Forced unpaid overtime, inhuman productivity measures, systematic denial of social security payments, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and active suppression of the right to unionise were issues that cropped up repeatedly at a people’s tribunal on the plight of garment workers in the country.
The verdict of the tribunal at the end of two days of public hearings was clear: a combination of long working hours and low wages is amounting to bonded and forced labour practices in the country.
The mandate of the tribunal, which heard over 250 garment workers from Gurgaon, Tirupur and Bangalore, looked at’ Living Wage as a Fundamental Right of Indian Garment Workers’.
Although all textile brands in India were invited to participate, only H&M was present; the Adidas group provided a written statement.
Despite many cases of harassment and wage theft in GAP’s supplier factories, GAP was absent. “Efforts were made to invite representatives from factory owners, suppliers and employers. Even the few, who responded, rejected the invitation,” the organisers said.
The jury comprising Gianni Tognioni, Secretary General, Permanent People’s Tribunal, Italy; Coen Kompier, Senior Specialist on International Labour Standards, ILO; Utsa Patnaik, Economist; Marina Forti, Senior Journalist, Italy; Hemlatha Mahishi, Distinguished Advocate, Bangalore; Mary E, John, Senior Fellow and Former Director, Centre for Women and Development Studies, New Delhi announced the verdict. Sripad, Deputy Director, Labour Department (Karnataka) was also present.
The jury stressed that ‘living wage’ should be effectively implemented as a human right. “The components which are essential for the calculation of a living wage must not only include adequate food to the worker and her/his family, but all the elements of a life with dignity, namely, housing, medical care and education for children, rest and leisure time, including social and cultural opportunities. Further, this living wage must be periodically monitored and should take into account (increasingly) rapid changes in the cost of living and the impact of the market,” the jury members said in a statement.
The jury also stressed on the phenomenon of ‘wage theft’ which includes non-payment for overtime, illegal deduction, late payment, wages to women lesser than men, wages not as per skill and recommended how the labour department, suppliers and brands must organise training programmes to identify and redress wage theft.
The tribunal underlined that brands have to accept their “complicity” in the violation of the basic rights of workers, among other things.