WASHINGTON — Three leading European retailers and a major U.S. fashion group have pledged to take action to end what the India Committee of the Netherlands alleged are “appalling living conditions” for apparel workers in Bangalore, India, according to the human and labor rights organization.
The ICN, which released a paper titled “Unfree and Unfair” on Thursday detailing the alleged abuse, reached out to retailers and brands before the paper was published and said it has received commitments from C&A, H&M, Inditex and PVH Corp. to provide garment workers with better working conditions in Bangalore.
The paper “gives evidence of appalling living conditions and restricted freedom of movement of young migrant garment workers in the Indian city of Bangalore,” the nongovernmental organization said. “An increasing number of young migrant women workers are staying in factory-owned hostels with poor living conditions while their movement is severely restricted. The wages of the workers do not add up to a decent living wage.”
Four garment factories in Bangalore, said to be producing apparel for C&A, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, Inditex and Gap, were named in the paper. Allegations of deplorable working conditions were outlined at four factories — K. Mohan, Texport Industries, Arvind and Shahi Exports — in the paper.
The research was based on a combination of desk research and interviews with 11 garment workers, discussions with workers from other factories and interviews with the Garment Labor Union in Bangalore. The ICN claimed in the paper that the conditions in the factories and hostels where many of the women live at times amount to “modern-day slavery.”
“Migrant women are often housed in hostels run by their companies and guarded by male security personnel at night,” the paper noted. “Their movement is severely restricted and they are herded to the factory and back to the hostel as a daily routine.”
In addition, most workers are only allowed to leave the hostels for two hours a week and if they return late, they often face punishment and are made to wait outside the gate for hours until the warden lets them in, the paper said.
The ICN said the hostels are run by the garment factories and lack basic amenities ranging from beds and mattresses to furniture and cupboards. In addition, money is deducted from their salaries to pay for accommodation, according to the organization.
“The migrant workers do not speak or understand the local language, which makes them more vulnerable for exploitation,” the ICN said. “For example, K. Mohan factory had separate hostels for migrant workers from North India, who paid around 27 euro [$29.56 at current exchange] for food and accommodation, while local workers paid around 19 euro [$20.80] per month for the same in their own hostels.”
All of the multinational companies, with the exception of Gap, responded to the findings prior to their public release and said they would take “serious action,” according to the ICN.
The ICN printed detailed responses it said it received from C&A, H&M, Inditex and PVH in the annexes of its paper.
C&A, H&M and Inditex said they would work together toward a “coordinated and collaborative approach to improve working conditions of the migrant garment workers,” according to ICN.
“Jointly, they want to ensure freedom of association by liaising with local trade unions GLU [Garment Labor Union] and GATWU [Garment and Textile Workers Union],” the report said. “They also want to empower migrant workers with training and a grievance handling system, with support of the local NGO Gram Tarang.”
The companies have also pledged to review curfew regulations at hostels and to engage with industry experts, brands and stakeholders to implement a comprehensive industrywide program to “institutionalize” international standards for recruiting workers, accommodation, grievance management, training and development of migrant workers, ICN said.
Individually, C&A said it will further investigate conditions at the Shahi Exports factory, while H&M said it would reinforce compliance with multi-stakeholder developed dormitory guidelines for all hostels in its supply chain.
Inditex has pledged separately to implement a project throughout its supply chain in India, based on a baseline assessment, targeting “the provision of better hostel facilities, putting in place a grievance handling mechanism and training and counseling sessions for migrant workers and sensitizing [management] staff.”
PVH told the organization it asked the named supplier factories to report back to the company on their individual circumstances and said they would develop guidelines to address the issues outlined in the “Unfree and Unfair” paper.