Global apparel brands pledge to improve conditions for Bengaluru workers

Clothing companies H&M, Inditex, C&A and PVH have committed to improving the lives of workers in India’s southern city of Bengaluru, after a report said employees lived in appalling conditions and were denied decent wages and freedom of movement.

Gap Inc., which also sources apparel from Bengaluru, did not respond to the report by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), according to a statement by the Dutch non-governmental group late on Thursday. A draft of the report, Unfree and Unfair, was presented to the companies last November.

The conditions of garment workers in South Asia have come under sharp scrutiny following the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, in which 1,135 workers were killed, many of them employed by suppliers to Western retailers.

The ICN report said hostels run by the Bengaluru factories lacked basic amenities such as beds and clean water, and that workers earned between 95 euros($104) and 115 euros per month, just above the official minimum wage of 93 euros to 103 euros.

Bengaluru, a hub for apparel exporters, is also known as India’s Silicon Valley for its numerous information technology companies, and draws migrants seeking better economic prospects from its home Karnataka state, as well as from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and the country’s north and east.

There are an estimated 1,200 garment factories in and around Bengaluru, making apparel for large global brands.

Many of the workers are women from poor backgrounds who do not know the local language and are unaware of their rights, making them more vulnerable to exploitation, according to the report based on interviews with 110 migrant workers at four garment factories in the city.

“Global companies have a responsibility to ensure better conditions for the workers, as they are directly benefiting from their labour,” Raphel Jose, vice president of supply-chain sustainability at the Centre for Responsible Business in Bengaluru, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This is an area where the brands can come together and collaborate with a local agency and pressurise the industry to improve conditions.”

Dutch clothing retailer C&A, Swedish retailer H&M and Spain’s Inditex, which owns the Zara and Massimo Dutti brands, will work together and liaise with local trade unions to provide training and address workers’ grievances, ICN said.

Inditex will evaluate the state of workers at its suppliers and factories across India, while PVH Corp., which owns brands including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, is developing new guidelines for its suppliers, ICN said.

“If the brands commit to these issues and their plan of action, we expect that considerable progress can be made in addressing the working and living conditions of young migrant garment workers in Bangalore,” ICN said in the statement

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