The retail industry is coming to play a leading role in using its influence and resources to address forced and bonded labour in areas they secure their textiles from.
As buyers of raw materials and ready-made garments in Tamil Nadu and other Indian states, international retailers have tremendous potential transform the industry. They are critical partners in the efforts supported by this initiative.
By working together with retailers to tackle the root causes of issues, this initiative will help remove bonded labour from apparel supply chains, and better ensure that apparel workers can engage in decent work under dignified working conditions.
At the Freedom Fund, we have just announced a partnership with C&A Foundation, a leading retailer. With funding from C&A Foundation, we have been able to create our third hotspot, focused on the eradication of forced and bonded labour in the textile industry in Tamil Nadu, southern India.
This targeted intervention was made possible through a two-year, EUR 2.4 million (USD 2.74m) investment made by C&A Foundation.
This investment marks a significant step for the Freedom Fund, as C&A Foundation is the first industry partner to specifically support a Freedom Fund hotspot to prevent forced and bonded labour especially of women and girls within the textile industry in Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu is an important centre for the country’s textile industry and a cost-effective hub for global garment sourcing. But it is also a “hotspot” for various forms of bonded labour. Tens of thousands of girls and young women in Tamil Nadu have been recruited into employment schemes in the textile industry that result in labour exploitation. Limited education and employment opportunities and traditional social norms around gender and class render girls and women from lower castes particularly vulnerable. Fraudulent labour brokers operate with impunity, and most survivors do not access sufficient support for recovery or learning new skills.
The Freedom Fund will work with local organisations to tackle these issues by strengthening community structures to address the root causes of vulnerability.
This includes activities to promote education, training, and income generation opportunities for survivors and families at greatest risk. The Fund will also work to improve workers’ rights and protections through government engagement and joint action with unions, local garment factories and textile mills, and international retailers.
In recent years, community organisations, trade unions, local business associations, and local authorities have undertaken important efforts to curb abusive employment and labour practices in the industry. However, progress has been limited due to factors such as a lack of coordination between stakeholders, corruption, minimal funding for civil society, and gaps in policy enforcement, allowing many business owners and labour brokers to operate with impunity.
International retailers have also engaged in efforts to increase worker protections. Many of these protections, however, are only afforded at direct suppliers and do not trickle down the supply chain to textile manufacturing.
Transformation in this industry can be most effectively achieved through partnerships with the community and with leading retailers and brands.
We want to ensure that workers supporting the retail industry have one of their most important fundamental rights secured: their freedom.