· Clothing firm tells supplier to investigate conditions
· Worker verbally abused for leave request, union says
The Guardian, Monday 15 October 2007
The clothing giant Gap has ordered one of its overseas suppliers to overhaul its practices after a garment worker in Bangalore, India, collapsed and later died outside the same factory where a young pregnant worker lost her newborn baby six months ago.
It is the third death in the last year at or near the premises of Shalini Creations, a unit of the Texport Overseas group which makes clothes for the US firm.
Local unions told the Guardian that Ms Padmavathi, a 39-year-old factory worker, collapsed near the factory gate at midday on September 18, two-and-a-half hours after she had asked to be allowed leave to go to hospital. They claim she started vomiting at 9.30am and had asked her manager for leave. But, they say, she was not granted immediate leave and was instead verbally abused. When she was eventually granted leave and left the factory, she collapsed near the gate. Passers-by carried her back to the factory, where she was taken to a clinic and then to Victoria hospital, where she died at around 1pm. Results of a postmortem examination have not yet been made public.
Texport Overseas, which supplies a number of high street stores in Britain including Gap, claimed that Ms Padmavathi was seen by a factory nurse and that she was given immediate leave.
The allegations that the factory refused to grant Ms Padmavathi leave or to give her adequate medical attention follow those of Ratnamma, another worker for Shalini Creations whose story the Guardian reported last month. Ratnamma, 27, spoke of her anger at losing her baby, a boy, in March, when she was forced to give birth alone in the street at the factory gate after being refused immediate leave when she went into labour.
Shalini Creations said that Ratnamma, who was eight-and-a-half months’ pregnant, had failed to sign a pregnancy register that would have afforded her more lenient work. They told the Guardian they have provided her with a one-off payment on “humanitarian grounds” and she has since returned to work at the factory.
Unions in Bangalore have called for an investigation of three incidents at the factory since 2006 involving workers, and the immediate review of the factory’s treatment of sick workers. They are currently tracking down the family of a third worker, Mr Pushparaj, 35, who died in October last year, to find out more about the circumstances of his death.
Ashim Roy, the president of the Garment and Textile Workers Union, said: “This is the third incident that has happened in the factory in a year and the pattern shows that something seems to be wrong with the system when people fall ill. What process is followed if a worker is sick? Do they have a mechanism that ensures a worker is not forced to work, and that when he or she asks for leave, that they are given leave? We have found there are some supervisors who are more authoritarian than others and who are not responsive to the mostly female workers. Many of them suffer from anaemia and have other health problems.”
Mr Roy, who has met with the management of Texport Overseas, is also calling for a doctor and an ambulance to be available for the factory’s mainly young and female workforce.
Samir Goenka, who owns Texport Overseas, told the Guardian it was investigating the incidents. He said that Ms Padmavathi was seen by a nurse after she was sick and that she was found to have low blood pressure, but that she had not registered herself on the “chronic disease” register.
“Once a worker has registered we take special care of these workers,” he said. He said she was granted immediate leave.
He said that Mr Pushparaj was a heart patient who had died of a heart attack while being transported in the company vehicle from the factory to hospital.
A spokesman for Gap said it was “saddened to hear the news about Padmavathi”. In a statement, the company said: “We understand that factory management and representatives from the local trade union, with whom they have an agreement, are reviewing this matter and we believe that both parties are committed to working together to improve factory conditions in the future.
“We have highlighted to the factory the need to enhance their internal human resource systems. We have also asked the factory to submit to an additional investigation of its workplace practices by an external monitoring organisation, and factory management has agreed. Our expectation is that the results will further enable their managers to improve the current systems and processes in place at the factory.”