Textile mill under fire after Indian teen dies working for $42 bonus

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The death of a 14-year-old girl, who went to work for a bonus despite suffering from pneumonia, has renewed scrutiny of Indian spinning mills that supply the world’s big fashion brands.

Although N. Kalaiyarasi was taken to hospital on Saturday, she returned to work on Sunday so as not to forfeit her 2,700 Indian rupees ($41.52) bonus, which is paid to workers for the Diwali festival, a union report said.

“The death could have been prevented,” said Thivyarakhini Sesuraj, an adviser to the all-women Tamilnadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) which produced the fact-finding report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Making bonus conditional is not acceptable. The girls are already paid less. The bonus is technically their right.”

India is one of the world’s largest textile and garment manufacturers, supplying local and international markets.

Some 1,600 spinning mills in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state employ an estimated 400,000 people to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes.

The workers are mainly young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste communities, who work up to 12 hours a day and say they face intimidation, sexual remarks and harassment.

The union said the death was caused by “occupational negligence” as the teenager was working without a mask and there was no nurse for some 200 people working in the unit. She earned 230 Indian rupees ($3.54) a day, it said.

Kalaiyarasi died in Madurai Government Hospital on Tuesday, three days after she fell ill during her Saturday shift at Dindigul Cotton Textile Mills in Tamil Nadu, the report said.

A co-worker took Kalaiyarasi to hospital on Saturday, where she was given medication and sent home, it said. When her condition deteriorated at work on Sunday, she was admitted to the hospital where she later died, it said.

Managers at the mill did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment. They have arranged to meet Kalaiyarasi’s family, Sesuraj said.

The union has demanded 15 years’ salary as compensation for the family for their child’s death.