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August 18, 2015
By: Charmaine Santos
Edited by: Juliana Zhu, Esq.
The clothing and textile industry is one of the largest and most important in India’s economy. Human traffickers, or sometimes known as “agents,” have visited the poor and rural parts of Tamil Nadu in Southern India in order to find girls and young women to work in the cotton spinning mills, promising them a better life and large payments to cover the costs of their dowries.
Prospective women are offered clean and safe working and living conditions, full board in hostels at the mills' compounds, outings like temple visits and picnics, and holidays twice a year. However, former workers and studies conducted by civil society groups such as the Anti-Slavery International, Freedom Fund, and the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies say otherwise. They reported that often women were overworked, abused, underpaid, and kept in closed hostels. Agents offer around 30,000 to 60,000 rupees ($470 to $940) for three years' work, but former workers say they did not receive the full amount that was promised because of deductions for food and lodging.
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Former textile worker, Kavita, explained, "For almost a year, I wasn't allowed to leave the compound where the hostel and mill was. They made me work double shifts. I only got out because I lied and said my aunt had died and I had to attend the funeral. I never went back." Some women reported that they were often forced to stand on their feet for more than 12 hours a day to work the spindles. Many said they were pushed or verbally abused if they were working “slow.” They could not leave the mill compound without permission and all telephone calls were monitored. Others complain of stomach pain, migraines, and bleeding during menstruation from poor ventilation and dust in the factories. Civil society groups said they have found cases of alleged sexual abuse and death-related suicides. Activists say that girls are scared to speak out because they are afraid they’d lose the money needed for their weddings.
Charmaine Santos is a junior at the University of San Francisco pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Biology as well as minors in Chemistry and Health Studies. She volunteers alongside UCSF medical students at a student-run homeless clinic in San Francisco and is also an active volunteer with Operation Access. Charmaine is also a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.