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4 Mär 2022

India: Kitex Garments accused of treating migrant workers as 'bonded labourers' following mass arrests

In February 2022, a report by the All India Association for Justice accused Kitex Garments in Kerala, India, of treating its migrant workforce as "bonded labourers". Kitex Garments is one of the largest manufacturers of baby and childrenswear in India and supplies to international brands and retailers including Carter's and Walmart.

The report was published in response to the arrest of 174 workers following a violent clash between workers, factory security guards and the police over Christmas. Among those arrested were workers who were asleep in their dormitories at the time. They now face a criminal trial.

The All India Association for Justice has said it suspects collusion between factory management and the police in the registration of the criminal cases and arrests of the workers. Kitex managers are also allegedly using this incident to “blackmail” other migrant workers.

The report also described "inhumane" and "oppressive" working conditions, with workers allegedly not being allowed to leave the "labour camps" unless granted permission. It said workers have limited access to organisations such as trade unions, with language barriers isolating them from the community.

The managing director of Kitex Garments told reporters that the report was part of a ‘politically motivated witch hunt’ against the company. Meanwhile, Donnie Hodge, the president and COO of Kitex Garment’s US arm, disputed the description of in-house facilities for workers, noting that there had been over 90 independent audits at Kitex Garments over five years, and none of them had addressed those issues.

Carter’s explained it had seen no evidence of slave or bonded labour during audits conducted by both the company and certification agencies. Walmart, who stocks Kitex’s Little Star Organic label, did not respond to journalists' requests for comment.