READ Project Proposal: Support the struggle against modern slavery

Sumangali is a particularly extreme form of exploitation of women workers within the textile industry. The companies enter into long term employment contracts with the parents of often minor girls, whereby a large part of the wages is paid only after the end of the contract. The whole concept being driven by the “Dowry” system where the girls are forced to endure such contracts just to be able to pay the required bride price to the groom's family, thus allowing girls from poor families a marriage ("Sumangali" means a"Happy Bride"). Over 60 percent of the Sumangali workers belong to the lower castes. Although Dowry has been prohibited by Indian law since 1961, it still belongs to the everyday life of many families.

During the term, the girls live in hostels, mostly situated on the factory premises. They receive a basic subsistence amount of about 20 Euros a month - without the cost of accommodation and food - and the promise of a "bonus payment" between 500 and 800 Euros once the contract ends. Forced extra hours of work, restricted freedom of movement, lack of social services, as well as physical and psychological abuse by superiors, are the order of the day. Many girls complain about massive health problems. FEMNET has already drawn attention to the stark shortcomings in the textile mills of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and most recently during a Speaker’s tour with two Indian experts from our partner organizations in May 2016. Within this framework and that of the German Partnership for sustainable textiles, FEMNET supported by the German Clean Clothes Campaign has deliberated with members of BMZ (Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation, Germany)which includes textile companies, trade unions and NGOs- a new approach aiming towards a sector-wide improvement in working conditions and the elimination of the Camp Labour/Sumangali system. This new approach would be steered through a multi- stakeholder initiative developed by Indian NGOs themselves.

FEMNET’s partner organization READ, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has long been working on Sumangali, has proposed a small project in this regard.The two strategic objectives of the project being:

1. To make the Sumangali syste known to the general public, to affected families and to key actors in civil society and businesses, thereby creating awareness of the problems

2. Promote political campaigning and lobbying and publish a report with recommendations on how to achieve a policy change at the federal level, which puts an end to the Camp Labour / Sumangali system

To achieve these goals, READ will work closely with women who are working in the mills under such contracts, as well as with their families. They will also work closely together with trade unions, women's rights organizations, NGOs and social workers. READ will undertake extensive advocacy and campaign work in four districts of Tamil Nadu – for example through demonstrations, street theatre, and a petition against Camp Labour, with at least 25,000 signatures to be sent to politicians at federal level and the Ministry of Labour. In particular, a one-day Tamil Nadu conference with government representatives, lawyers, academics, trade unionists, NGOs is planned to strategise on possible ways to get rid of the Sumangali system, and to look at the lack of implementation of existing laws. It is intended to formulate recommendations and to draw up a report to provide concrete proposals on how the Sumangali system can be eliminated.

These recommendations would be further disseminated by READ and its partners and communicated to the relevant political actors. Through active campaigning, the aim is to ensure that the government follows the recommendations, enforces applicable labour law and strengthens the rights of women and young people in the textile industry.

FEMNET encourages all members and supporters to support READ through donations in this important project and to put an end to the systematic exploitation of women and girls by the Sumangali system!



[1]An amount of property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage.


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