India: Clothing brands accused of ‘indifference and inaction’ as garment workers go hungry in ‘biggest wage theft’ worth over £41 million
"‘Worst fashion wage theft’: workers go hungry as Indian suppliers to top UK brands refuse to pay minimum wage", 16 December 2021
Garment workers making clothes for international brands in Karnataka...say their children are going hungry as factories refuse to pay the legal minimum wage in what is claimed to be the biggest wage theft to ever hit the fashion industry.
More than 400,000 garment workers in Karnataka have not been paid the state’s legal minimum wage since April 2020, according to an international labour rights organisation that monitors working conditions in factories.
The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) estimates the total amount of unpaid wages so far to be more than £41m...
Scott Nova, executive director of the WRC, said: “...this is the most egregious act of wage theft we’ve ever seen. The children of garment workers are going hungry so brands can make a buck."...
Nova said the “indifference and inaction” of all the brands sourcing clothing from the region about the situation facing its mostly poor, female workforce was “shameful and cruel”...
He said that despite persistent demands from the WRC for the past two years, western brands had either refused to intervene or had not acted to ensure that workers making their clothes were paid in line with Indian law...
Garment suppliers argue that the Ministry of Labour & Employment issued a proclamation suspending the minimum wage increase shortly after it was implemented in April 2020 and that a legal complaint relating to the requirement to pay the increase was still progressing through the courts in Karnataka.
However, in September last year, the Karnataka high court ruled that the labour ministry’s proclamation was illegal and that the minimum wage, including all arrears, must be paid to workers regardless of any other court proceedings.
According to the WRC, apparel suppliers make up the only industrial sector across Karnataka refusing to comply with this court order...
Puma, Nike, Gap, Tesco, C&A, Marks & Spencer and H&M...all said that they were committed to paying the legal minimum wage and expected their suppliers to comply with the high court order.
H&M said: “We have made it clear to our suppliers in Karnataka that they must pay the workers legally mandated minimum wages, including all arrears. If they fail to do so, it will ultimately lead to serious business consequences.”
Gap said in a statement: “[We] expect our suppliers to comply with the VDA allowance and arrears. We have established a timeline by which we expect full compliance.”
C&A said in a statement that it had demanded its suppliers comply with the court order and it was “confident” that they would do so. The Dutch-owned multinational said it was expecting written confirmation from its suppliers.
Marks & Spencer said it was working with the Ethical Trading Initiative to “demand” that its suppliers paid the legal minimum wage.
“We have engaged our suppliers in the state directly, making clear our expectation that these conditions be met with immediate effect,” an M&S spokesperson said.
Puma said that its influence on its suppliers was “limited” in Karnataka but added: “We are working with our peers, who source bigger volumes in Karnataka, to make sure that wages are paid correctly.”
Nike said in a statement: “Nike expects all suppliers to comply with local legal requirements and the Nike code of conduct.”
A spokesperson for Tesco said: “We are working with the Ethical Trading Initiative and other brands to ensure this issue is resolved and workers are paid in full.”
A spokesperson for Inditex, which owns Zara, said: “Inditex has a stringent code of conduct, which requires all factories in our supply chain to pay legal wages as a minimum. We are engaging suppliers in the region to urge them to make the VDA payment.”
The statement added: “Wages should always be enough to meet at least the basic needs of workers and their families.”