The fashion industry is big business. Most of us are on the lookout for the perfect outfit. However, woven throughout the fashion supply chain there is the exploitation of the most vulnerable. The real fashion victims are those who make our garments. It happens in every step of the supply chain.
Take for example the Sumangali Scheme in India. This region accounts for over 65% of India’s spinning units and 60% of India’s knitted products. Many young women and girls end up working within the Tamil Nadu region as they are employed under the Sumangali Scheme. This is an attractive scheme for those in rural communities, and struggle to cope with the oppression of poverty and the practice of dowry.
The Sumangali scheme exploits the poorest and most vulnerable. Many of the young girls within the scheme are recruited and given a small allowance, with the promise of a lump sum at the end of their scheme, or at the time of their marriage. However, according to research less than 35% ever receive their payment.
The Scheme is marketed to be very appealing. Often the recruiters will travel to rural communities and present families with colourful brochures with decorative words. They make promises of a steady wage and employment. But in reality, once these girls are part of the scheme they are subjected to the worst forms of abuse. This includes chronic illness due to poor health and safety, one woman has described having over 4kg of cotton fibre removed from her stomach. This often leaves them physiologically traumatised.
Yet, the Sumangali scheme continues to thrive as it offers young women from the poorest communities the opportunity to earn a dowry and get married. The practice of dowry although illegal since 1961, still persists within India. This is ultimately exploiting the strong cultural desire for young women to have an investment for marriage.
The stories of these young women must be heard! We as consumers have enormous power to ask our favourite labels and retailers to do something to stop and prevent labour abuse in the supply chain.
About the Author
Carolyn Kitto is the director of Stop the traffik Australia . Stop the Traffik is led by a coalition of non-government, community and other organisations working together against trafficking in Australia and around the world.
STOP THE TRAFFIK in Australia exists to prevent the physical, emotional and sexual abuse and harm done by human trafficking.