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Unethical labour practices rife in Indian apparel industry

Global retailers’ efforts to clean supply chains of slave labor and improve labor conditions will have little impact unless consumers in India, Asia’s third largest economy, demand more ethically produced goods. India is among the largest manufacturers of textiles and apparel in the world, supplying to leading international brands. 

The industry has the most invisible supply chain. It is mostly unorganised, which makes it harder to map and regulate. If domestic consumers raise their voice and insist on buying only ethical products, that will bring pressure on manufacturers. The domestic market accounts for more than 40 per cent of the industry’s revenue. Hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises use forced labor and treat workers poorly, with abuses ranging from withheld salaries to debt bondage. 

The seasonal nature of work in India’s textile industry, the advent of fast fashion and the competitiveness of the business have helped create conditions leading to the exploitation of workers. There is child labor, not just because of a supply pull factor but also a demand push factor. The only way to resolve the issue is to sensitise everyone: businesses, workers and consumers. In India, legislation exists against bonded labor and child labor, but enforcement is weak.