About 20% of the 152 million child laborers in the world are Indians. India is also the country with the highest number of workers under the age of 14, and the highest percentage of jobs in dangerous industries for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17.
Child labor is the result of push factors and pull factors. In Tamil Nadu the driving force is the progressive and dramatic impoverishment of the rural economy, which forces families to resort to the work of their children for mere survival, while the attraction factors are represented by the massive expansion and structure of the textile and packaging industry.
The areas of Coimbatore and Tirupur, in Tamil Nadu, are known worldwide for the processing of cotton in all its phases: starting from the raw product to packaging and exporting the finished product. In fact, starting from the 90s, production is increasingly oriented towards abroad, and the costs of products and labor are increasingly conditioned by the orders of the large multinational brands, which produce or source yarns here.
The Indian textile industry has been able to refine its ability to respond to the international market in terms of quality and reliability, and to the continuous requests for price reductions it has responded by lowering the cost of labor, reducing wages and protections and with a progressive impoverishment of the rights of workers. There has thus been an increase in spinning and packaging plants, a radical change in the type of contracts used with workers, a gradual increase in the female workforce, together with a lowering of the age of employed women.
Girls from rural areas around Tirupur, Dindigul and Coimbatore have been identified as a reservoir to draw on. They are girls, often unaware of the consequences, that families send to work in local textile industries, both as daily workers with company buses that run around the villages and take them to factories, and as workers residing in company hostels.
To hire the girls, the companies use recruiting agents, who in turn take advantage of local brokers, residing in the villages, who receive a small fee (2.50 – 5.50 euros) for each girl recruited. The promise of a working period of a few years (2-4), which will allow the girls to save enough money to pay the dowry to get married, is an additional push factor.
The list of violations of labor rights and human rights is very long; below we mention the most serious:
- Low wages: Young girls receive very low wages, well below the minimum wage set by Tamil Nadu legislation.
- Excessively long working hours and mandatory overtime, up to 16 – 20 hours a day.
- Risks and health problems related to working conditions; medical care, even in the event of accidents at work, is the responsibility of the workers, and no compensation is provided.
- Verbal, physical and sexual abuse suffered by young workers (including cases of actual sexual exploitation); particularly vulnerable are the girls who live in factory hostels.
The system of recruitment and treatment to which these very young workers are subjected undoubtedly represent modern forms of slavery, human trafficking and forced labor.
Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, India
Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, India
Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, India
Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, India
Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India
The main objective of the project, lasting 12 months, was the fight against the use of child labor, forced labor and the work of victims of human trafficking in the textile industry in Tamil Nadu, with the following specific purposes:
- Improvement of the living and working conditions of young women employed in the sector and compensation for the damages suffered by the victims.
- Prevention of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking.
- Dialogue with workers, companies, government, trade unions for the improvement of working conditions and for the application of current legislation.
Districts of: Tirupur,,Dindigul,,Namakkal,Tirunelveli,,Trichy in Tamil Nadu,
1,000 young women employed in the textile sector.
- Information and awareness
In India it is said that it takes an entire village to raise a child. For this reason, we must never underestimate the need to educate parents and community members about the dangers of child labor and the recruitment schemes for the exploitative workforce. Parents, including the parents of currently employed workers, have been informed and made aware of labor legislation and workers’ rights, providing other basic financial notions to enable them to understand the terms of the problem. 36 actions of this type were carried out in all districts of origin of the workers, involving more than a thousand people. 461 workers and their families were accompanied in their requests for health care and any government subsidies.
Awareness raising could not be missing in about fifteen schools in the area, reaching about 1,200 teenage girls. As a result, there has been a reduction in the number of young girls who drop out of school and go to work in spinning plants. More and more girls are continuing their studies, reaching secondary schools.
16 villages have formed as many groups of adolescent girls with 165 members in total: they constitute the Parliaments of Adolescents. In them the young women were trained on the importance of education, children’s rights, labor law, as well as on health and hygiene. The meetings made it possible to identify children (especially girls) early in the work in the villages and, with the support of local leaders, to re-enroll them in school, while the recruiters were identified and reported.
Similarly, 17 new Village Committees were established with 165 members chosen from among the prominent personalities. They have the task of monitoring the phenomenon of trafficking and possibly intervening.
The training was divided into 3 different ways.
The first, in tailoring and embroidery, involved 114 girls. These, also educated on notions of wage equity and put in contact, for those who have the right, with the government assistance programs, are now able, as has already happened for many of them, to obtain a fairly paid job avoiding near slavery of the spinning mills.
The second type of training involved 22 young workers, who were trained to monitor human rights within textile factories.
Finally, an event was organized with 35 women workers to discuss all together, under the guidance of an expert, the situations and violations that girls must suffer within the spinning mills.
The specially set up helpline received more than 800 calls, mainly concerning harassment, occupational safety, wage problems, and non-recognition of state-funded welfare contributions. We tried to give them satisfaction, as far as possible, by intervening in the relative factories.
A national petition has been signed which requires, inter alia, the establishment within each factory of a committee for harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace and a committee available to all workers to report and manage abuse or other complaints, as on the other hand the law in force already provides. At the end of the project, there were already 5 large factories which, with the support of the SAVE operators, had established such committees within them.
Finally, numerous meetings were held with other associations operating in the sector, as well as with the textile trade associations. 8 specific committees have been organized to coordinate the work of NGOs operating in the sector. It’s all in just one year.