Human rights tribunal hears allegations of abuse and low pay against clothing companies that supply high street stores
Guardian, By Gethin Chamberlain
Workers making clothes that end up in the stores of the biggest names on the British high street have testified to a shocking regime of abuse, threats and poverty pay. Many workers in Indian factories earn so little that an entire month’s wages would not buy a single item they produce.
Physical and verbal abuse is rife, while female workers who fail to meet impossible targets say they are berated, called “dogs and donkeys”, and told to “go and die”. Many workers who toil long hours in an attempt to support their families on poverty wages claim they are cheated out of their dues by their employers.
The allegations, which will be of concern to household names including Gap, H&M, Next and Walmart, were made at a human rights tribunal in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru. The “national people’s tribunal for living wages and decent working conditions for garment workers” was convened to investigate widespread human rights abuses in the garment industry.
Sakamma, a 42-year-old mother-of-two working for Gap supplier Texport in Bengaluru, told the tribunal she earned just 22p an hour and that when she finished at the factory she had to work as a domestic help to top up her wages.
“It hurts us to be paid so little. I have to do this and they sell one piece of clothing for more than I get paid in a month,” she said. “We cannot eat nutritious food. We don’t have a good life, we live in pain for the rest of our life and die in pain.
“Low wages is the main reason. How much burden can a woman take? Husband, children, house and factory work – can we manage all these with such a meagre salary? So we are caught up in the debt trap. Is there no solution for our problem?”
Like many of the women giving evidence, she said workers faced abuse if they failed to meet quotas. “The targets are too high. They want 150 pieces an hour. When we can’t meet the targets, the abuse starts. There is too much pressure; it is like torture. We can’t take breaks or drink water or go to the toilet. The supervisors are on our backs all the time,” she said. “They call us donkey, owl [a creature associated with evil], dog and insult us … make us stand in front of everyone, tell us to go and die.”
According to Indian government figures, the national textile industry is worth £35bn a year and employs 35 million people. Garment exports are worth £21bn. But human rights campaigners accuse international brands of subcontracting to firms paying poverty wages to the people who make their clothes.
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