'We treat our workers as family'. So say Delhi’s fashion designers in the wake of the recent exposé that London high street brands, Gap, Next and Marks & Spencer have been retailing garments made in ‘sweatshops’ near Gurgaon.
Designers say the salaries they pay their kaarigars went further than merely conforming to the government’s minimum wage standards.
“The high street labels charge customers thrice the cost of a garment while treating their labour shabbily. I find it appalling,” says designer Ritu Beri.
The exposé revealed that workers toiled for R 20 an hour for over 16 hours a day, while the prescribed minimum is R 30 an hour.
“It is disgraceful. Workers are our most important asset. The salaries at my unit start from R 5,000 a month and go up to R 40,000 for the masterji. During Diwali, they get bonus too. We treat them like family” says designer Kavita Bhartia.
The exposé has put a question mark on the high mark-ups international chains place on the garments. “A basic T-shirt that they sell for R 1,000 doesn’t even cost them R 300 (including overheads). Customers won’t mind if only they would treat our labour with dignity,” says a garment manufacturer in Okhla who didn’t want to be named.
“These brands should be pulled up,” says designer Tarun Tahiliani saying he pays a dignified monthly salary. Designer Suneet Verma says, “In my factory workers are treated like humans.”
Youngsters in the capital, too, intend to boycott the defaulting brands. “I won’t step into the showrooms of brands exploiting our labourers,” says Vanshika Singh, 21.
India is on the radar of the global Fairtrade movement with organisations having started chapters to promote producing goods in a socially and environmentally friendly fashion. In Europe and the US, consumers are willing to pay more for Fair Trade goods. Many clothing brands have signed on as Fair Trade retailers. Ironically, this includes Marks & Spencer and Gap.
1.5: No of hours it takes a worker to sew a basic plain t-shirt
150: Rupees is the cost of the fabric required for the t-shirt of ‘L’ (large) size
20: Rupees per hour is what the factory worker gets paid in fabrication units for M&S, GAP and Next
280: Rupees is what the T-shirt costs after including all overheads
300: per cent is the markup that a high street brand puts up on the cost of the t-shirt