Child Labour is among the most sought-after social evils to be eradicated along with human trafficking. Child Rights campaigner and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has time and again stressed the need to make the laws more stringent, and in May this year, the Indian Parliament approved a ban on employment of children below the age of 14, with a caveat that children can pursue family businesses, entertainment and sports activities after school or in vacations. The penalty provisions for employing a child have been increased to jail term of three years and fine of up to Rs 50,000. With so much focus in this area, a recent report claiming that there are over 8,000 children working in the garment industry in Delhi alone, demanded a reality check. Though there are some grey areas, particularly in the supply chain, it was heartening to know that the garment industry is not only sensitive to the issue, but a number of Indian exporters are doing a commendable job by supporting children’s education through various CSR initiatives.
There are 8,044 children (age Group of 6-18 years) working in the garment industry in 8 wards of Delhi – Okhla, Tughlaqabad, Sangam Vihar, Khirki/Shahpurjat, Gandhi Nagar/ Kailash Nagar, Geeta Colony, Madanpur Khadar, and Batla House – claims ‘The Hidden Workforce’, a detail study on child labour in the garment industry in Delhi by the NGO, Save the Children. (Report is available on apparelresources. com). Sandeep Kumar, Minister of Women and Child Development, Delhi who launched the report assured the concerned gathering that a committee would be constituted to support the efforts of civil society and NGOs, to help children engaged in different industries. The report also admits that there are no children in the organized garment firms owing to contractual obligations of Indian industry with the international buyers, but it claims that the sub-contracting process to the unorganized sector, has been neglected from this commitment, and children are engaged at that level, mostly for handwork.
Some years ago a factory working with GAP was ‘blacklisted’ when an NGO exposed a ‘value addition’ adda in South Delhi where work for the factory was going on and had a majority of children on the job. Since then there have been many debates on child labour in the garment export industry. The problem is more pronounced in the Delhi-NCR region because of the nature of products that is done here, which requires a lot of value addition and handwork, all of which is not available in-house. The recent omission of children in ‘home-worker’ environment to the definition of child labour, provided they are educated, has been highly appreciated by the industry as controlling and monitoring compliance when outsourcing handwork done by expert needle workers in and around Delhi is very difficult. Yet, the industry admits that a lot still needs to be done.
One of the biggest ways to show support and take the issue head-on is to contribute constructively to educating children, so that they are not forced by economic constraints to work in harsh, deadline based conditions.
Exporter initiatives on education and child welfare…
The initiatives for education are not new, but what is encouraging is that the number of companies taking the route is on the rise. Delhi-NCR based companies like Shahi Exports, Orient Craft, Matrix, Radnik Exports, Shivalik Prints, IndoBritish Garment to name some, are already deeply involved in providing support in the area of education. While Shahi and Radnik are known for their initiatives regarding generous scholarships to their workers’ children, mostly those who are meritorious and want to go in for higher education; Orient Craft aims to offer the best from the world of books to them and it has also reached out to some of the schools for infrastructural help including repair work for the rooms and providing furniture.
Matrix Clothing works very closely with two NGOs that are focusing on children upliftment – Salaam Baalak Trust & IIMPACT. While IIMPACT is currently educating 45,000 girls in 1,100 villages in 10 States of India, Salaam Baalak Trust runs five 24-hour full care shelters for children, including one being devoted to girl children. O S Pasricha, Chairman of TCNS Group is the steering force behind the NGO-Indus Quality Foundation (IQF), working with more than 50 schools and playing a pioneering role in imparting the message of Vedanta to the students. It also reaches out to underprivileged students providing them with regular education as well. IQF envisions tapping the infinite possibilities in a human being. Balaji Loomtex claims to offer free education to 20 per cent students in its school in Khekra village (Uttar Pradesh).
Faridabad based, Shivalik Prints is actively involved in promoting education in EWS (economically weaker sections) and slum areas. Trend Setters International is also sponsoring EWS children’s education, while Maral Overseas is running a school in remote villages for the girl child in Khargone (Madhya Pradesh). Indo-British Garments (IBG) works actively with the communities to bring lasting changes for inculcating positive attitude in children and also celebrates enthusiastically ‘Happy Day’ for children of its workers, bringing smiles to over 700 children as children enjoy the day with singing, dancing, playing games, going for a tour of a park or wildlife sanctuary, engrossing in a magic shows and various other fun competitions.
These are just few examples of what is happening in the Delhi-NCR belt, but the efforts are pan-India and in Mumbai and South of India, apparel exporters too have similar initiatives with the same purpose. The better known initiatives in the Mumbai area include the social partnership and dedication of ‘Being Human’ and Mandhana Industries for the cause of children living in marginal conditions. The Cotton and Textile Corporation, Mumbai is strongly supporting education and repair work of schools in remote/tribal areas. Alok Industries has adopted ITI Agasi Institute near their factory in Vapi under PPP for skill development. Clothing manufacturers association of India (CMAI) has continued to support and create awareness in this regard.
These welfare activities focusing on children and education are equally in the priority list of apparel exporters in the south also. The management of Eastman Exports Global Clothing is involved in many CSR activities outside business and is extending social support especially for children in various villages. Texport Industries, Bangalore is working with 14 Government primary schools, with special focus on their upgradation. In some cases, even buyers are equally involved in such initiatives and joining hands with their suppliers and contributing significantly to child-welfare. A good example is of Meridian Apparels, Chennai, which is running a school in Karur for the children of its tailors in a joint venture with its French Buyer E.Leclerc.
These efforts are not limited at children’s level or to only primary/higher secondary education, and in a social initiative worth applauding, KPR Mill Limited, Coimbatore is running free IAS academy and also other employment targeted courses and higher education classes for its employees. Many of its ex-employees are now working at higher positions in big corporate and Government offices. Besides education, some initiatives also cover better sanitation & water facility, Penguin Apparels, Madurai has focused on both these things in schools specially running for girls.
Exporters are also involved with various NGOs and supporting the cause through them, like Indian Designs Exports, Bangalore supports Parikrma who teach street children. Ginza Industries Ltd., Surat is supporting girl child education through various NGOs. Aditya Birla Nuvo Limited (Madura Garment Exports) is associated with Jan Kalyan Trust for Education. Danavarshini Exports, Tirupur is providing educational assistance to poor children, also through an NGO. Same is true for Jiwanram Sheoduttrai Industries and Mallcom (India) Ltd., both from Kolkata. Pratibha Syntex Limited, Pithampur has scholarship provision for outstanding students. These are just some of the examples and even the severest of critic will agree that exporters are doing their best to fulfil their duty towards the society and its future by securing education of those who are our tomorrow.