Karnataka in Southern India is known as the ‘Textile Capital of India,’ accounting for 20% of national garment production and 8% of national exports. The capital, Bangalore, is a major hub and most leading multinational brands like GAP, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, ZARA and C&A source from the city. The sector employs some 500,000 workers of which 80% are women. Most are migrants from rural Karnataka, although migrant women from neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and from the Northern States of Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh make up approximately 10% of workers. Most women garment workers are young, unmarried and have come to Bangalore to work as a result of financial hardship. Many are from Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. Verbal abuse, humiliation and sexual harassment are part of daily life in the factories where gender discrimination is reinforced in organisational structures of all-male managers.
In 2014, Sisters For Change identified an urgent need to support women garment workers in Southern India combat violence in the workplace. Women garment workers had little knowledge of their rights, had limited access to justice and were disadvantaged by low literacy levels and meagre means. The domestic law to prevent harassment and violence in the workplace — Prevention of Sexual Harassment in Workplace Act 2013 — was rarely implemented by corporate actors and factory owners/management, and State monitoring authorities, such as the Women’s Commission and Labour Commission, were failing to ensure legal and policy compliance.
From 2015-2016, Sisters For Change partnered with the Garment Labour Union, the only women-led union in Karnataka, and Munnade, a social organisation supporting women workers, to deliver a legal empowerment and corporate accountability intervention. Our programme aimed to combat forced labour conditions as defined by ILO standards, sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace, trafficking, slavery and State failures in recognising women workers’ rights. This was accompanied by a State, national and international advocacy campaign. Read about our work in our report, in partnership with Munnade.