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Empowerment or exploitation: the case of women employment system in India's textile and clothing industry

Senthil Kumar (Associate Professor based at Institute of Management Technology, Nagpur, India)

Publication date: 26 November 2014


Subject area

Governance challenges in reverse value chain.

Study level/applicability

Women employment system in textile and clothing industry.

Case overview

The textile and clothing firms, often frustrated by frequent labor issues, used an innovative employment scheme – Sumangali scheme – to employ young female workers from poor families in rural areas, aged between 18 and 25 years, as apprentices for three years who would stay in dormitories located in the vicinity of the factories, draw low wages with minimum benefits. But the scheme was criticized by labor unions and Europe- and US-based non-governmental organization (NGOs) on the grounds of alleged violation of labor rights such as freedom of association, freedom of movement, exploitative working conditions, low wages with minimum or no benefits, long working hours and abusive supervisors. Their public campaign against the alleged employment practices has put tremendous pressure on the global buyers to take steps to ameliorate the situation. In the wake of campaign by NGOs, few buyers have even terminated the relationship with the manufacturers. Others have warned action against those erring manufacturers. The actions by global buyers, NGOs against some of the women employment practices raised several questions in the minds of manufacturers. They were wondering why US- and Europe-based NGOs were up in arms to dump an employment scheme unmindful of socio-economic realities in India? Is it a clever ploy that developed nations use some private, voluntary, corporate social responsibility norms to stop companies purchasing textile and clothing products from a developing country like India on the grounds of violation of labor rights? As per the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 81, it is the responsibility of central/state governments to inspect and monitor labor employment practices in an industry. Then why NGOs and other private groups volunteer to become watch dogs of labor practices and launch campaigns against mills? Would it not undermine the role of government in ensuring industrial harmony? Even if NGOs' actions are justified on the grounds of moral and ethical principles, what role should they play when it comes to management–worker relationship? In the Indian context, only the government can interfere if the relationship turns sour? Should NGOs need to use a different set of ethical standards which are more relevant and contextual to the socio-economic environment in India?

Expected learning outcomes

To understand evolution of apparel global value chain and workforce development challenges in India; to explore the link between consumer activism and corporate social responsibility; to explore the challenge of addressing issues such as alleged human rights violation and labor exploitation by independent suppliers located in India; to explore the challenges faced by global buyers in contextualizing, operationalizing and realizing certain human rights along the supply chain located in India; and to explore sustainability challenges of women employment in textile and clothing mills in India.

Supplementary materials

Teaching notes are available for educators only. Please contact your library to gain login details or email to request teaching notes.

Social implications

Sustenance of women employment system in India's textile and clothing industry and its associated challenges.



Kumar, S. (2014), "Empowerment or exploitation: the case of women employment system in India's textile and clothing industry", , Vol. 4 No. 8.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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