Dutch Retailers Paying “Starvation Wages” to Indian Textile Workers

Dutch fashion retailers are paying "starvation wages" at factories in a major hub for the global garment industry in southern India, forcing many workers into crippling debt, a report on Tuesday showed.

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, Sept 27 – Dutch fashion retailers are paying “starvation wages” at factories in a major hub for the global garment industry in southern India, forcing many workers into crippling debt, a report on Tuesday showed.

Workers surveyed at 10 garment factories in and around Bengaluru in the southern Indian state of Karnataka took home on average 90 euros ($100) a month, and 70 percent were in debt, the report by four non-profit organisations said.

The factories were supplying Dutch brands that have “acknowledged the importance of living wages”.

They included Coolcat, G-Star, The Sting, MEXX Europe, McGregor Fashions, Scotch & Soda, Suitsupply, WE Fashion and C&A. The C&A Foundation partners with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on trafficking and slavery coverage.

“Workers cannot properly support their families with this wage,” said the report, “Doing Dutch”, co-authored by Clean Clothes Campaign, the India Committee of the Netherlands, Asia Floor Wage Alliance and Cividep India.

“Food and housing, usually a one-room apartment without a water tap and with a shared toilet outdoors, are the biggest expenses. Almost everyone would like to buy healthier and more varied food, but is unable to do that because of low wages.”

Responding to the report, companies have said they were putting procedures in place to overcome the challenges with regard to wages, overtime payment, working hours, creche and hostel facilities for workers.

The $40 billion Indian textile and garment industry, much of which operates in the informal sector and is poorly regulated, employs an estimated 45 million workers.

The report said there are around 300,000 workers in and around Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka, and that 80 percent of the workers in the city’s 1,200-odd factories are women.

A woman worker interviewed in 2015 said she walked an hour to work and an hour back to save on bus fare.

“These women are working very hard for a pittance,” said Tara Scally, spokeswoman of the Clean Clothes Campaign.

The International Labour Organisation defines a living wage as a “basic human right”. Last year, the Asia Floor Wage campaign pegged a decent living wage in India at 18,727 rupees ($282) per month.

“We expect garment companies to make a concrete plan for a living wage for all workers and to make sure that their procurement price enables the suppliers to pay a living wage,” Gerard Oonk, director of the India Committee of the Netherlands, said in a statement.

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