India: Report finds female migrant workers are subjected to conditions of modern slavery in factories supplying to garment brands; incl. co responses

"Labour without Liberty", a report by India Committee of the Netherlands, Clean Clothes Campaign and Garment Labour Union, looks into the living conditions in Bangalore garment factory hostels and the particular challenges migrant workers face. The study found that five out of the eleven ILO indicators for forced labour exist in the Bangalore garment industry: abuse of vulnerability, deception as a result of false promises (wages etc.), restriction of movement in the hostel, intimidation and threats, and abusive working and living conditions. While some of these aspects are also felt by the local workforce, they are more strongly experienced by migrant workers. According to the report, the factories studied produce for several large international brands.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the brands named to comment, of which seven responded: C&A, Columbia, Decathlon, Gap, H&M, PVH and Marks & Spencer. Their responses are available below.

The following companies did not respond to our invitation to comment: Abercrombie & Fitch, Benetton and Levi Strauss.

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Company non-response
27 February 2018

Levi Strauss did not respond

Author: Levi Strauss

Company response
27 February 2018

Response by PVH

Author: PVH

 At PVH, we see the workers in our supply chain as an extension of our own workforce, and it is vital that they work in a safe environment. We support our suppliers in raising social, health and safety standards, particularly in production countries where workers are most at risk in the workplace...

PVH takes any allegation related to underage workers, verbal harassment, and restrictions on freedom of movement very seriously. We investigate allegations of these issues, and should any allegation be found to be true, PVH requires immediate corrective action from the vendor. While PVH respects ICN and Cividep’s position not to disclose factory names, it can be challenging to effectively remediate the issues raised without such information... To this end, we are in contact with ICN and Cividep to determine any appropriate next steps. Additionally, in order to ensure that these matters are addressed in a collective manner, we are in touch with the other apparel companies named as sourcing from this vendor...

We recognize that migrants face a variety challenges both globally and within India. These challenges do not only relate to living conditions but include the integration of migrants into the factory setting. PVH is committed to working to address these multifaceted and endemic issues through engagement with various stakeholder groups with the understanding that no one stakeholder can make sustainable change alone. 

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Company non-response
21 February 2018

Abercrombie & Fitch did not respond

Author: Abercrombie & Fitch

Company non-response
21 February 2018

Benetton did not respond

Author: Benetton

Company response
20 February 2018

Response by Marks & Spencer

Author: Marks & Spencer

We were in contact with ICN before the publication of the report and were given the opportunity to review some general text from the report. At this time we asked if ICN could provide us with factory information to enable us to identify the one factory that we are linked with in the report. Understandably they would not supply us with the factory name in order to ensure there was no retaliation on workers.

So given the general and anonymised information in the report and a lack of factory name, we carried out some due diligence checks on the factories within the area but we could not carry out a full investigation and provide evidence in response to the specific allegations in the unknown factory.

In addition, for the past 2 years we have published our Human Rights report highlighting the salient issues in our supply chain and specifically in India we have also highlighted recruitment practices of migrant workers. As part of several multistakeholder groups including the ETI TMNS which focussed on and resulted in a hostel guidelines document, and the Brands Ethical working group, we are working collaboratively with many of the Brands mentioned in the report in order to tackle some of the systemic issues within the garment industry...

We would also like to say that research and reports such as these are important in highlighting issues and especially if differences are found in treatment of different categories of workers. Therefore we will continue to implement our policies and principles and take on board the information and the findings in the report on the employment conditions of migrant workers, and work with brands to ensure good recruitment practices for migrant workers within our supply chain.

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Company response
19 February 2018

Response by Columbia

Author: Columbia

Columbia Sportswear Company (“Columbia”) takes seriously the issues outlined in this report and continues to work diligently to ensure the safety and ethical treatment of workers in our supply chain. 

  • Specific suppliers and exact factory locations are not outlined by the authors of this report, therefore it is difficult to completely validate the issues outlined, as well as take remediation actions with our suppliers at specific locations.  However, we have reviewed the report with our factory partners in the Bangalore area will continue to focus on these issues as we work with this group of factories in this region. 

Columbia is also taking steps to strengthen our policies and procedures...

  • Before and after the publication of this report, Columbia has been actively engaging with a group of other brands sourcing in the Bangalore area to collaborate on resolving the issues that the report outlines.  This group of brands has met with Bangalore factories to directly discuss conditions in their owned and operated factories and to address the issue of intra-country migrant workers. 

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Company response
19 February 2018

Response by Decathlon

Author: Decathlon

...After investigation, it is confirmed that Decathlon had no commercial relationship with the mentioned unit of the Company 1 located in the Peenya Industrial Area and that no production of Decathlon products was allowed in that unit at the time of the investigation. Decathlon has commercial relationship with other units of the Company 1, but not with this unit in Peenya Industrial Area...

