factory, a supervisor is supposed to monitor the working hours and bathroom breaks and maintain a medical dispensary for workers suffering pains and aches.
While women workers should be given extra sanitary pads or allowed longer bathroom breaks, women were ill-treated for not devoting sufficient time.
The Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI), a group of trade unions and companies including top brands such as H&M, Mothercare and Gap, said it was aware of the pills being given to workers and was investigating the matter.
Activists and doctors have voiced their concerns over ill-treatment.
Production- The Only Priority?
Jeeva Balamurugan, general secretary of the all-women Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union, claims that the factory bosses knew about the side-effects of the pills and how they could affect women’s periods. But, they still continued to give it out to ensure maximum productivity.
Increasing pressure from brands on suppliers to deliver clothes faster and cheaper is aggravating exploitation from a lack of bathroom breaks to verbal abuse, a labour activist told the Reuters.
An official from Tamil Nadu told the Reuters that after similar instances started growing in the state, the government decided to execute a project to monitor the health of its garment workers this year and collect data on how many suffered from work-related health problems.