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slavery in India's garment factories

Research from Anti-Slavery International exposes how top UK high street brands are selling clothing made by girls in slavery in southern India.

You can download the report in the PDF format here.

Our research has uncovered the routine use of forced labour of girls and young women in the spinning mills and garment factories of five Indian clothing manufacturers that supply major western clothing retail brands.

These were SP Apparel, Bannari Amman, SCM, Eastman and Prem Group. Export data from two Indian ports confirms dozens of major western brands purchasing garments from these companies.

The Indian companies recruit unmarried girls and women from poor ‘lower’ caste families to be spinners in their mills or workers in their factories. Around 60 per cent have a Dalit (“untouchable”) background.

Prison-like conditions

The owners of the spinning mills and factories exploit local customs to portray the forcible confinement of young women and girls to hostels as a way of keeping them "safe".

Workers claim they are only allowed to communicate with parents via a weekly five minute phone call monitored by security staff. If a parent visited them they are only allowed to speak with their daughter in front of a security guard, just like a prison. They are not allowed to communicate with anyone else outside.

The restrictions on movement imposed on the girls are compounded by the lack of holidays. In the majority of mills there is no weekend break and even those given a rest day are not allowed to leave the factory or mill compound.

In mills and factories some workers are entitled to only take up to six days leave and are required to work one month extra to complete their contract, for every additional day they take off.

Many workers suffer appalling ill health, brought on by poor diet, poor hygiene in the hostels and the hazards associated with working with cotton. Many contract TB or get ill from cotton in their lungs and some die from lack of health care. 

Paid less than the minimum wage

Workers are routinely not paid for their forced overtime, which pushes their pay well below the minimum wage.

In one mill workers were promised 4,000 rupees (£52 a month) for a 48 hour week. However, in reality workers were made to work 76 hours a week for only 1,800 rupees (£24 a month).

The minimum wage for a non-skilled spinning mill worker at the apprentice level is 170 rupees (£2.24) for an eight-hour day. This means that workers made to complete a 76 hour week should be paid 6,460 rupees (£85.20) for a 28 day month. SP Apparel claim that their workers are garment apprentices rather then mill apprentices and therefore only entitled to 117 rupees (£1.37) for an eight hour day.

In some factories workers were forced to work 12 hours a day Monday to Friday and 16 hours on Saturday in order to have Sunday as a holiday.

Forced overtime was also common if managers deemed that workers have not completed enough work.

Cheated from their promised pay

Our research uncovered two locally distinguished types of forced labour. Sumangali, which takes place at spinning mills, and camp coolie, which takes place at garment ‘knitting’ factories. Both practices combine prison like conditions, with forced over time and the cheating of workers out of a final lump sum payment.

Both systems reveal how cultural pressures are manipulated by employers. Parents are willing to agree to three year contracts for their daughters on the assumption that they will receive their promised pay, especially the amount they will receive upon completion of their contract. This promise of a ‘bonus’ is a form of psychological control that prevents workers either demanding better working conditions or leaving. It is only after they are cheated out of their wages that both parents and the workers will confront the  reality of their situation.
You can also read an article which includes interviews with young women who experienced forced labour.

Click here to see which international brands are linked to the Indian suppliers found to be using forced labour. 

Read our press release.

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Pavani's story "After a year at the factory I developed cough and was getting pains in my chest."
Read Pavani's story


Vanani's story "I had to work even when I had a fever and chicken pox and would be shouted at if I did not."
Read Vanani's story


“The security men in the factory stopped my parents and brothers from visiting me. When I refused to do over time, I got shouted at. It was worse than prison.” Anagha, aged 20.
© Anti-Slavery International/Dev Gogoi

Sumangali report “It felt like a jail in the factory premises. The food was really bad quality and I couldn’t see my family or friends.” Deepika, aged 19.

©Anti-Slavery International/Dev Gogoi