Which countries are cheaper in Indian rupees

Femnet e.V.

In profile: India's clothing industry

The textile industry is one of the oldest industries in India. Due to the variety of vegetable raw materials such as cotton, wool, silk and jute, as well as the oversupply of cheap labor, the textile industry became an important pillar of the Indian economy. The majority are women who are employed on cotton fields, in spinning mills and sewing factories for low wages.

India in numbers

  • Population 1.3 billion[iv]
  • Employees in the clothing industry: approx. 45 million, of which approx. 70% women (2019) and approx. 5% union members
  • Legal Minimum wage: approx. € 131 / month (plus regional adjustments) (2019)
  • Living wage according to Asia Floor Wage: approx. 300 € / month (2017)
  • Second largest exporter for textiles & clothing (2019)
  • World's largest producer of cotton (2019

As the production of clothing shifted more and more to Asia, the industrialized countries passed the "Multi Fiber Arrangement" (MFA), which restricted the export of clothing to Western countries and thus protected European clothing production against cheap competition from Asia. The MFA ended in 2004 and exports from Bangalore to Europe and the USA increased sharply as a result. This led to a boom in the clothing industry and many rural women came to the urban textile mills in search of work.

Today India is the second largest textile exporter in the world and one of the largest producers of clothing for western countries. Above all, the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Tirupur, Chennai and Bangalore are important locations of important importance.[i] India is the world's largest producer of cotton, of which, however, approx. 95% are genetically modified.[ii] The share of the clothing industry in export income is approx. 15%.[iii]

Employed in the clothing industry

The pressure of competition and prices among companies has a strong impact on employees. The workload is very high due to the deadline pressure and the ambitious production targets, overtime and sick days are rarely paid and harassment at the workplace is common. Many workers don't even get paid the minimum wage set by the government.

Seamstresses in a factory in Bangalore, 2019. © FEMNET

The textile and clothing industry is the third largest employer in the country after agriculture and construction and employs around 45 million people.[1] The majority of employees are female: the proportion of women, an average of 70%[2], varies between approx. 60% in the north and approx. 80% in the south, in the hotspot Bangalore it is even around 90%.

In northern India in particular, women are largely excluded from social life for cultural reasons. They are considered less productive than men and are typically employed in unskilled positions, which are the lowest paid. If the economic situation is bad, they are the first to lose their jobs. Managerial positions are reserved for men. In 2016, around 60% of women textile workers in Bangalore stated that they had already experienced physical or psychological violence in the workplace, such as verbal abuse, threats, sexual harassment or assault.[3]

In the south, mainly women from rural areas or tribal areas of India work. Migrants are preferred because the industry lacks cheap labor. The proportion of domestic migrant workers and temporary workers employed in the clothing industry has risen sharply in recent years.[4]

Worker in an Indian spinning mill, 2019. © FEMNET

A modern form of slavery can still be found in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There are around 2,200 spinning mills there with around 250,000 young women as employees. 80% of them are exploited in so-called "Camp Labor", formerly known as the "Sumangali" system. Around 20% of the factories work without such forced labor. A few of them belong to the government, which also pays the women better. Overall, the number of forced laborers in India is estimated at around 8 million.[5]

Minimum wages below livelihood security

The legal minimum wage for the clothing sector is set centrally in India. In addition, the states are making local adjustments. In 2019 it was around 10,300 Indian rupees / month (around 131 euros), whereas a living wage according to Asia Floor Wage was around 23,600 Indian rupees / month (around 300 euros) as early as 2017.[6] The gender pay gap in the Indian clothing industry is around 39%.[7]

Anti-union climate

Silent protest by the women's union GLU on International Women's Day 2017. © GLU / Munnade

Most employers still ban unions and any form of organization in the factory, leaving workers with little opportunity to defend themselves against labor law violations. Only 5% of Indian textile workers are union members.[8] Many feel intimidated by their management and are afraid of being fired if they join a union. Even workers' committees, which are legally binding, usually only exist on paper. So far there have only been isolated protests and strikes by workers, but all of them have ended in violence and workers have been arrested by the police.[9][10] The concerns of women in particular - discrimination, harassment, maternity leave and appropriate childcare by the employer - are often systematically ignored as a result.

Women's rights

Factory workers in Bangalore 2015 © FEMNET

While women's rights and gender equality are officially recognized in India, in reality women are largely discriminated against. Discrimination takes place not only on the basis of their gender, but also on the basis of their caste, class, sexual orientation or traditions.[11] This is due in particular to the still prevailing patriarchal social norms, which are particularly pronounced in northern India. The enormous preference for boys in Indian society has led to deep-seated practices of discrimination and violence against girls and women, with implications for their status, health and development. In poor families, this also means that women have less access to food and sanitation. 27% of the girls[12] get married before their 15th birthday. Marital rape is not a crime. The pressure to give birth to a boy is high: the high abortion rate of female fetuses is reflected in the gender imbalance of 942 women per 1,000 men.[13]

At the end of the shift, hundreds of people pour out of the factories at the same time, most of them women. © FEMNET

In 2013 a law was passed in India banning the sexual harassment of women in the workplace. On the way home, too, they run the risk of being harassed or ambushed, especially if they have to work at night.[14] Nevertheless, the measures foreseen for this, such as training courses and complaints committees in factories, are only sparsely implemented to this day.[15] The legal right of women to maternity protection is circumvented in many factories: Pregnant women report harassment and high social pressure that force them to quit, or of illegally terminated employment relationships.[16]

Child labor

The total number of child laborers aged 5 to 14 in India is estimated at 8.2 million.[17] Many of them are exposed to the most severe forms of child labor. Mostly children from rural areas with little education, from low Hindu castes, tribal communities and religious minorities are victims of child trafficking, forced labor and sexual exploitation. With the prospect of work, they are lured into the clothing factories, spinning mills and cotton cultivation, where they are ultimately forced to work under dangerous working conditions for little or no money.[18]

Our partner organizations conducted on-site interviews with women textile workers on the subject of gender-based violence in the workplace. September 2018. Bangalore. Photo: © Cividep

Insufficient enforcement of rights

The legal situation in India is not even bad: the Indian legal order contains a large number of protective measures. The country has ratified six of the eight ILO core labor standards; the two outstanding are freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.[19]

However, the further you go in the supply chain, the less transparency there is and the more exploitation there is. The main problem lies in the lack of enforcement of the law by the authorities and the lack of effective legal protection for those affected. A lack of controls, poorly developed rule of law structures, corruption and nepotism are widespread.[20]



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