International efforts to make it easier for garment workers in India to speak out against sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions and abuses are failing, campaigners said. The U.S.-based certifying agency Social Accountability International (SAI) and Britain's Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) - an alliance of unions, firms and charities - are not enforcing procedures they set up to protect workers, they said.
"The organisations are violating the rules of the mechanisms they created by not taking time bound action against complaints that come up," said S. James Vi
Forced labour, sexual harassment and repression of unions are not being properly addressed, Dutch advocacy groups India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) said.
Trade union president Mody said that workers' committees set up to handle complaints internally do not work. "It is only on paper," she said. "We have at least 10 written complaints of sexual harassment pending before the Tamil Nadu government," she added, referring to cases brought by workers in SAI-certified factories.
ICN and the UK-based Homeworkers Worldwide rights group also said their complaints to the ETI about forced labour were investigated slowly, workers were not consulted about the grievances and no remediation plan was made to address them.
Many of the 1,500 mills in Tamil Nadu state - the largest hub in India's $40 billion-a-year textile and garment industry - operate informally with poor regulation and few formal grievance mechanisms for workers, most of whom are women, campaigners say.
"Workers are being victimised, harassed and managements are literally going after them for raising any complaint," said Sujata Mody of the Garment and Fashion Workers Union, which has about 3,000 active members. "The issue could be about a toilet break, sick leave or sexual harassment. No complaint is tolerated or redressed."
Following reports that girls as young as 14 were lured from rural areas to work long hours in mills and factories without contracts, and often held capture in company-run hostels, global rights groups have tried to improve accountability.