India seeks to clear child labour charges in textile sector

18 Jun

18 Jun 2010, 0402 hrs IST,Shramana Ganguly Mehta, ECONOMIC TIMES

AHMEDABAD: Haunted by charges of use of child labour in the textile sector, India is pulling up its socks ahead of a review by the United States of America scheduled later this year.

Apart from already having begun a process for lobbying for itself through law firm Sidley Austin LLP in the US, India is expected to engage US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, during her visit in near future, to present a case for exclusion of India from the list. Though isolated, instances of use of child labour in Indian garmenting industry has not gone down well with the US that accounts for 30% of India’s total apparel exports worth $10 billion. In September 2009, US Department of Labour listed Indian garments under the Executive Order 13126 List (EOL) and Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation (TVPRA) list. These are perceived trade barriers that could emanate from the US. While US Federal Government does not procure anything from India currently, an EOL label could hamper India’s chances of trade with the US in future.

Likewise, a TVPRA listing is a huge reputation risk for Indian apparel industry that supplies to global retailers and brands like Walmart, GAP, H&M, Diesel, M&S, Levi’s, et al, all of who swear by strict policies on child labour. While trade linkage with labour issues is not immediately enforceable in the absence of a legislation, the likelihood of a legislation in the coming months could affect Indian apparel exports fear those in know of things. With the next TVPRA list expected in September 2010 and the EOL list 13126 being finalised in the next three to four months, India is not leaving anything to chance. India has already initiated a process to defend itself through a three-pronged strategy: diplomatic channel, lobbying firm and the common compliance code. During a recent visit to Washington, an Indian delegation comprising joint secretary (exports) at the textiles ministry V Srinivas, AEPC chairperson Premal Udani and general secretary Vimal Kirti Singh met US law makers to present a case for exclusion of Indian garments from the two lists.

Further, AEPC has also finalised upon Brenda Jacobs of Sidley Austin LLP to lobby for India in the US. Back home, AEPC has roped in Mr Venugopal to represent the case of Indian garmenters. Ms Jacobs is expected to assist AEPC in the field of research besides sourcing information on US policy and labour laws.

While India insists that there are isolated cases of child labour (which is not reflective of the entire garmenting sector) and none of forced child labour in the Indian garment industry, it is trying to convince the US of its commitment towards eliminating child labour wherever it exists in the value chain. India also insists that the situation is far better than the likes of Bangladesh or Pakistan where child labour is rampant. A senior official from the textiles ministry told ET that AEPC has issued an advisory to all its members against use of child labour. “India has already conveyed to the US on its policies against use of forced child labour. Also, we have conveyed to the AEPC that it is an offence and a violation of law. We expect the Northern India Textiles Research Association to submit a report on forced labour in the industry shortly,” he said while AEPC chairman Premal Udani maintained: “AEPC is committed to not only guarantee non-usage of child labour in any factory in India but also to see that our factories follow the best labour practices. Currently, the onus is on us to prove that we are not guilty.”  With the US in no mood to relent, AEPC has initiated a process of formulating a Common Compliance Code to guide the industry, SMEs in particular, with regard to environmental laws and regulations, labour reforms, wage differentiation and discrimination, overtime, flexible working hours, health and safety issues and working conditions. In 2008, days after Tirupur drew international attention over alleged use of child labour, Tirupur Exporters Association made its members sign a self-declaration decree against use of child labour in their units


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