Where hope begins with slave wages
Tim McGirk in Govindpuri reports on life and work in a sweatshop
Monday 20 May 1996
But Mohammed Hassan - a young tailor who is bent over his machine from 7am to midnight earning around pounds 75 a month - sees it differently. He came to Govindpuri, a slum outside Delhi, from his village in Bihar. It is a wretched place in northern India, cursed by droughts, and where landowners raise private armies to keep their peasants in medieval servitude.
"The earth had grown too hard to plow. I have eight in my family to feed, and the most that I could earn working another man's land in my village was 800 rupees (pounds 14) a month," said Mohammed, one of 25 tailors in sweaty undershirts lined up rows behind sewing machines.
In Govindpuri, Mohammed's life may seem, in a westerner's eyes, to be a pit of misery. But compared to what he has escaped from in Bihar, stitching for 17 hours a day allows him a glimmer of optimism.
Oxfam's campaign to improve working conditions for millions of garment workers around the world by putting pressure on the High Street retailers may be well-intended - but as difficult to define as it is to enforce. By British labour standards, Mohammed is little better than a slave. Yet by Indian standards, he is doing well. He has lifted himself out of poverty and saved his family from starvation. Many in Bihar envy him.
In Govindpuri, nobody forces Mohammed to work. He is paid by the piece, so the more he sews, the more money he can send back to his grateful family. Lately, he has been stitching pea-green shorts that women in Europe will be wearing on the beach. It is an article of clothing so outside Mohammed's cultural realm as to be outlandish; his wife would be stoned by mobs if she wore British High Street chic in Bihar.
C&A, Next, French Connection, Monsoon, Burton, Littlewoods, Harrods and other UK retailers buy garments made in Govindpuri. The British firms can, and sometimes do, ensure that working and safety conditions are adequate in the bigger factories they use throughout Asia. India has strong, garment workers unions.
Sitting at his desk behind portraits of Lenin and Ganesh, the Hindu elephant- god, a union boss explained that many export garment factories comply with the government's safety code and pay the minimum wage of pounds 36 minimum a month, for an eight hour day, with Sunday off.
But neither the Indian unions - nor the UK clothing buyers - have any way to monitor conditions in Govindpuri's estimated 2,000 little sewing shops. The big factories cannot handle the huge demand from the US and Europe, so they contract out to shops in the labyrinth of Govindpuri's back alleys.
Meenakshi Mehta, a social researcher, said, "It's not that easy to pass judgement on what are admittedly pretty bad conditions here. But if England stops buying these clothes from India, it will mean that these tailors will be worse off. They'll lose their jobs."
Exclusive: World’s most pristine waters are polluted by US Navy human waste
Chicago river turns green to mark Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day: As Google Doodle celebrates the patron saint of Ireland, here are 10 things you didn't know about the man himself
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Did jetliner fly into area controlled by Taliban? Net widens after claims final satellite signal could have been sent from the ground
Nasa-funded study warns of ‘collapse of civilisation’ in coming decades
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
Ukip and Nigel Farage on course for remarkable victory in European elections
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Tony Benn was entirely ineffectual - and usually wrong
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex
- 3 Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Did jetliner fly into area controlled by Taliban? Net widens after claims final satellite signal could have been sent from the ground
- 4 Nasa-funded study warns of ‘collapse of civilisation’ in coming decades
- 5 'Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 plane found in Bermuda Triangle!' Viral Facebook links are profiting hackers
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: This well respected and exciting...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Charter Selection: This exciting company and market...
£40000 - £60000 per annum + EXCELLENT SALARY: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Cli...
£25,000 to £35,000: IT Connections Ltd: Signal Processing Engineer / Acoustics...