Various forms of slavery, including child labour, are present in more than 90 per cent of south India's spinning mills which produce yarn for Western brands, researchers said, calling for mapping of supply chains and tougher audits. The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a human rights organisation, spoke to workers from almost half the mills in Tamil Nadu, the largest producer of cotton yarn in the country.
Most female workers employed in the 734 mills involved in the research were aged between 14 and 18, it said, and up to 20 percent of the workers were younger than 14. It said employees were forced to work long hours by employers who often withheld their pay or locked them up in company-controlled hostels. Many also faced sexual harassment.
"We have raised the issue for five years now, but even to us the scale of this problem came as a shock," ICN Director Gerard Oonk said in a statement. K. Venkatachalam, chief advisor of the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association, said he was not aware of the research. He said the state government had recently filed a report to the Madras High Court "clearly stating that these issues are no longer prevalent in the industry".
"The matter has been closed," Venkatachalam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. India is one of the world's largest textile and garment manufacturers. The southern state of Tamil Nadu is home to some 1,600 mills, employing between 200,000 and 400,000 workers.