July 3, 2019 / 3:40 PM / 19 days ago

India inspects garment factories after pills expose

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Authorities in southern India have started inspecting garment factories and spinning mills after a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation found workers were being given unlabelled pills for period pains to meet productivity targets.

Teams of factory inspectors and health officials will check medicine stocks, toilet facilities and the availability of a qualified nurse to administer drugs in factories across Tamil Nadu state, labor department officials said on Wednesday.

The investigation published in June revealed that women workers in Tamil Nadu’s multi-billion dollar garment industry were given unlabelled drugs at work for period pains to ensure they met their production targets.

More than half of the 100 women interviewed over a year said they suffered health problems ranging from depression and anxiety, to urinary tract infections, fibroids and miscarriages.

“We are going to cover all factories,” said Sunil Paliwal, head of the Tamil Nadu labor department.

“We will also be asking factories to set up sanitary pad dispensing machines and incinerators in toilets to facilitate women workers during their menstrual cycle.”

About 40,000 garment factories and spinning mills across Tamil Nadu employ more than 300,000 female workers, according to data from the government, which does not take into account thousands of informal workers in the sector.

Labor rights campaigners have raised concerns that women workers’ lives are being tightly controlled to keep production lines running as India’s garment sector faces ever greater demands.

Growing pressure from big brands on suppliers to deliver clothes ever more quickly and cheaply is fuelling exploitation from a lack of bathroom breaks to verbal abuse, labor unions have said.

“We are aware of the stigma around menstruation and will initiate sensitization workshops for floor supervisors to ensure they understand the special requirements of women workers during their periods,” Paliwal said.

The Labour department has already given notices to factories that do not have adequate bathroom facilities and asked them to construct new ones within a month, he said.

“These measures of the government are welcome,” said Prithviraj Sinnathambi, director of Community Awareness Research Education Trust, which promotes the rights of garment workers.

“They will improve the living and working condition of women workers. But it should go beyond just providing sanitary pads and have a holistic approach to change things around for the good.”

Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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