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Captured by cotton: exploited Dalit girls produce garments in India for European and US markets

Over the past decade, the garment industry in Tamil Nadu has experienced major growth. Thousands of small and medium sized factories are involved in the complex process of turning cotton into clothing. 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 – which is is the subject of this report is closely linked to the payment of a dowry.

Illustrated by four case studies from Tamil Nadu, this report aims to provide civil society organisations, policy makers, companies and consumers with clear examples of problems related to the Sumangali Scheme and other labour rights violations in the Tamil Nadu garment industry. It particular it provides evidence of the occurrence of the Sumangali Scheme in the supply chains of European and US brands and retailers.