Home-Based Workers (HBWs) are an integral part of India’s apparel sector. They represent a significant share of employment in the industry with an estimated 9.2 million individuals. They produce textiles, stitch garments, and add embellishments or embroidery to fabrics and apparel. Despite their involvement in a multitude of activities across the garment value chain, HBWs remain largely invisible and experience some of the worst forms of forced labor, which often go undetected.
HBWs are often overlooked when policies, regulations or services are designed. Most lack access to basic services, are not protected under labor or employment law, and their contracts and transactions are not regulated by commercial law. Further, policymakers lack understanding of how wider economic trends impact HBWs. Economic conditions like inflation increase the price of a home-based garment unit’s inputs, recession reduces demand for their goods, and competition increases during economic downturns.
The result is a high risk of vulnerability of HBWs to forced labor conditions.
To inform the Fund’s investment strategy under its partnership with the UK Department for International Development (DFID), GFEMS commissioned Weave Services to conduct targeted research to better understand the scale and scope, prevalence patterns, and drivers of forced labor conditions within India’s home-based apparel sector.
What we learned
- Home-based garment units are concentrated across 8 states in India (West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Gujrat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and the National Capital Region). These states are also the leading manufacturing hubs of ready-made garment products.
- NCR, including the cities Delhi, Gurgaon, Meerut, and Noida, was found to have the greatest density of home-based enterprises.
- Out of the eight states, National Capital Region (NCR) has the greatest enterprise density with 52 home-based units per sq km.
- Based on Weave’s survey, which identified 14 indicators of forced labor categorized as either “Involuntariness” or “Menace of Penalty”, forced labor conditions were present in 55 percent of sampled home-based textile and garment households in NCR and Uttar Pradesh. The most common indicators of forced labor was wage withholding often in conjunction with deception or intimidation/threats.
- Despite rich skill sets, HBWs are paid minimal wages relative to the Free-On-Board value of the garments.
- The primary reason for these low wages is the proliferation of contractors between buyers and workers. Contractors pocket 30–40% of the piece rates, limiting the earnings of HBWs.
Existing solutions and paths forward
Weave analyzed existing initiatives from eight states in India and shortlisted a group of 13 initiatives, falling into nine categories, based on scalability and impact. This analysis showed that there are already a number of initiatives underway in the rights awareness and policy making arenas. However, rights awareness alone cannot lead to a full transformation of the systems enabling forced labor. Aligning with the Fund’s overall approach to sustainable impact, Weave proposed three key solutions that, when designed to work together, can reduce the prevalence of forced labor for HBWs in India’s apparel sector sustainably and at scale.
13 existing and potential initiatives, falling into nine categories, Weave identified as interventions to pursue.
- Short term: Upgrading skills set of HBWs through training programs. The difference between existing schemes and this program lies in the post training activities, which aim to engage and facilitate jobs for graduate trainees as well as data collection to adequately measure the impact of training.
- Mid Term: Increasing the visibility of HBWs by partnering with businesses and mapping the complete supply chain.
- Long Term: Creating an ethical supply chain network across targeted regions and connecting HBWs with their end-buyers through a marketplace platform, thus formalizing and eliminating layers of sub-contractors.
This research is being used to guide the Fund’s strategy in the apparel sector in India.By identifying the structure of home-based supply garment chains and the key drivers of slavery, as well as potential solutions, it has paved the way for future GFEMS interventions in this subsector, in collaboration with both government and private sector stakeholders. In particular, GFEMS recognizes the importance of improving transparency of home-based workers in the supply chain and engaging with all layers of the supply chain (buyers, manufacturers, subcontractors) to improve labor practices for home-based workers.
To learn more about our findings, download the briefing.