Indian women braid straps for big brands in conditions 'worse than sweatshops'

Thu Aug 4, 2016 9:29am EDT
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By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Every day, after she finishes cooking, cleaning and fetching water for her tiny one-room home in India's financial capital Mumbai, Saubhagya Nadelkari picks up a stack of leather strips and makes her way to her neighbor's home.

There, in a narrow alley that is covered with plastic, about half a dozen women sit or stand as they braid long strips for use in belts, sandals and bags. They talk and laugh as their fingers fly, knotting each strip at the end when it is done.

"I have been doing this for about 10 years. We used to get more work, now we get less, and get paid less," said Nadelkari, who makes about 100 pieces a day. She is paid about 24 rupees ($0.40) for a set of 12 finished pieces.

"We only get paid once in six months, and they don't keep proper accounts. But my husband doesn't let me go out and work, and we need the money, so I can't say 'no' to the work."

Nadelkari and her friends are among nearly 38 million home-based workers in India, according to a 2012 survey by WIEGO, a global non-profit focused on informal workers.

Restricted to their homes because of limited mobility and lack of childcare, they are engaged in providing low-paid manufacturing or services for local and global supply chains.

The women stitch garments, embroider and attach sequins, make shoe uppers, handicrafts, as well as roll incense sticks and prepare food items such as pickles.

Unlike self-employed home-based workers who sell their output directly, sub-contracted homeworkers are dependent on a middleman who drops off and picks up orders and keeps a part of the payment as commission.   Continued...