Indian garment worker's death highlights factory risks, say campaigners

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A garment worker’s death, after her head and hand got stuck in a machine, highlights a tragic lack of safety at factories in south India that produce for global brands, campaigners said Thursday.

Bhuvaneshwari Adimulam, 20, was working the night shift at a knitwear factory in Tirupur, a district in the “textile valley” area of Tamil Nadu, when the accident happened early Wednesday, according to police.

Adimulam had begun employment as a temporary worker only last month, officer R. Ramesh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.

He did not disclose the name of the factory or any brands it produces for, but said that a case of death due to negligence had been filed against the owner.

Labor campaigners say that injuries are frequent among the approximately 400,000 employees of more than 1,500 factories in Tamil Nadu, the biggest hub for textile manufacturers in India.

“Cases of hair, clothes and fingers getting caught in these machines are very common,” said Aloysius Arokiam of Social Awareness and Voluntary Education, a civil society group.

First time workers are expected to “watch and learn” from their peers and often receive no further training on machines, he said.

N. Vivekanandan, head of the South India Imported Machine Knitters Association that represents 300 manufacturers, disputed such criticism.

New workers are trained for eight weeks before they are allowed to handle machines that are automated to “stop even if there is a thread break”, he said, adding that the circumstances of Adimulam’s death were unclear.

“This is a very unfortunate incident,” said Vivekanandan.

In 2016, Arokiam’s Social Awareness and Voluntary Education organization documented 13 accidents and eight deaths in factories in Tamil Nadu.