The NGO in charge of that particular hostel of this unit of Company 1 located in the Peenya Industrial Area is also in charge of several hostels linked to some other Company 1 units that we have allowed to produce products for Decathlon.

So even if Decathlon has no commercial relationship with that particular Company 1 unit, we have worked with the Company 1 management and that NGO to improve the situation in that particular hostel like Decathlon is already doing in the other hostels managed by NGO linked to Company 1 units especially regarding:

- Hostel conditions improvements

- Hostel grievance committee regular meetings

- Freedom of movement improvements in evening, holidays and sundays.

As always, all feedbacks like this alert help us to improve and we want to thank the India Committee of the Netherlands...

For more informations on our sustainable development policy and strategies, don't hesitate to visit our website and our CSR reports.

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Company response
19 February 2018

Response by Gap

Author: Gap

Gap Inc. seeks to ensure the people who make our clothes are not subject to any form of exploitative labor practices, including discrimination. We are aware of the complex vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers in Southern India, and have partnered with a broad set of stakeholders to address this issue for several years. Further, we have developed a set of policies that seek to ensure migrant workers’ rights are respected, as specified in our Code of Vendor Conduct (COVC). 

The findings in the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) report will inform our ongoing effort to help ensure the rights of migrant workers in Southern India are respected, building upon the significant improvements we have seen in the region since the data was collected for the report in August 2016 to December 2016. In the time since the research for this report was conducted, we have actively engaged with and provided a detailed response to the ICN regarding the issues highlighted, and will continue to work with them to build upon the progress thus far.

As we have previously disclosed to ICN, we are implementing a multi-pronged approach to address the issues highlighted in ICN’s report. Each aspect of our approach is outlined in more detail below...

We recognize that more work remains to be done on this urgent issue, and that we must continue to focus attention and resources towards remedies, in partnership with other brands, NGOs, unions, and relevant government stakeholders. We appreciate the opportunity to respond to your inquiry, and will continue to provide updates to both BHRRC and ICN as our work in this area continues to grow and evolve.

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Company response
19 February 2018

Response by H&M

Author: H&M

We welcome this report and are genuinely concerned about the challenges within the Indian textile industry that it draws attention to. We share the concerns raised in the report and we are sorry if our answers to the organizations behind the report were perceived as too general or brief. We are very committed to our continuous work both around the labour conditions in textile factories and living conditions at hostels, but at the same time aware of and frustrated over that the work to identify, push and understand how we and other brands can and should influence to make lasting change is not moving fast enough. 

The report clearly shows there is a need for improved recruitment processes and a clearer communication making all inter-state migrant workers understand their rights and responsibilities... This is the reason why we last year reached out to suppliers in India to reinforce our expectation that the “Guidance for Migrant Women Workers in Hostels” is followed, developed by the brands group in India (BEWG) together with trade unions, NGO’s and manufacturers. The guide aims at providing safe and healthy accommodation to migrant workers. H&M inspects all hostels provided by our suppliers to make sure they meet expected standards. We inspect the premises and conduct interviews with the workers living there. We also check the buildings from a general building maintenance perspective, the cleanliness of the premises as well as what kind of safety restrictions the workers have to comply with...

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Company response
16 February 2018

Response by C&A

Author: C&A

...It is important to raise awareness on workers’ wellbeing and living conditions in Bangalore so that all key actors (brands, government, suppliers) can foster improvements in the region. This is why C&A welcomes the publishing of the report ‘Labour without Liberty’ as it also acknowledges that this issue is complex and challenging to resolve due to a wide spectrum of aspects including culture and caste system among others, which are embedded in the Indian society...

We acknowledge that only through collaboration we will be able to have the desired impact. After ICN issued the first report ‘Unfree and unfair’ in 2016, we took immediate actions to understand the root cause of the issue and how we can tackle it in order to improve migrants’ life and work. Hence, we joined efforts with other two international brands in order to conduct a context evaluation of freedom of movement, health & safety and workers’ wellbeing in general...

We are glad to see that ICN has taken into consideration the efforts C&A has done among other brands. C&A has been one of the few who has acknowledged the limitations of social audit and is committed to search for alternatives, which may bridge the gaps that audits have...

As a result of the ongoing improvement dialogue between brands and one of our main suppliers in Bangalore, the supplier has assigned the day-to-day management of its hostels to a suitable local NGO Janodaya...

Together with ETI, we have had consultations with NGOs and Trade Unions and have received positive responses from them to establish such Multi-stakeholder Ethical Trade Platform in India...

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