The Indian state of Telangana is to map its entire supply chain of cotton production in a three year programme with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to crack down on child labour.
The project will start this month and is aimed at ensuring that cotton, Telangana’s main industry, is ethical, according to senior labour officials.
Eslavath Gangadhar, director of Telangana’s agency that tackles child and bonded labour, said: “This is for the first time in India that an integrated approach to identify both child and bonded labour is being undertaken.”
Speaking on Monday, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “This issue is very relevant for us because recent surveys have shown that more than 80% of child labour cases are being reported in agriculture. And even globally, the focus is on sustainable cotton.”
Industry experts say the cotton supply chain is the hardest to track as the journey from field to retailers involves many stages - such as seed production, cotton growing, gins to separate seeds and fiber, spinning mills and garment factories.
India is the world’s biggest cotton producer, with some 6,205 tonnes produced in 2017-2018.
Around 5.8m cotton farmers are employed in the industry, along with more than 40m workers throughout the country’s cotton supply chain.
However the industry is notorious for labour problems such as child workers, dangerous working conditions, and a poor level of workers’ rights.
Telangana is a major source of cotton and six of its 10 cotton growing districts will initially be mapped for labour violations under the project. It will also look at gender discrimination in salaries for agriculture workers and whether they have collective bargaining rights. The state will also train officials from various government departments, including labour and education, to identify and stop any form of forced labour in cotton fields.
The initial focus will be to gather evidence and map the status of child labour, forced labour and gender discrimination, according to Ranjit Prakash, ILO’s project coordinator for India.
“In the long run, the aim is to promote social dialogue and empower workers in keeping with the fundamental principles and rights of the workplace,” he said.
This comes just weeks after the release of the Child Labour Index 2019, by global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, which scored India as “extreme risk” in the part of the index measuring the frequency and severity of violations.
It stated: “India’s domestic laws fall short of ILO standards on the legal working age of 15, and its enforcement capabilities lack significant resources and coverage. These factors ensure that South Asia’s largest economy is among the 25% worst performing countries globally.”