Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 11:55 GMT

Behind the showroom: the hidden reality of India's garment workers

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 15 May 2014
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Behind the showroom: the hidden reality of India's garment workers, 15 May 2014, available at: [accessed 14 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Latest update: 15 May 2014

Labour rights abuses and grave human rights violations, including bonded labour, are enduring on India's garment factory work floors, said FIDH in a report launched today in New Delhi. To conceal indecent working conditions, garment factory managers and owners deploy extremely well-orchestrated show-responses to external visits by auditors, foreign buyers and NGOs alike.

The report is based on an FIDH mission of observation featuring visits of garment factories and on-site hostels as well as interviews with local trade unions, NGOs and experts in the states of Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

India's complex internal historical dynamics are mirrored in the garment industry, and can in part account for the persistence of human rights violations which characterise this sector. Precarious working conditions, including overtime work, salaries below minimum wage, and disproportionate use of contract labour and apprenticeship are still commonplace in India's garment factories. Adolescent girls continue to work under the Sumangali scheme, an employment pattern comprising elements of bonded labour. Garment workers are subject to disconcerting control and pressure, and according to local experts and NGOs, verbal and physical abuse of women workers are recurrent issues in factories and hostels. Discrimination against women, migrant workers and workers from "lower castes" is deeply entrenched. Government labour inspections are weak and inadequate, while there remain important legal and practical obstacles to the establishment of trade unions, virtually absent from the factory work floors.

Current corporate social responsibility requirements are unable to conceal precarious working conditions. The report highlights the limits of social audits and the insufficiency of brand's compliance policies to address complex human rights abuses.

Through a series of recommendations, FIDH calls on Indian authorities to adopt the necessary legislative and policy changes to address the situation, and on multinational and Indian enterprises to exercise leverage and take all necessary measures to ensure respect for workers' rights and to ensure they are able to claim their rights, including at the spinning mills level.

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