‘Worst fashion wage theft’: workers go hungry as Indian suppliers to top UK brands refuse to pay minimum wage | Garment workers

Garment workers making garments for worldwide brands in Karnataka, a serious clothes manufacturing hub in India, say their youngsters are going hungry as factories refuse to pay the authorized minimum wage in what’s claimed to be the largest wage theft to ever hit the fashion {industry}.

More than 400,000 garment workers in Karnataka haven’t been paid the state’s authorized minimum wage since April 2020, in accordance to a world labour rights organisation that displays working situations in factories.

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) estimates the overall quantity of unpaid wages to this point to be greater than £41m.

One employee mentioned she solely earned about half of what she wanted to cowl primary dwelling prices, such as meals and lease.


“If we had got the wage increase last year, we could have at least eaten vegetables a few times a month. Throughout this year I have only fed my family rice and chutney sauce,” she mentioned.

“I tried to talk to the factory management about it,” she added, “but they said, ‘this is what we pay to work here. If you don’t like it, you can leave.’”

Scott Nova, government director of the WRC, mentioned: “In terms of number of workers affected and total money stolen, 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.”

Karnataka is certainly one of India’s garment-industry heartlands, with 1000’s of factories and tons of of 1000’s of workers producing clothes for worldwide brands together with Puma, Nike, Zara, Tesco, C&A, Gap, Marks & Spencer and H&M.


An Indian garment worker sits at a table sorting through clothing that is to be sewn together with shirts hanging up behind herA garment employee in Bangalore, Karnataka, sorting items earlier than they’re stitched. The month-to-month minimum wage for the garment sector is 417 rupees (£4.16) a month. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Nova mentioned the “indifference and inaction” of all of the brands sourcing clothes from the area in regards to the scenario dealing with its largely poor, feminine workforce was “shameful and cruel”.

He mentioned that regardless of persistent calls for from the WRC for the previous two years, western brands had both refused to intervene or had not acted to make sure that workers making their garments had been paid in keeping with Indian legislation.

“It has been almost two years since apparel suppliers have been refusing to pay the legal minimum wage and brands have been letting this continue when they know they are the only ones with the power to stop this widespread wage theft,” he mentioned.


“Payment of minimum wage is pretty much the lowest bar on a brand’s responsibility towards its workforce. If they won’t even insist on this being paid then they are letting a human rights violation on a huge scale continue with impunity.”

A “variable dearness allowance” (VDA) for low-paid workers, based mostly on the price of dwelling, quantities to 16.06 Indian rupees (16p) a day, or R417.56 a month. The WRC mentioned that as this had gone unpaid for 20 months every employee had been underpaid by R8,351 (£83).

Garment suppliers argue that the Ministry of Labour & Employment issued a proclamation suspending the minimum wage improve shortly after it was applied in April 2020 and {that a} authorized grievance relating to the requirement to pay the rise was nonetheless progressing by means of the courts in Karnataka.

However, in September final yr, the Karnataka high court ruled that the labour ministry’s proclamation was unlawful and that the minimum wage, together with all arrears, have to be paid to workers no matter another courtroom proceedings.

According to the WRC, attire suppliers make up the one industrial sector throughout Karnataka refusing to adjust to this courtroom order.

Workers in Karnataka, whom the Guardian are usually not naming to shield their livelihoods, mentioned that not receiving their pay rise, within the face of steeply rising dwelling prices, had had a devastating impact on their very own lives and people of their households, particularly their youngsters.

Another lady, who works at a manufacturing unit making clothes for UK excessive avenue brands, mentioned that she had been compelled to go away her residence and was now dwelling with a relative as a result of she might now not pay the lease.

“The salary increases we received every year didn’t cover our living costs but did help with things like food for the family and medicine. Working in the garment factories is very painful.

“The brands who buy from my factory demand quality and for the clothes to be shipped in time but aren’t bothered with what happens to me,” she mentioned.

Puma, Nike, Gap, Tesco, C&A, Marks & Spencer and H&M, that are among the many brands sourcing clothes from Karnataka, all mentioned that they had been dedicated to paying the authorized minimum wage and anticipated their suppliers to adjust to the excessive courtroom order.

H&M mentioned: “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 mentioned in an announcement: “[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 mentioned in an announcement that it had demanded its suppliers adjust to the courtroom order and it was “confident” that they’d accomplish that. The Dutch-owned multinational mentioned it was anticipating written affirmation from its suppliers.

Marks & Spencer mentioned it was working with the Ethical Trading Initiative to “demand” that its suppliers paid the authorized 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 mentioned.

Puma mentioned that its affect on its suppliers was “limited” in Karnataka however added: “We are working with our peers, who source bigger volumes in Karnataka, to make sure that wages are paid correctly.”

Nike mentioned in an announcement: “Nike expects all suppliers to comply with local legal requirements and the Nike code of conduct.”

A spokesperson for Tesco mentioned: “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, mentioned: “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 assertion added: “Wages should always be enough to meet at least the basic needs of workers and their families.”

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