The trouble with studying in good management institutes is that the students very often do not understand what it means to work in industry. They dream of working for Infosys, Wipro, Tatas and such good companies, but the masses work in small organisations. The stories of exploitation and hard life the workers lead are usually not visible to the students.
This has a fallout. Many students do not understand why the Government makes such silly laws like the Factories Act. They do their summer placements, usually their first serious work in a factory, in good organisations which comply with the legal stipulations. Sometimes they offer better than what the law prescribes. But a law is really made for the contingency of its breach. Small enterprises and ‘make-a-quick-buck-entrepreneurs’ merrily flout the legal provisions. And a corrupt bureaucracy helps them too. We understand the purpose of law making when we see this reality.
Sometimes NGOs highlight the plight of the exploited workers. I recently read the report called ‘Captured by Cotton.’ [Link]. It is a report on how dalit girls are systematically exploited by garment makers in Tamil Nadu who make goods for European and US markets. The report sums up the situation in its introduction:
In India, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, girls and young women are recruited and employed on a large scale to work in the garment industry. The promise: a decent wage, comfortable accommodation, and, the biggest lure: a considerable sum of money upon completion of their three-year contract. This lump sum may be used to pay for a dowry. Although the payment of a dowry has been prohibited in India since 1961, it is still a general practice in rural India for which families often incur high debts. The recruitment and employment scheme – the Sumangali Scheme – that is the subject of this report is closely linked to the payment of a dowry. The Tamil word Sumangali refers to a married woman who leads a happy and contented life with her husband with all fortunes and material benefits. The reality of working under the Sumangali Scheme however, stands in sharp contrast to the attractive picture that is presented to the girls and young women during the recruitment process. Excessive overwork, low wages, no access to grievance mechanisms or redress, restricted freedom of movement and limited privacy are part and parcel of the working and employment conditions under this scheme. The promised end-of-contract sum is not a bonus, but part of the regular wage that is withheld by the employer. Often women workers do not even receive the full promised lump sum. Without exaggeration, the Sumangali Scheme in its worst form has become synonymous with unacceptable employment and labour conditions, even with bonded labour.’
Countries which thrive on outsourcing are easy exploitation grounds by their unscrupulous employers and also by MNCs who prefer to turn a Nelson’s eye to it. The ILO has published an ‘ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.’ This is a step in the right direction but nevertheless the exploitation continues.
We know the story of Foxconn which came in focus because of its high profile customer Apple. There are several reports available on how Foxconn works and all are, without exception, shocking. Watch this video to get a glimpse [Video Link].
The NY times article ‘The Dilemma of Cheap Electronics’ points out a very real problem. It says:
‘Nobody wants to see workers exploited, and if Apple can pressure Foxconn to clean up its act, it should…… In other words, what assurance would the Apples and Dells and Panasonics have that if they forced their Chinese contractors to adopt American-level wages and conditions, their competitors would all do so simultaneously?…… The issue is complicated. It’s upsetting. We, the consumers, want our shiny electronics. We want them cheap, yet we want them built by well-paid, healthy workers. But apparently, we can’t have both.’
And see this video too [We shop, who pays?].
And see this video too [We shop, who pays?].
The assumptions behind these statements are faulty and do not indicate what we want. It is okay if the workers are paid above minimum wages, but they must be paid! In many cases they are denied what is due to them. The unacceptable working conditions must be done away with. And all this can be mandated and implemented by the Government. Relying on the ILO convention is enough. If bonded labour persists in spite of the convention, then obvious conclusion is that things will not improve without rigorous implementation of labour standards by the Government.
And it also means that workers have to free themselves from the vice like grip of the corrupt bureaucracy.
[Picture courtesy: Captured by Cotton]