Prof Andy Crane on the international factory workers who live in prison-like conditions

By Andy Crane (Gourlay professor)

One of our visiting professors who is presenting during the Gourlay Ethics in Business week from 22-27 May, Andy Crane, provides insight into the conditions at some of India's hostels owned and operated by factories.

Person cutting fabric with tape measure around their neck

Kavitha, 18, earns a living at a clothing factory in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Like many of her colleagues, she lives in accommodation provided by the factory, where she shares a dimly lit hostel room with 16 other women.

The rooms in these hostels have little in the way of home comforts – there are no fans or air conditioning – and the women sleep on simple mats on the floor. Life revolves around work at the factory, where Kavitha stitches up to 80 T-shirts an hour, eight hours a day, six days a week, for around £60 (around A$106) per month.

Back at the hostel, Kavitha’s life is shut off from the world behind locked doors and the high perimeter fences of a permanently guarded compound. Apart from being shuttled to the factory and back, the women are let out roughly once a week for a few hours – but always accompanied by wardens or guards. Never alone.

To many, this might sound a lot like a prison. But these conditions are a daily reality for many thousands of young, single, female workers who have moved from rural areas to work in factories. The produce clothes for brands such as Gap, H&M, Hugo Boss, Next and Tesco.

Such hostels have become ubiquitous in India (and elsewhere). They are typically owned and operated by the factory, with payments for food and accommodation usually deducted from workers’ pay. The residents provide an on-tap workforce where workers – sometimes locked in to long-term contracts – are readily available, even for the most undesirable shifts.

All of this leaves workers with little control over their lives, which has led to widespread criticism of the hostel system. Indeed, there is some evidence which suggests that the majority of garment industry hostels in India are “illegally restricting the free movement of resident workers”. And a recent report identified what it described as “large-scale violations of human rights” and a “sky high” risk of forced labour practices.

Read more on The Conversation.

Professor Andrew Crane is one of Trinity College's visiting professors who is in Australia for the Gourlay Ethics in Business week. Visit this page to find free upcoming events in Melbourne from 22–27 May 2022.




20 May 2022
Category: People