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GAP, Walmart, C&A, H&M warn their Indian suppliers against textile mills that involve child & bonded-labou

AHMEDABAD: An employment system for girls in Tamil Nadu is threatening to waylay the country’s $11-billion garment export industry, with several international retailers distancing themselves from supply chains that involve the allegedly exploitative scheme.

India has often drawn flak from welfare organisations for poor vigilance against child and forced labour. In the latest sign that the West is serious about labour issues, multinational retailers, such as GAP, Walmart, C&A, H&M, Primark, Mothercare and Tesco, have instructed their Indian suppliers to stop sourcing raw material from textile mills that employ girls under ‘Sumangali’, a contractual arrangement that labour watchdogs say involves unfair practices and amounts to bonded labour.

The development could have serious ramifications for the domestic apparel industry, which earns 80% of its business from Europe and the US.

“We are aware of a number of new sources that continue to show the existence of child labour and forced labour in Indian garment production. In some cases, labour schemes such as the ‘Sumangali’ are involved,” said Marcia Eugenio, director, office of child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in the US Labour Department’s Bureau of International Labour Affairs.

Thousands of rural and tribal girls in Tamil Nadu seek employment in the state’s textiles industry under ‘Sumangali’, a Tamil word for “bride”, drawing between 36,000 and 56,000 for a three-year work contract. Mill owners make a lump sum payment to the parents at the end of the term, purportedly to help with their marriage expenses.

The scheme, introduced in the state in the mid-1990s, became a big draw for an industry that often faces labour shortage.

The lump sum payment and free accommodation feature of the scheme is luring poor families, labour watchdogs allege that it results in girls being trapped for the contract period. This allegation is backed by Social Awareness and Voluntary Education (SAVE), a non-government organisation in the knitwear hub of Tirupur, 400 km from state capital Chennai.

“Girls are kept captive in hostels, not allowed to make phone calls and their salaries are withheld for three years. They are paid poorly – 40-60 a day, against the state’s minimum wage of 184,” SAVE director A Aloysius said. “They are made to work for 12 hours. In some cases, contracts have been illegally terminated and girls have left empty-handed,” he added.

But the industry body says the scheme gives dignity of labour to the otherwise illiterate and poor women.

The Southern India Mills Association (SIMA) says the term ‘Sumangali’ has been done away with, and that some 120 mills under it are offered an “apprentice scheme with hostel facility”. “It is misleading to label the scheme as bonded labour. German-firm TUV Rheinland audits our mills to certify women employment standards,” secretary general K Selvaraju said.

SV Arumugam, chairman of Confederation of Indian Textile Industry, said the system of onetime payment caters to parents’ demands that the salary be kept with employers as savings.

Armugam, who is also the director of Shiva Textiles, a mill employing 400 women under the scheme, said, “You cannot permit the employees to leave the dormitories at 1 am just because the western world perceives this as violation of human rights.” “But we have discontinued payment of lump sum and encourage parents to collect salaries every month,” he added.

Taking the cue, exporters in Tirupur have snapped links with mills that have the ‘Sumangali’ scheme. The town, which earns about 12,500 crore every year from European and US buyers, had faced allegations of child labour in 2008.

“Although we know it is not slavery, 27 of our clients including big buyers like Gap, Primark, Walmart, H&M, C&A and Tesco have asked us to discourage the ‘Sumangali’ scheme in the supply chain,” a Tirupur Exporters Association official said. “We have already asked SIMA and the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association to abolish the scheme and encourge fair employment practices.”

Many say similar pre-marriage schemes prevail in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. “The scheme is extremely popular with the workers, but equally unpopular with trade union leaders because they do not get their pound of flesh,” a senior industry observer said.

CA tells ICC it couldn’t identify those who racially abused Indian players: Report

Sydney: Cricket Australia has told the ICC that it was unable to identify spectators who racially abused Indian players during the Sydney Test and the six who were ejected from the stands were not the real culprits, a media report stated on Tuesday. ‘The Age’ reported that the CA investigators “have cleared the six men ejected from their seats during the Sydney Test of racially abusing Mohammed Siraj.”

CA has sent the findings to the ICC after a probe. The ICC had given the body 14 days to lodge a report.

“CA, which is awaiting a final report from NSW Police, is satisfied that the six men who were walked out of the lower tier of the Clive Churchill and Brewongle stand by police on the fourth afternoon of the Test did not make remarks of a racial nature to players,” the newspaper said.

“The report (of CA to the ICC) says while they believed players had been racially abused, CA investigators were unable to identify the culprits,” it said.

Play was halted for a few minutes on the fourth day of the third Test on January 10 after Siraj complained of racial abuse from the crowd.

This prompted the security personnel to enter the stands and look for the mischief-mongers before six people were asked to leave.

The BCCI had lodged a formal complaint and the CA had offered an unreserved apology.

The newspaper report said CA “interviewed multiple Indian players and took witness accounts from spectators, among them people who contacted CA to volunteer what they saw and heard during the match.”

“Sources now say the Indians had warned on the ground that they wouldn’t resume play until their complaint was acted upon,” the newspaper said.

