Indian crime thriller shines spotlight on garment sector exploitation

India’s $40 billion garment and textile industry workers, nearly three quarters of them women, have limited or no legal protection and few formal grievance mechanisms, campaigners say. (Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Indian crime thriller shines spotlight on garment sector exploitation

CHENNAI, India: A crime thriller about the death of an activist rescuing women from exploitative work conditions in garment and textile factories in southern India has become an unlikely bestseller among those campaigning for workers’ rights.
The 300-page debut novel by a lawyer from Coimbatore, a district in Tamil Nadu state, is being used as a “manual” to understand forced labor in an industry that employs an estimated 45 million workers.
“The book is a page turner and each chapter unveils the history of exploitation in the spinning mills and factories,” said Karrupu Samy, director of READ, a charity that works with garment workers in the Erode district of Tamil Nadu.
“It takes you to the root of the problem and we want workers and campaigners to read it so they understand the dynamics of this industry.”
Much of India’s $40 billion garment and textile industry operates informally and is poorly regulated.
Vulnerable workers, nearly three quarters of them women, have limited or no legal protection and few formal grievance mechanisms, campaigners say.
When lawyer Ira Murugavel sat down to write “Sempulam” (Desert Land), he thought of some of his clients — workers fighting for their wages.
His book, written in Tamil, opens with the police investigating the circumstances of the death of an activist near a spinning mill.
As the witnesses are called and suspects interviewed, each chapter of the book highlights the abuse workers face, the low wages and the long working hours spent weaving and stitching for global brands.
Murugavel grew up watching the growth of “exploitative” factories that dot Coimbatore, where he studied and now practices law.
“When you grow up in this region, you cannot ignore the industry. Everyone knows someone connected to the mills and everyone knows about the exploitation,” Murugavel told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
“I always wondered why girls went to work in these sweat shops.”
Partly anecdotal, the book captures the change in the industry from being a “well-paying, lifelong” employment option to the “camp coolie system” of bonded labor.
“Mill managements have promised lump sum payment at the end of three years of employment, forcing young girls to work without the option of quitting,” Murugavel said.
The book is being widely circulated in western Tamil Nadu, where Namakkal, Coimbatore, Tirupur, Karur, Erode and Salem districts are referred to as the “Textile Valley of India.”
“We are recommending the book to both volunteers and workers,” Samy said.
“Many working in this industry today don’t understand the genesis of the exploitation. If they do, they will find a way out.”


What We Are Reading Today: Volcanoes in Human History

Updated 18 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Volcanoes in Human History

Authors: Jelle Zeilinga de Boer & Donald Theodore Sanders

When the volcano Tambora erupted in Indonesia in 1815, as many as 100,000 people perished as a result of the blast and an ensuing famine caused by the destruction of rice fields on Sumbawa and neighboring islands. Gases and dust particles ejected into the atmosphere changed weather patterns around the world, resulting in the infamous “year without a summer” in North America, food riots in Europe, and a widespread cholera epidemic. And the gloomy weather inspired Mary Shelley to write the gothic novel Frankenstein.
This book tells the story of nine such epic volcanic events, explaining the related geology for the general reader and exploring the myriad ways in which the earth’s volcanism has affected human history.
Zeilinga de Boer and Sanders describe in depth how volcanic activity has had long-lasting effects on societies, cultures, and the environment. The authors draw on ancient as well as modern accounts — from folklore to poetry and from philosophy to literature. Beginning with the Bronze Age eruption, the book tells the human and geological stories of eruptions of such volcanoes as Vesuvius, Krakatau, Mount Pelée, and Tristan da Cunha.
Along the way, it shows how volcanism shaped religion in Hawaii, permeated Icelandic mythology and literature, caused widespread population migrations, and spurred scientific discovery.
From the prodigious eruption of Thera more than 3,600 years ago to the relative burp of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the results of volcanism attest to the enduring connections between geology and human destiny.