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Various forms of slavery, including child labour, are present in more than 90 per cent of south India's spinning mills which produce yarn for Western brands, researchers said, calling for mapping of supply chains and tougher audits.

The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a human rights organisation, 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, it said, and up to 20pc of the workers were younger than 14.

It said employees were forced to work long hours by employers who often withheld their pay or locked them up in company-controlled hostels. Many also faced sexual harassment.

"We have raised the issue for five years now, but even to us the scale of this problem came as a shock," ICN Director Gerard Oonk said in a statement.

K Venkatachalam, chief adviser of the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association, said he was not aware of the research.

He said the state government had recently filed a report to the Madras High Court "clearly stating that these issues are no longer prevalent in the industry".

"The matter has been closed," Venkatachalam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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 labour from villages across Tamil Nadu to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes, most of it for Western high street shops.

Most workers are young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste or 'Dalit' communities, who often face intimidation, sexually offensive remarks and harassment.

ICN said in more than half of the mills it researched, workers were not allowed to leave company-controlled hostels after working hours.

Only 39 mills paid the minimum wage and in half the mills, a standard working week involved 60 hours or more of work.

"Supervisors torture girls to extract work beyond their capacity," ICN quoted an 18-year-old former worker as saying.

Another teenage girl, Kalaichelvi, who earned around 8,000 rupees ($118) a month, told researchers she was forced to work for 12 hours straight with no breaks for lunch or to use the bathroom.

She said she suffered from burning eyes, rashes, fever, aching legs and stomach problems due to the working conditions.

About a third of the yarn produced by workers like Kalaichelvi is used in export factories in Tamil Nadu that produce garments for many global brands.

Citing poor enforcement of labour laws and "superficial audits" by buying brands, the ICN called on the industry and government to map supply chains and publish sourcing details.

It also called for factories that upheld standards to be rewarded.

Comments (13) Closed

Ali jee Dec 24, 2016 04:50pm

Where's all the India people who think India is better country and u do this to kids in India disgusting?

Saif ZULFIQAR Dec 24, 2016 04:51pm

This age of children is for goining to school and playing in the open fields but due to severe poverty these kids are helping their families to meet both ends. This situation is mostly in South Asia and few Far East countries.

imran ali Dec 24, 2016 04:54pm

Dalit are not seen as human. Hindu ideology what keeps so called democracy in India due pyramid society.

Harmony-1© Dec 24, 2016 04:58pm

"Kalaichelvi, who earned around 8,000 rupees ($118) a month, told researchers she was forced to work for 12 hours straight with no breaks for lunch or to use the bathroom."

Dalit slavery at work, making mill owners rich from the blood and sweat of the poor. Shameful!

Dalit Dec 24, 2016 05:16pm

@imran ali i m a dalit and working as se drawing 7 digit sal open ur eyes before commenting on india bliendly.

Ahmed bin Babar Dec 24, 2016 05:42pm

Unfortunately indians live in a world self negation-cum-self deception at large...

mightisright Dec 24, 2016 05:57pm

@Dalit Mr Dalit, before our eye opening, the Director of Revenue intelligence will open there eye, and will investigate with careful to give remarks like that.

d&d Dec 24, 2016 06:10pm

Nobody said INDIA don't have problem/issues, but we are slowly eradicating all those, with time it's only going to be better, we are slowly but definitely moving in right direction,

Sohail Wazir Dec 24, 2016 06:27pm

Incredible India where people have been divided by their own religion.

Harmony-1© Dec 24, 2016 06:31pm

@Sohail Wazir - How many 'divisions' are there in our religion?

Not very clever here :)

J. Gamble Dec 24, 2016 09:04pm

People, who exploit other human beings will suffer in the end.

Ankit Singh Dec 25, 2016 06:03pm

Shocking is what comes out when you consider looking into China. Quality of life and social background are irrational of country's higher status index. Yet what's upsetting is forced labour in China. But one turns a blind eye because you call it a developed country

Ankit Singh Dec 25, 2016 06:07pm

@imran ali India'z 90% institutions have reservations for lower class including dalits. Half knowledge doesn't work every time. Get some facts right