Latest Update: August 2015 This year the local partner held a special meeting with managers of spinning mills to talk about sexual harassment and abuse of girls working at their mills. As a result two have already set up ‘Internal Complaints Committees’ and another 34 plan to do so. This is a big step for mill managers who until recently refused to even acknowledge that there were any such issues in their mills.
In Tamil Nadu, South India, up to 300,000 girls and young women are working in appalling conditions in spinning mills making clothes for big brands and retailers under a scheme called Sumangli Thittam or Marriage Plans.
Recruiters target poverty stricken families promising their daughters will be given decent wages, good accommodation and a lump sum payment at the end of a three to five year contract. This sum can be used for a marriage dowry which these families could not otherwise afford.
The reality is that the girls live in mills in squalid, cramped hostels paying for housing and food costs from their already tiny wages. They work long hours with forced overtime, are closely supervised and are allowed little contact with the outside world, including their families. Their isolation leaves these girls vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Few girls ever receive the bonus payment as they are fired just before the end of their contract or leave due to ill-health, injury or depression.
TRAID is funding the Dalit Solidarity Network, and local partner READ, to remove underage girls from mills, and to improve the pay and conditions of older girls and young women. Up to 5,000 girls and young women will benefit from the project, including preventing 1,000 at risk children from entering the mills.
The project will work at many levels including making poor families aware of the reality of the scheme, pressuring the state government to implement and enforce labour legislation and lobbying the national government to adhere to UN guiding principles on Business and Human Rights. Vitally, the project will engage with spinning mills, working with management and owners to improve their practices with the aim of establishing five ‘model mills’ which are free from child labour with good pay and conditions. Very young and vulnerable girls will be provided with training for alternative employment or reintegrated into the school system.
The Dalit Solidarity Network will also engage international brands supplied by mills in the project area to use their influence to improve working conditions and stop this scheme.
2015 Project Funding: TRAID has committed a further £15,789 grant which will be used to hold two consultations with around 50 spinning mills. The sessions include sensitising local mill owners to the legal requirements under state law to provide their workers with decent working and living conditions. These funds will allow READS director to work full-time on co-ordinating the consulation, and every mill owner will be visited in person to ensure attendance and to lobby them that mills will benefit from increased productivity with a happy and health workforce. A small portion of the grant will also be used to replace computers damaged in recent severe storms, which are used to skills train girls and women formerly employed in spinning mills for future employement.