There are an estimated almost 8 million people living in modern slavery in India (GSI 2018). India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, there are still at least 270 million people living on less than US$1.90 per day. While laws, systems and attitudes regarding key 'fault lines' such as the caste system, gender and feudalism are rapidly changing, social change of this depth and scale necessarily takes time. In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that existing research suggests that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including intergenerational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into nonstate armed groups and forced marriage.
Kahlid, a 36 year old garment worker tells of how he is forced to work long hours for little pay in poor living conditions. He talks of the health problems he and other workers face in the garment factory.
Labour officers came here [to the workshop] from time to time but they are only looking for bribes from the workers. Our owners are always changing the name of the factory so that we can’t complain about illegal practices. Most factories are not registered but there is no way to take legal action because owners bribe the local police.
Workers fool themselves that they can earn enough money by working hard but they can only keep up this rate for the first month or two. Without proper food and sleep, it becomes impossible to work so hard.
You won’t believe how many workers have died from the pressure of overworking. It’s impossible to work 14-15 hours a day after overtime and survive. We sleep less than 5 hours a day and eat unhygienic food.
The living conditions also create a lot of health problems. There is no free medical care and I spend Rs 200 on my health every month. I frequently get fevers, headaches and colds.
Narrative provided by Anti-Slavery International from their report ‘Slavery on the High Street: Forced Labour in the manufacture of garments for international brands’, June 2012.