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  1. Sobin George Says:

    Report of Child Labour makes Garment Retailers Reconsider Sourcing from Indian Manufacturers: A Response

    Sobin George

    Reports of child labour from a garment production unit in Delhi by The Observer, a British Daily, on 28 October 2007, may put the expanding garment export industry of India into serious troubles. Many retailing companies are now vigilant in their sourcing practices to India subsequent to the reports of prevalence of child labour in the sector. This of course is a counter punch to this sunshine export sector in the country, which is all prepared for a big leap. “Around 14 child workers, some as young as 10, have been found working in a textile factory in conditions close to slavery to produce clothes for GAP, a giant retailer with mass sourcing from India”, as reported by the Observer. The incident evidences that despite the efforts to do away with child labour in the sector through government interventions and ethical trading practices by initiatives like ETI, the problem is persisting with an alarming toll.

    Garment export industry is one of the main foreign currency export-earning sectors in the country and India has reiterated its comparative advantage in the sector remarkably after the regime of Multi Fibre Agreement (MFA). However, the industry is not yet free from the traditional cost reduction strategies of production such as deployment of child labour, keeping of wages below minimum wage etc. As reported by The Observer, workers, including children are labouring under filthy living conditions for long hours. The report also revealed that children are not either paid or inadequately paid in the factory. The case report points to two pertinent aspects. One is the harsh reality of children being employed in sweatshops at the cost of their childhood and education. Child labour is a reality in India and it has been part of economic production, largely in the informal sector. According to one estimate, more than 20 per cent of India’s economy is dependent on children, the equivalent of 55 million youngsters under 14. Second is the possible impact on employment due to non-compliance with ethical business practices that many retailers follow now. Such practices take thousands of employment away along with substantial business opportunities. It is reported that the finding of children working in filthy conditions in the Shahpur Jat area of Delhi has renewed apprehensions about outsourcing by large retail chains of their garment production to India. The present report on child labour made the retailer company GAP to stop contracts with the supplier. Likewise in the last year GAP severed contracts with around 23 suppliers for workplace abuses.

    It is important at this juncture to note that, action taken by GAP on the supplier is barely a reaction to the issue. GAP, being the sourcing company cannot take such decisions blindly rather it would adequately address the issue of child labour in a holistic way. It is the responsibility of the retailer (here, GAP) to ensure observance of standards along the entire value chain of production. Child labour is not an issue in isolation, but it is intertwined with the issues of wages and the optimum income level of the family, which enables them to send children to school. Therefore, we feel that, as a proactive approach, it is the responsibility of GAP and its actors in the entire production chain till subcontractors to ensure adequate wages so as the family can send their children to school. Other approach such as motivating family, running school alone will not work unless the core issue of wages is addressed. Therefore, we feel that severance of contract with suppliers can not help workers, children or GAP and it can only push thousands of families to poverty and to the vicious circle of poverty and child labour.

    The role of Government is also extremely important here. It is the responsibility of the state to implement and ensure minimum living wages. Therefore, the State cannot blame GAP alone for their decision to severe the contract with the suppliers. Sate, while ensuring the investment and business climate in the country with tax exemptions and incentives, it should also take adequate steps to ensure labour rights, decent living conditions as well as education of workers’ children.

    It is time for the state, various actors of industry, trade unions and civil society to wake up and respond. Requirement of the situation now is a multi pronged strategy to deal with the issue of child labour on one hand and protection of the industry on the other. It calls for the importance to have honest efforts to eliminate child labour by ensuring living wages and adequate living arrangements for the families of the children.

    Sobin George
    Research Scholar,
    Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health,
    JNU, New Delhi,
    Email: sobing@gmail.com
    Ph: 91-9868343106

  2. Natasha Lewis Says:

    Fashion Labelling

    Labelling is the new craze to affect consumers from the red- yellow-green sign posting from The Food Standards Agency. The Smoking Kills Warnings from the Health Secretary. The Red Tractor and Union Jack for support of British Farmers.

    The Fair Trade label which is largely recognised as a gauge of fairness but will soon be in direct competition with Carbon Footprint labels.

    Wouldn’t it be worth lobbing the Government or BERR for Slave Trade Labelling not just targeting the likes of Primark but starting with the Mid range high street shops the ones who are hedging their bets as we speak by sporadically bringing out a Fair trade T-shirt here and a Ethical sandal there.

    What Labour Government could say no when they are pledging more and more money into the international poverty crisis. People just want a fair wage for a fair days work and then they will be able to dig themselves out of their situation with dignity.

    Statistics show that there are more people in slavery today then during what all agree was the horrific Trans Atlantic slave trade.

    I think SLAVE TRADE LABELLING is the way forward then let the Consumer decide.

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