Indian apparel exporters are formulating a strategy to correct the perception that the country’s garment industry is using forced child labour.
A delegation, comprising government officials and members of the industry, recently met authorities in the US to present a case for exclusion of Indian garments from Executive Order 13126 list (EOL) and Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation (TVPRA) issued by the US Department of Labour last September. The list also includes names of other competing exporting countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan and can potentially hit export orders from the US to these countries.
Textiles Secretary Rita Menon has also written to Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, urging her to take up the matter during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India.
India’s current position that there is no incidence of forced child labour in the Indian garments industry is not acceptable to the US government. “There has been considerable hardening of the US position. On our side, the Apparel Export Promotion Council (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,” said AEPC Chairman Premal Udani.
Other issues like environmental laws and regulations, labour reforms, wage differentiation and discrimination and health and safety standards, set by countries like the US and the European Union, may also create difficulties for Indian exporters, particularly the small and medium enterprises.
Given the economic conditions prevailing in the euro zone, most Indian exporters are currently relying on a rebound in the US retail space for their orders in the coming season. The 27 EU members, along with the US, account for nearly 75 per cent of the overall apparel exports from India.
“These problems of standards, compliance and clearance are not that good as of now. We tend to get orders from these countries, but the pressure may increase, going ahead, and we are trying to follow standards so that our image in the global market is not tarnished,” said a medium-sized Noida-based exporter, on condition of anonymity.
AEPC has evolved a two-pronged strategy to ensure India’s name is removed from the two lists. It has hired a US-based legal firm, Sidney Austin LLP, to lobby for Indian exports and assist AEPC in field research, besides sourcing information on US policy and labour laws.
Moreover, AEPC is working on formulating a common compliance code for the textile and clothing industry, an effort conceptualised during the dismantling of the quota regime in 2005. The common compliance code will focus on capacity building and assist global endorsement of critical labour issues. It will seek to support and further the case of small and medium enterprises that are facing problems related to increased requirement for multiple compliance accreditations.
AEPC’s common compliance code project is being endorsed by the International Labor Organization and the ministry of textiles. Other organisations being consulted are Fair Labor Association, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, Business Social Compliance Initiative, and Ethical Trading Initiative, besides global brands like GAP, Next, H & M and Adidas and Indian suppliers and accreditation consultants.