The trouble with studying in good management institutes is
that the students very often do not understand what it means to work in
industry. They dream of working for Infosys, Wipro, Tatas and such good
companies, but the masses work in small organisations. The stories of
exploitation and hard life the workers lead are usually not visible to the
This has a fallout. Many students do not understand why the
Government makes such silly laws like the Factories Act. They do their summer
placements, usually their first serious work in a factory, in good
organisations which comply with the legal stipulations. Sometimes they offer
better than what the law prescribes. But a law is really made for the
contingency of its breach. Small enterprises and ‘make-a-quick-buck-entrepreneurs’
merrily flout the legal provisions. And a corrupt bureaucracy helps them too.
We understand the purpose of law making when we see this reality.
Sometimes NGOs highlight the plight of the exploited workers.
I recently read the report called ‘Captured by Cotton.’ [Link
]. It is a report on how
dalit girls are systematically exploited by garment makers in Tamil Nadu who
make goods for European and US markets. The report sums up the situation in its introduction:
In India, in the
southern state of Tamil Nadu, girls and young women are recruited and employed on
a large scale to work in the garment industry. The promise: a decent wage,
comfortable accommodation, and, the biggest lure: a considerable sum of money
upon completion of their three-year contract. This lump sum may be used to pay
for a dowry. Although the payment of a dowry has been prohibited in India since
1961, it is still a general practice in rural India for which families often
incur high debts. The recruitment and employment scheme – the Sumangali Scheme –
that is the subject of this report is closely linked to the payment of a dowry.
The Tamil word Sumangali refers to a married woman who leads a happy and
contented life with her husband with all fortunes and material benefits. The
reality of working under the Sumangali Scheme however, stands in sharp contrast
to the attractive picture that is presented to the girls and young women during
the recruitment process. Excessive overwork, low wages, no access to grievance
mechanisms or redress, restricted freedom of movement and limited privacy are
part and parcel of the working and employment conditions under this scheme. The
promised end-of-contract sum is not a bonus, but part of the regular wage that
is withheld by the employer. Often women workers do not even receive the full
promised lump sum. Without exaggeration, the Sumangali Scheme in its worst form
has become synonymous with unacceptable employment and labour conditions, even with
Countries which thrive on outsourcing are easy exploitation
grounds by their unscrupulous employers and also by MNCs who prefer to turn a
Nelson’s eye to it. The ILO has published an ‘ILO Tripartite Declaration of
Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.’ This is a
step in the right direction but nevertheless the exploitation continues.
We know the story of Foxconn which came in focus because of
its high profile customer Apple. There are several reports available on how
Foxconn works and all are, without exception, shocking. Watch this video to get
a glimpse [Video Link
The NY times article ‘The Dilemma of Cheap Electronics’
points out a very real problem. It says:
‘Nobody wants to see workers exploited, and if Apple can
pressure Foxconn to clean up its act, it should...... In other words, what
assurance would the Apples and Dells and Panasonics have that if they forced
their Chinese contractors to adopt American-level wages and conditions, their
competitors would all do so simultaneously?...... The issue is complicated.
It’s upsetting. We, the consumers, want our shiny electronics. We want them
cheap, yet we want them built by well-paid, healthy workers. But apparently, we
can’t have both.’
And see this video too [We shop, who pays?
The assumptions behind these statements are faulty and do not
indicate what we want. It is okay if the workers are paid above minimum wages, but they must be paid! In many cases
they are denied what is due to them. The unacceptable working conditions must
be done away with. And all this can be mandated and implemented by the
Government. Relying on the ILO convention is enough. If bonded labour persists
in spite of the convention, then obvious conclusion is that things will not
improve without rigorous implementation of labour standards by the Government.
And it also means that workers have to free themselves from the vice like grip of the corrupt bureaucracy.
[Picture courtesy: Captured by Cotton]
Labels: Captured by Cotton, Corruption, Exploitation, ILO Convention