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Help us! Women in Indian mill pen letter describing sexual abuse at work

DINDIGUL, India, Oct 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A letter from six women at a spinning mill in southern India, describing the sexual harassment they face at work and asking for help, exposes the widespread exploitation of women in the multi-billion-dollar textile industry, campaigners said.

“Any worker who resists his advances loses part of her salary. We need this job and don’t know who to talk to about the abuse we face everyday. Please help us.”

Sent to the social welfare officer in Dindigul, a district in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the eight-page letter dated Aug. 29 is a plea for help from abused and exploited women, rights campaigners said.

“Women normally share their experiences only after quitting their jobs,” said S. Thivyarakhini of the all-women Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union. “This is the first time, we have such raw details of ongoing exploitation. The letter has exposed the underbelly of the textile industry in the region.”

India is one of the world’s largest textile and garment manufacturers. Many of the workers employed in this $40-billion-a-year industry are trapped in debt bondage, face abuse or are forced to work long hours in poor conditions, activists said. Traditionally, the dyeing units, spinning mills and apparel factories have drawn on cheap labour from villages across Tamil Nadu to turn the cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes, most of it for Western high street shops. More than 2,000 units employ an estimated 300,000 people, most of them young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste or “Dalit” communities.

Dindigul social welfare officer G. Shanti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they were in the process of putting together an enquiry committee to inspect the mill premises and look into the allegations.

The full story is available from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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Nov 29 2016
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