More than one-third of workers, a majority of them women, in some factories in South India that produce clothing for Dutch brands, such as C&A, Coolcat, G-Star, McGregor, MEXX, Scotch & Soda, Suitsupply, The Sting and WE Fashion, are not being paid the official minimum wage leave alone a ‘living’ wage, says a new study.

In fact, none of the garment workers in 10 factories located in Karnataka (Peenya and Bommassandra) and Tamil Nadu earns a living wage, and women workers get paid lower than men doing the same work, says the study, ‘Doing Dutch – Research into the State of Pay for Workers in Garment Factories in India working for Dutch fashion brands’’.

The study was conducted by Clean Clothes Campaign, India Committee of the Netherlands, Asia Floor Wage Alliance and Cividep India.

“As many as 53 of the 150 workers interviewed (between August-October 2015) earn less than the minimum wage, and thus, get paid less than required by the law. On average, workers earn just €100 per month (about ₹7,500), after deduction of various fines often not more than €90. That is about one-third of a living wage,” says the study

According to the Asia Floor Wage, a living wage for workers in India amounts to around €256 (₹18,727/month).

With low wages and rising prices, 68 per cent of the workers interviewed said they were unable to make any savings from their monthly wages. In fact, the study found that well over 70 per cent of the interviewed garment workers were indebted, with most of them saying that they had taken loans for education of their children, weddings or leasing houses.

Workplace hazards

“When the product is easy and small, the production target of 100 targets per hour is possible. When you do finishing tasks, like attaching sleeves, cuffs or necks then the target is 60 to 90 per hour. The stress of production targets is always there. Supervisors shout and use abusive words to make you work hard. If you use the factory bus, the factory deducts money from your wages,” said a worker.

In another case of gender disparity, women workers said they are forced to resign if pregnant because the management thinks they are too slow and have to pause too often.

“The average monthly wage of 22 interviewed male workers in the 10 factories is ₹9,010 (€ 123.42), whereas the average monthly wages of 128 female workers is ₹ 7,277 (€ 99.68). Women workers performing work of a similar nature are paid a lower rate than their male counterparts,” said the study.

Lack of transparency

Pointing out that many Dutch brands were not transparent about where their garments are made, the study calls for such companies to make sure that their procurement price enables the suppliers to pay a living wage.

The study, which approached all brands for their comments, found G Star as the only Dutch brand that was transparent about its suppliers.

“The government must make firm agreements with all garment companies to ensure that this really happens and that production facilities are made public," Gerard Oonk, Director of the India Committee of the Netherlands, said, calling upon brands to strengthen their social audit mechanisms and adopt a system to check their supply chains to ensure that garment workers earn a living wage.

The Indian textile and garment industry is the second largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture, with Bengaluru as a major hub, accounting for about 15 per cent of the production of exported garments.

There are about 1,200 garment factories in Karnataka, 700 of which are officially registered, employing an estimated 500,000 people, many of them migrants from Odisha, Assam and Jharkhand.