Connected through our Consumerism

It’s quite likely that something you’re wearing at the moment was made in Asia. Most of the world’s garments are produced in Asia but the garment workers here are paid very poorly. The working conditions they endure include long working hours and forced overtime, for very low wages, without receiving their social security entitlements. This is despite the fact that the garment industry is worth about US$147 billion per year.

As consumers we are inextricably linked to the workers at the other end of the supply chain. For every item of clothing we buy we have a connection with the person who made it. However for a t-shirt you buy in the shop that costs $22.50, the garment worker that made it receives just 64 cents, while $16.88 remains as profit for the company. It’s clear to see how companies can easily afford to pay workers decent wages and still make a profit, without this necessarily costing the consumer any extra.

There’s nothing inevitable about the exploitation of garment workers. The feeling of guilt that we sometimes have as consumers when we buy a cheap item of clothing and pass a thought for the conditions in which it was made doesn’t need to be so. Unfortunately we have become used to companies exploiting their workers and often feel that there is little we can do to rectify these problems. However it is entirely possible that the connection between consumers and garment workers could be transformed into a positive one. That every time you buy clothes in a shop you feel that your money is being used to promote decent livelihoods in poorer parts of the world, that the person who made your clothes is really receiving a fair share of the price you see on the label.

This connection between consumers and garment workers means that consumers have real power (and arguably a real responsibility) to stand together with the workers who make our clothes and demand better conditions for them. In many garment factories trade unions are not permitted, making it difficult for workers to organise and demand their rights. There is huge fear among workers about standing up for their rights as those who do stand up for themselves are often threatened in the workplace or are even fired.

We know that the main concern of companies is their bottom line. All their activities from cutting costs, to advertising campaigns are aiming towards maximising their profits. This is exactly why we need consumers to start creating a fuss about the conditions for those working in the garment industry. Companies may not listen to workers, but as consumers are the suppliers of their profits, they will listen to us. So the more of us the better!

The Vetan Chori Band Karo / Stop Wage Theft campaign is currently working at the grassroots level, empowering workers to stand up for their rights. Workers in Gurgaon are signing up to a memorandum demanding their rights. This will be presented to the Minster of Labour and Employment on 1st May 2012. Workers are asking him to use his power to enforce the minimum wage laws. We have also started a petition for consumers to sign in support of the workers’ struggle. Please take a couple of minutes to sign this petition now and use your power as a consumer to act for positive change.

What is wage theft?

Vetan chori (wage theft) is a variety of ways in which garment workers are being denied their wages by the companies that they work for.

Many people can sympathise with the Robin Hood ‘stealing from the rich to give to the poor’ ideology, but in Haryana the opposite is happening. Profitable businesses are stealing from their workers’ already very low wages, making the practice even more appalling. The minimum wage for a garment worker in Haryana state is 178.61 Rupees, or about €2.50 per day.

We are calling for the government of Haryana to put an end to this disgraceful practice by enforcing the existing laws to protect workers from wage theft.

Workers have recalled their experiences of wage theft to us and explained the variety of ways in which it happens.

Garment workers are paid according to their work experience. The idea is that as workers gain more experience they move up through the grades and earn a higher wage. However many workers are currently being paid at a lower grade than the grade at which they are working. We are asking for workers to be paid according to grade at which they work.

Women are often paid 300-400 Rupees less per month than their male counterparts, even though they are doing the same work. We are asking for equal remuneration for male and female workers.

Every year workers are supposed to receive two  increments in their wages which come into effect from January and July.  However many workers have told us about long delays with their increment being implemented and when it is finally implemented no arrears are paid. We are asking for the increment to be paid to workers on time and if there is a delay that workers should receive payment in arrears.

Workers also face illegal deductions from their wages. They are told that this money will be paid into a provident fund and the company is supposed to match what workers pay in. In reality neither of these things happen, making the deductions from workers’ wages illegal. We are asking for an end to this practice and for companies to start matching the payments to the provident fund so that workers can benefit from their social security and medical insurance, as they are entitled to.

Garment workers carry out a lot of overtime work and often this is compulsory.  If workers work more than 8 hours a day the overtime should be compensated at a double rate. Currently overtime is being compensated at the single rate. We are asking for overtime to be paid at the double rate.

Workers are supposed to be paid no later than 10th of each month but often payment is delayed until the end of the month. We are asking for workers to be paid their wages on time and to receive a payslip.

Garment workers in Gurgaon are usually not part of trade unions so these illegal practices by companies often go unpunished. We are asking the Haryana government to monitor companies and check that workers are being paid correctly and to implement the laws that already exist in relation to minimum wages.

 

Namaste!

Welcome to the Vetan Chori Band Karo blog!

Thank you for visiting. This blog was set up to support the Vetan Chori Band Karo (Stop Wage Theft) campaign, which is aiming to stop the theft from garment workers’ wages in Gurgaon in the state of Haryana.

Gurgaon is one of the fast growing industrial hubs in the world where the export oriented garment industry is flourishing with the abundant supply of cheap migrant workers. There exist various labour laws including The Minimum Wage Act 1948, and Payment of Wages Act, 1936 to protect the right of workers with regard to the minimum wages and the regular payment of it. However, unfortunately these laws are often not enforced by the state.

So, this campaign wants to raise awareness about the various forms of wage theft happening in the Gurgaon area and to seek your support for the workers’ struggle to stop the wage theft.

This is a very new blog so please do visit again as we will be putting up more information about the activities of this campaign including:

1. Street theatre which raises awareness among workers about the wage theft and the hardships they face due to the wage theft.

2. A memorandum signed by workers which will be submitted to the Haryana government

3. Documenting workers’ experiences and using this blog as a place to share those with readers

4. A petition for members of the public to sign to support the Vetan Chori Band Karo campaign which will also be submitted to the Haryana government and the Union Government of India