Tirupur is a bustling centre for the Indian garment industry, producing up to half of all exports to supply major global retailers, including H&M, Adidas, and Primark. Tirupur’s garment industry has experienced exponential growth since the 1980s and employs around 400,000 workers, giving this region one of the sector’s highest employment rates (Crane et al, 2019). However, the region is currently facing heightened competition from lower labour costs and lower import tariffs in countries such as Bangladesh, along with a shortage of workers largely due to unaffordable housing and regional growth in service sector jobs. Factories in Tirupur primarily employ young, migrant women (Dorairaj, 2010) to work in tailoring as factory owners assume that they will work faster and accept lower wages, while men are dominant in factory management and recruitment. These female migrant workers are often from agricultural communities, where unpredictable and extreme weather conditions have led many to move to Tirupur and rebuild a more stable life.
Wages in Tirupur, while remaining lower than the living wage of 15,570 Indian Rupees (or £150 per month), have gradually increased over time, making them better than most garment factories elsewhere in India and in neighbouring countries; such as Bangladesh and Laos. For example, many factories offer food and transportation for garment workers, with relatively lower incidence of forced overtime and violence reported in the workplace (Crane et al, 2019). However, these experiences of Tirupur’s factories are not equal for its garment workers. Women are disproportionately affected by health and safety violations in the workplace, with safety equipment such as metal gloves for cutting machines often too large, and consequently dangerous for them.
The majority of the workforce in Tirupur are migrant women, concomitant with local belief deeming it inappropriate for women to live independently, despite the lack of affordable housing in the region. As such, many women live in hostels attached to their factories which may result in a restriction on their salary to pay for food while limiting their freedom of movement. Grounded research with these workers has also shown that it is common for women to be unable to leave their hostels without the permission of supervisors, and visitors are often denied. Issues of gender inequality in Tirupur’s factories profoundly shape the experiences of exploitation in the garment industry. With over 90% of workers being unaware of their labour rights in the region. Many garment workers feel they must accept the wages and exploitative conditions in their factories.
It is for the above reasons that Justice in Fashion will continue to explore worker experiences in Tirupur’s garment factories, as well as the factors which have led to such exploitation occurring in the region and will highlight the further issues in our blog series.
Crane, A., Soundararajan, V., Bloomfield, MJ., Spence, L. and LeBaron, G., 2019. Decent Work and Economic Growth in the South Indian Garment Industry. University of Bath. Available at: https://www.bath.ac.uk/publications/decent-work-and-economic-growth-in-the-south-india-garment-industry/attachments/decent-work-and-economic-growth-in-the-south-india-garment-industry.pdf (Accessed 10 July 2021).
Dorairaj, S. (2010). Exploitation of workers by the owners of Tirupur garment factories in Tamilnadu - Another example of crony capitalism. Available at: https://communiststudycircle.blogspot.com/2010/09/exploitation-of-workers-by-owners-of.html (Accessed 10 July 2021).