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Southern India

HOTSPOT NAME Southern India
PROGRAM FOCUS Bonded labour

The Freedom Fund’s hotspot in Tamil Nadu, southern India, aims to reduce bonded labour and exploitation in textiles, especially affecting girls, young women and migrant workers in spinning mills. This hotspot is made possible through funding from Laudes Foundation and UBS Optimus Foundation.

Hotspot start date: September 2015

The textile industry in the state of Tamil Nadu provides vital jobs and incomes, especially in poorer communities. However, parts of the industry are also a hotspot for various forms of bonded labour. Tens of thousands of girls and young women have been recruited into employment schemes in the textile industry that result in excessive hours of work and extremely low pay – often with appalling effects on their mental and physical health. Large numbers of migrant workers from other Indian states also suffer similar harmful working conditions in the spinning mills and powerlooms.

In 2015 the Freedom Fund commissioned ASK India to carry out a study of the textile industry in Tamil Nadu, consulting with a large number of organisations that are working to end bonded labour in the industry. The study found that spinning mills and power looms have a higher level of bonded labour than other parts of the garment supply chain. It also found that efforts by concerned retailers and brands to improve worker protections have generally not yet reached beyond their immediate suppliers, often leaving coercive practices and hazardous conditions further up their supply chains.

Through a comprehensive strategy, this hotspot program works closely with a wide range of organisations, government bodies and businesses to reduce young workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, strengthen mechanisms for worker protection in the industry, and help survivors to emerge from trauma.

Read the Southern India Hotspot 2020 Annual Report.

Multiple evaluations have found that the Freedom Fund’s labour interventions stop abuses, protect workers and change structural conditions to keep families out of bonded labour in  1,100 villages targeted by our partner organisations in northern and southern India. Read our Evidence in Practice paper.

In each community: Working with 14 NGO partners in five districts of Tamil Nadu, the program supports community groups of the most vulnerable families in over 400 villages. These groups take action against the root causes of vulnerability, including gender and caste discrimination, the need for alternative incomes, and access to better sources of information about workplace conditions. They work with village government to improve education and take action against fraudulent brokers. Adolescent groups spread awareness of workplace rights, protect each other from risky recruitment, and promote increased access to vocational training. Survivors are supported for recovery through legal aid, and new sources of income and education.

Working with government: At district and state level, the program liaises with officials to support them in implementing worker rights and protections, for example to inspect mill hostels and worksites and enforce minimum wage laws. The program also supports the Tamil Nadu Alliance, a network of civil society forums that are working together to promote fair and equitable labour conditions for workers in the textile and garment industry.

Working with businesses: The program works with local and international businesses to develop worker support groups and supervisor and management training within spinning mills. We are reinforcing international industry collaboration against bonded labour in the supply chain. We enable frontline organisations to bring the industry’s attention to the worker-centred solutions that are urgently needed.

Opportunities for partnership in Tamil Nadu
The Laudes Foundation is the first industry-related partner to work with the Freedom Fund to specifically address a “hotspot” of bonded labour. Alongside UBS Optimus Foundation, we seek partners to provide additional funding to scale-up the project

Hotspot Annual Reports:

Freedom Fund