Take a good look at the GAP jeans that you own or the brand new H&M apparel that you just picked up from the mall, chances are that they were made by a woman, cooped up in a subpar work environment in one of Bangalore’s many garment factories.
While slipping into our favourite pair of jeans, we hardly think of those who made it. Increase in consumers has led more and more high-fashion companies to bring cheaper apparells to the market and vice versa. This trend has left most of the garment factory labourers, who are mostly women, in a worrisome state. Not only are they forced to work extra hours to meet the “targets,” but in most cases, women are also subjected to exploitative work conditions, low wage and verbal abuse.
The IT capital of India, Bengaluru, is also home to one of India’s largest unorganised sectors, i.e., the garment factory workers. There are around 1200 such factories in and around the city which employ lakhs of people, mostly women.
Ongoing Protests In Bengaluru
Breaking out in protests have become the new normal for a lot of garment factory workers in and around Bangalore. Rukmini, President of Garment Labour Union (GLU) in Bangalore, while talking to The Logical Indian said that women and men who work in the garment factories have been protesting over a number of issues.
One such issue which has plagued the labourers of Karnataka has been that of low wage. Rukmini said that the even though in India, garment labourers get provident fund, their wages are meagre when compared to municipality contractual labourers or even a maid.
The ongoing protests in Bengaluru started after the former Siddaramaiah-led government on February 22, 2018, had issued a draft notification that pledged to increase the minimum wages from Rs.8,500 to Rs. 12, 250 per month. However, the government retracted the proposal on March 24, 2018, after management of garment industries claimed that they were unable to pay that high an amount.
Labourers in Karnataka, who earn Rs. 7500 on an average, find it difficult to sustain a living. For, research has shown that the amount is far too less for an individual to support a family, build some savings, afford quality health care and education.
The Garment and Textile Workers Union since the last one week has been demanding the minimum wages to be increased to Rs. 18,000 a month and the union is scheduled to meet the incumbent Chief Minister of Karnataka on June 19, 2018, said Rukmini.
Notably, in 2016 more than 15,000 garment workers in Bengaluru staged massive demonstrations, demanding changes in the Provident Fund Act, which denies the right to withdraw employer’s contribution till 58 years. Following the protests, the then government had decided to put the new rules on hold.
Dismal Work Conditions
Not only that, numerous media reports over the years have highlighted the work environments of these labourers. As recently as in May 2018, 150 garment factory workers of one, Silver Crest Clothing Limited fell ill after drinking water from the factory premises.
Moreover, a study, ‘Gender based Violence in the H&M Garment Supply Chains’ cites instances of physical violence on women in H&M supplier factories in India, Bangladesh and Cambodia. Rukmini said that there are a number of women who not only experience verbal but physical abuse on a routine basis as well. “There was this one woman who was beaten just because she was protesting,” she added.
Since the industry workers remain largely non-unionised and uneducated about their rights and entitlements, they are at a high risk of getting fired without any prior notice.
The Logical Indian Take
In order to feed our overconsumption, large corporates and fashion apparel brands have turned to countries like India where labour is cheap. Being unorganised and largely uneducated about their rights, these workers are often exploited.
European and US-based clothing lines have been failing in their attempts to improve labour conditions at their suppliers in Southern India. Despite a number of promises, women, especially young girls are exploited continually at the hands of local suppliers in India.
The need of the hour is transparency between the factory workers, chain suppliers and manufacturers, where the trio can arrive at a consensus through deliberation and not sporadic protests. Moreover, there is a lot of export and employment generation potential in the clothing sector but it needs process streamlining and worker security provisions.
It is high time for the state and Centre Government to intervene in the matter to put a check on not only the human rights violations but also securing a basic ‘living’ wage for these hard-working labourers.