Teen worker’s death puts Indian spinning mills under new scrutiny

India’s mills supply fabric and clothes to fashion’s biggest labels and employ poor and illiterate workers, who say they deal with daily harassment and bad conditions. The 14-year-old girl died after working while sick to get her bonus

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 10:47am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 10:47am

The death of a 14-year-old girl, who went to work for a bonus despite suffering from pneumonia, has renewed scrutiny of Indian spinning mills that supply the world’s big fashion brands.

Although N. Kalaiyarasi was taken to hospital on Saturday, she returned to work on Sunday so as not to forfeit her 2,700 rupee (US$41.30) bonus, which is paid to workers for the Diwali festival, a union report said.

The true cost of your cheap clothes: slave wages for Bangladesh factory workers

“The death could have been prevented,” said Thivyarakhini Sesuraj, an adviser to the all-women Tamilnadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) which produced the fact-finding report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Making a bonus conditional is not acceptable. The girls are already paid less. The bonus is technically their right.”

India is one of the world’s largest textile and garment manufacturers, supplying local and international markets.

Some 1,600 spinning mills in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state employ an estimated 400,000 people to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes.

The workers are mainly young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste communities, who work up to 12 hours a day and say they face intimidation, sexual remarks and harassment.

Workers at India’s punishing brick-making kilns are ‘treated worse than slaves’, NGO report says

The union said the death was caused by “occupational negligence” as the teenager was working without a mask and there was no nurse for the 200 people working in the unit. She earned 230 rupees a day, it said.

Kalaiyarasi died in Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai after she fell ill during her Saturday shift at Dindigul Cotton Textile Mills in Tamil Nadu, the report said.

A colleague took her to hospital on Saturday, where she was given medication and sent home, it said. When her condition deteriorated at work on Sunday, she was admitted to the hospital where she later died, it said.

Managers at the mill did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment. They have arranged to meet Kalaiyarasi’s family, said Sesuraj.