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Rising child slavery in Indian textile mills

Among various forms of slavery, employing children in the textile industry in India is a cause of concern. It is said that the practice of slavery is rampant in more than 90 per cent of South India's spinning mills that produce yarn for Western brands.

Researchers have asked for mapping of supply chains and do tougher audits. The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a human rights organization, spoke to workers from almost half the mills in Tamil Nadu, the largest producer of cotton yarn in the country.

Most female workers employed in the 734 mills involved in the research were aged between 14 and 18, ICN reported and up to 20 per cent of the workers were younger than 14. The concerned report further states that employees were forced to work long hours by employers who often withheld their pay or locked their employees in company-controlled hostels. Many of them also faced sexual harassment. ICN Director claimed in a statement that they have raised the issue for five years now, but even to them the scale of this problem came as a shock.

K. Venkatachalam, chief advisor of the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association said that he was not aware of the research. He said the state government had recently filed a report in the Madras High Court clearly stating that these issues are no longer prevalent in the industry and the matter has been closed.

India is one of the world's largest textile and garment manufacturers. The southern state of Tamil Nadu is home to some 1,600 mills employing between 200,000 and 400,000 workers. Traditionally the dyeing units, spinning mills and apparel factories have drawn on cheap labor from villages across Tamil Nadu to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes, most of it for Western high street shops.

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