“CA was told the men were singing to Siraj, who after complaining to umpires then pointed in their direction when police arrived.”

The newspaper also claimed one of the six men kicked out had said during the match that Siraj was upset after being hit for two sixes in an over and had gone to umpires when a crowd member said “Welcome to Sydney, Siraj”.

In its complaint, the BCCI had alleged that Siraj and his senior pace partner Jasprit Bumrah were abused racially for two consecutive days during the match in Sydney.

ET Explains: Why CA students are up in arms

Over the last few days, thousands of students of the Chartered Accountants (CA) course have been up in arms against the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAI). Protests have been raging at ICAI branches across India.

At the heart of these protests lies a demand for reform — of how the institute evaluates exam papers. Students are alleging that all their efforts and years of preparation have come to naught because of the faulty system.

Even some certified CAs have taken up the cudgels. How did matters come to this pass? Let us break it down for you.

The reason behind the agitation
The demand for a reform — being raised since December 2018 — gained fresh momentum last week after the ICAI released ‘Suggested Answers’ to the May 2019 exam. When these answers were compared by some students with their answer sheets, obtained under the Right to Information Act, many discrepancies in evaluation came to light.

They found that some of the correct answers were not awarded any marks, and in some cases the total marks in answer sheets differed to those on mark sheets.

Outrage spread on social media after Neeraj Arora, a CA and an educator, released a video on YouTube asking the ICAI to reform the marking system so that deserving students get their due.

“Students found that many of their correct answers had been marked as wrong and this way, many students flunked the papers. In some cases, even 12 marks have been deducted,” Arora told PTI.

What the protesters want
Protesting students have sought an amendment to Regulation 39(4)of the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949. The regulation only allows for verification of “whether the candidate’s answers in any particular paper or papers have been examined and marked, and not for the re-examination of the answers.”

That means students can only ask ICAI to re-total their marks — leaving no scope for re-examining/revaluating of apparently wrongly marked papers.

The charter of demands

  • Provide the option of Re-Correction of the answer sheet
  • Penalise the exam evaluators if mistakes are found in their work
  • Give Question Booklet of MCQs and Disclose correct Answers
  • Centralised Evaluation
  • Allow students to mark the circles on OMR sheets in exams with pens

Reforms, finally…
On September 21, after the matter took social media by storm, ICAI announced a series of reforms, including:

1. Digital evaluation: All papers of Intermediate and Foundation level exams in November 2019/May 2020 will be put through the digital evaluation mode to avoid physical handling of answer books, avoiding variations in marks awarded by examiners, eliminating scope of any totaling errors.

2. Central evaluation: Further the Central Evaluation is being carried out in several papers of CA exams, w.e.f November 2018 wherein examiners evaluate answer books under the supervision of Head Examiner/Associate Head Examiners.

3. Machine-based evaluation: Effective May 2019 exams, objective type questions for 30 marks have been introduced in select papers of Intermediate and Final Exams. Further, the Institute has decided to introduce OMR based evaluation for MCQ’s of Elective Papers 6A to 6F of final New course with effect from November 2019 which are machine processed thus avoiding subjectivity.

4. Stepwise marking: Provision regarding stepwise marking is being enforced whereby in case the stepwise marks are not awarded; it will be deemed as unevaluated answer and stepwise marks will be awarded during the course of re-verification of marks

5.Mandatory on-line test for empanelment of examiners: All applicants shortlisted for empanelment as examiners are required to qualify an on-line test in the subject of their choice before inclusion of their names in the Panel of Examiners. It has further been decided that all existing examiners would also be required to undergo an on-line test in their respective subjects, once in 3 years.

…but the protests didn’t stop
The agitating students, however, say these measures bring little or no respite — they give no relief to students who failed because of lapses in evaluation.

Mass protests against the ICAI started on September 23, with agitated students thronging ICAI branch offices across cities. Subsequently, the ICAI issued another announcement on September 24.

The new announcement said, “A section of the students led by agencies external to the Institute have been demonstrating outside the ICAI premises from 23rd September 2019. In order to empathize the genuine concern, if any, of the students, they were given an opportunity to meet the officers and council members on 24th September 2019 wherein more than ten representatives including ICAI members, non-members and students participated in the discussions. The representatives of agitators submitted that their only demand is to allow for provision of re-checking of answer books in the Chartered Accountancy examinations.”

A condescending ICAI? You decide
ICAI, in the same announcement, asked students to “concentrate on their studies and preparation for forthcoming examination” and “not to be carried away by such issues”.

“The Institute is seized of their problems and will be considered and taken up at the appropriate forum by following due process,” it added.

Last heard…
The pan-India protest has found backing from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who on Wednesday tweeted, “Across India 12 Lakh CA students are fighting for their right to have their exam papers re-evaluated by ICAI. Given the widespread reports of errors in the evaluation of answer sheets, this demand is justified & should be supported by all political parties.”

Meanwhile, students, teachers and ex-students protesting outside ICAI office said they would continue the protest till their demand for rechecking/revaluation is met.