Ethical consumers key to cleaning up India's apparel supply chain: experts

Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:11am EDT
 
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By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Global retailers' efforts to clean supply chains of slave labor and improve labor conditions will have little impact unless consumers in India, Asia's third-largest economy, demand more ethically produced goods, industry experts said.

India is among the largest manufacturers of textiles and apparel in the world, supplying leading international brands. In and around the southern city of Bengaluru alone, there are some 1,200 garment factories making apparel for global brands.

But it is estimated that the domestic market accounts for more than 40 percent of the industry's revenue.

Hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises use forced labor and treat workers poorly, with abuses ranging from withheld salaries to debt bondage, human rights groups say.

"The industry has the most invisible supply chain. It is also mostly unorganized, which makes it harder to map and regulate," said Mona Gupta, a senior official at India's Apparel Export Promotion Council late on Thursday.

"Domestic consumers should raise their voice. If they insist on buying only ethical products, that will bring pressure on manufacturers," she said at a panel discussion on trafficking and modern day slavery organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Asia Society in Mumbai.

Panelists pointed to the example of Apple Inc., which tackled poor wages and working conditions at the factories of its partner Foxconn in China after criticism from consumers among others.

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Employees sew clothes at a garment factory in New Delhi September 29, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi