Apparel exports sector working to remove ‘child labour’ taint

India‘s $14-billion apparel export sector and the Textiles Ministry have begun an initiative to help manufacturers focus on good work practices and prevention of child and trafficked/forced labour. This is part of their efforts to improve India’s image as an ‘ethical sourcing destination’. Significantly, the development follows blacklisting of the sector by countries such as the US and multinational chains (such as Gap Inc, Walmart, Tesco, H&M, Mothercare, C&A and Primark) on the grounds of products being made in units using forced / bonded / child labour.

For instance, the US Department of Labour continues to include India’s apparel export sector under its ‘Executive Order 13126′ List on the “Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labour.”The sector was also listed in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act meant to combat forced / child labour in foreign countries. The EU also has norms against export of products made using child/forced labour. The US and the EU account for 80 per cent of India’s apparel exports.

In a bid to remove the taint, the Apparel Export Promotion Council has started implementing a pilot programme called ‘DISHA’, or Driving Industry towards Sustainable Human capital Advancement. The Textile Ministry is the main funding source for the DISHA programme.Efforts began on Thursday to constitute a stakeholder forum including international organisations, NGOs, trade unions, third-party accreditation agencies, brands, retailers, buying houses and multi-stakeholder institutions.Such a forum will then come out with a ‘code of ethics’ to prevent child/forced labour and help the sector adopt international best practices, and further to grant certificates for units complying with ethical norms.

The other priority areas of DISHA include ensuring freedom of association in the sector, proper wages and benefits, compliance with all the relevant laws and social justice norms. Around 134 units have so far enrolled for DISHA certification, and 68 units have given their Letter of Intent to comply with the norms. Besides, Self Assessment Tool (SAT) workshops have been conducted for 51 units in Tirupur, Jaipur, Ludhiana and the National Capital Region around Delhi.

The Textiles Ministry has given an allocation of around Rs 6 crore for the first year (2011-12) of the programme, during which it will cover 400 units across the country based on a cluster approach.

arun.s@thehindu.co.in

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