“Imagine you’re earning 13, 14, 15 cents an hour. Then imagine your payments are not even on time, they’re delayed by a month or two. Then imagine you’re given an order that’s going to take you five days to complete and you don’t complete it on time and you’re not paid,” said Kara.
One in five home-based garment workers in India are aged 17 and under, according to the study, which draws on interviews with 1,452 workers. The youngest individual interviewed was 10 years old, although researchers witnessed dozens of younger children.
In northern India, one in 10 people were trapped in forced labour. Almost 6% were in bonded labour, where a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. In all, three-quarters of those interviewed said they began the work due to some form of duress, with many citing family pressure or severe financial hardship. Two-thirds of child workers in the north were also out of school.
Almost all workers – 99.2% – were subject to conditions of forced labour under Indian law, which means they did not receive the state-stipulated minimum wage. In most cases, workers received only a tenth of the minimum wage.
Across India, the vast majority of workers were women and girls from the most marginalised communities. None belonged to a trade union or had a written contract, leaving them with no way of seeking redress for unfair or abusive treatment.
Payments were often late, with many workers reporting that they had been penalised for not completing hefty orders on time. Problems of this nature worsened in the run-up to busy periods such as Christmas.
India’s garment industry is among the world’s biggest for manufacturing and export, employing 12.9 million people in formal factory settings, and millions more indirectly in informal, home-based settings.