The textile and clothing industry in India employs over 35 million people and much of the country’s production occurs in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The sector is one of the largest and most important for foreign exchange earnings and employment in India. However, behind the scenes of this bustling industry is a disturbing practice of the “Sumangali Scheme” which reportedly continues to put the rights and lives of millions young women at risk.
Despite global and national focus on the practice over the years, more progress is needed, hence renewed efforts by stakeholders to understand the issues around the scheme and find ways to address it. Research findings in a 49-page report by Solidaridad with support from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) present a corrective action plan and recommendations to deal with the practice, which has been plaguing the industry.
The recently released report on the “Sumangali Scheme” – gives a comprehensive look at this complex practice of paying young women a lump sum to be used for a dowry at the end of a three-year term. In contrast parents from poor families feel that it makes sense that their young, unskilled daughter(s) work for three years (mostly unpaid until the end of their term), before they are eligible for marriage at 21 or 22 years of age. The system promise of a lump sum of money is very important to them for marriage purposes.
The research describe highly exploitive working conditions in the textile mills and garment manufacturing units, which in essence provides some of the few employment opportunities available for young women in the region. Over 80% of the practice is identified in the spinning mills sector and less than 20% in the garment manufacturing process. It was further found that less than 30% of the yarn from spinning mills in Tamil Nadu is used directly in the supply chains for global brands and retailers. Direct exports of yarn to countries like China and Bangladesh were found to be another way through which yarn produced under the scheme may enter the supply chains for global brands and retailers. The spinning sector exports about 23% of its production.
Involving the overall supply chain in the industry to get more clarity on data and the key players in the supply chain of the sector, has among others been highlighted as one key requirement. This was underscored by a need to fully understand brands and retailers’ access, influence and limitations in the garment supply chain. The development of trustworthy and meaningful partnerships across the board is also encouraged, including limiting the partly confrontational global and national approach to the Sumangali Scheme its related issues.