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Thousands of Indian factories under scrutiny over ‘miserable’ conditions

CHENNAI: A southern Indian state is inspecting more than 7,000 garment factories and spinning mills after the national human rights watchdog raised concerns over “miserable” working conditions. India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ordered authorities in Tamil Nadu to act after a report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation about female garment workers airing their grievances on radio stations and demanding better conditions.

Checks for basic facilities such as toilets and creches for the more than 500,000 mostly female workers in Tamil Nadu, the largest hub in India’s $40 billion-a-year textile and garment industry, began in March. “We have found violations and have served notices to more than 200 factories spinning mills so far,” said Kaveri Manoharan, head of the state’s Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health.

“In most cases, there were too few toilets and hygiene was an issue. Also, creches had not been set up even though hundreds of women were employed. We have given managements one month to fix the problem, document it and get back to us.” Manoharan said there should be one toilet for every 20 employees and a creche where there are 30 women employed. Three radio stations set up a year ago for garment workers and broadcast through mobile phones have been flooded with complaints since they went on air a year ago. Callers discuss harassment, long working hours, poor wages and other challenges.

In February, the NHRC directed the Tamil Nadu government to respond to the complaints, stating that workers were working in “miserable conditions”. It said denial of basic facilities by factory owners was “a serious violation of human rights”. The Commission highlighted the complaint of a worker who was unable to access a toilet in her factory and had to use a corner of the mill where waste cotton was dumped. “Toilets, drinking water, first aid and special provisions for female workers are the most crucial and primary requirements at the workplaces,” the NHRC said in its statement. – Reuters

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