shield arrow-simple-alt-top arrow-simple-alt-left arrow-simple-alt-right arrow-simple-alt-bottom facebook instagram linkedin medium pinterest rss search-alt shaper twitter video-play arrow-long-right arrow-long-left arrow-long-top arrow-long-bottom arrow-simple-right arrow-simple-left arrow-simple-bottom readio arrow-simple-top speaker-down plus minus cloud hb pin camera globe cart rotate Group-35 star edit arrow-top arrow-right arrow-left arrow-bottom check search Close square speaker-up speaker-mute return play pause love new-tab equalizer
Back to Stories

Government Releases Nearly 1200 Garment Factory Workers Confined during COVID-19

Share

Government Releases Nearly 1200 Garment Factory Workers Confined during COVID-19

IJM and partners worked with local authorities on a case that brought freedom to nearly 1,200 garment factory workers who were trapped in forced labour during the COVID-19 lockdown. Out of these 1,200 workers, about 700 were teens and young women who had migrated from northern Indian states.

C

HENNAI, INDIA – The state of Tamil Nadu in southern India is a hotspot for the country’s booming garment-making and textile industries, but it’s an area also rife with labour exploitation affecting thousands of children, women and men.

Over the last month, IJM and our grassroots partners worked with local authorities on a case that brought freedom to nearly 1,200 garment factory workers who were trapped in forced labour during the COVID-19 lockdown. Today, these women and men are finally on their way home.

Out of these 1,200 workers, about 700 were teens and young women from the northern Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha.

These 700 had all migrated to work one of the biggest textile mills in the area, run by a very wealth and influential owner.

Women at this mill were provided with housing and meals and were given monthly wages of 8,000 to 13,000 rupees (about £800-140). Yet the work was exhausting: Tailors in the factory were expected to stitch 800 pieces of children’s clothing every hour. Other people worked as quality checkers, packers and loaders working to keep a similar pace. All of the girls and young women were made to live in housing on-site and were supervised at all times. If they were ever exhausted or ill, they said a warden would scold them and force them back to work.

Once COVID-19 began spreading, women in the factory became anxious to leave the cramped quarters and return home to their families. Tension grew as India’s national lockdown was extended over and over, and the owners continually refused to let them go. Nearby factories faced similar conditions as well.

In early May, the Indian government began allowing migrant workers to apply for special travel passes to return home during the ongoing lockdown. Women in these factories tried to apply but were repeatedly denied by police officials or by the factory owners.

These worsening conditions amounted to forced labour slavery.

Many were starting to lose hope until several women managed to contact an IJM field worker about their experience. On May 15, IJM started working on the case with our grassroots partner READ, who have longstanding expertise addressing forced labour in the garment industry in this area.

The team faced many challenges in getting help for the women in this factory, especially because the owner was so powerful. Fortunately, READ was able to leverage their connections and, after several weeks, get the District Government to intervene.

On May 30, 2020, READ supported government officials as they confronted supervisors at several garment factories and demanded the labourers be released if they wanted to leave. That same night, officials arranged train travel for 300 young women and men to return to northern India. Hundreds more have left in the days following.

Nearly 1200 people total were able to leave multiple factories through the government’s action.

“This was a case where we despaired of seeing any action because of the owner’s high influential presence and power,” describes one IJM staff member, “but the importance of a functional public justice system that reached out to marginalized communities in times of need is highly commendable. Each of these distressed workers ultimately experienced care and protection from the system that did not fail them.”


What will happen after rescue?

IJM has been advocating in Odisha and other “source” states for the government to step up its services to returning migrant labourers. Support services include COVID-19 screenings and medical care as soon as people return and then provision of food support to people who need it as they resettle at home. Our broader Odisha aftercare program (funded by Target) has worked with the government and local communities to raise awareness and promote safe migration for these labourers, since often there is a lack of jobs available to labourers when they return home.

Become a Freedom Partner Today

You Can Send Rescue Today.

When you give a gift today, you’ll be fighting slavery, violence, and injustice across the globe. Together, we can end slavery in our lifetime. From December 1-8th 2020, to have your gift MATCHED visit IJM's Big Give appeal: Bit.ly/IJMBigGive2020

You can make the most impact as a Freedom Partner today.

Your generous monthly support will send rescue to vulnerable children and families at a moment’s notice, stand with them as they rebuild their lives in freedom and see their abusers in court.

Login

Donor Portal

Review your giving, tax statements and contact info via the IJM Donor Portal.

please sign in
Email Sign Up
Get updates from IJM on stories from the field, events in your area and opportunities to get involved.
sign up