By Alicia Bermudez and Kevin Matyi
Indian Designs, a garment manufacturer with seven factories throughout India, appears to be a model of corporate social responsibility. The clean, airy, well-lit factory at its headquarters in Bangalore employs 2,200 people. In total, approximately 12,000 people throughout India work for the company.
In its Bangalorean factory, the company offers programs to educate workers in subjects including safety, harassment and hygiene and helps pay for their children’s education.
India Designs also attempts to restore the environment by planting saplings in the surrounding area. According to the company’s website, it has planted over 9,000 saplings since 2008 through the Indian Designs Army for Restoring the Environment, or idARE.
Prasad V Deshpande, the training manager at India Designs’ Bangalore factory, said the company started idARE because Bangalore was losing greenery. He also said that everyone from workers to managers participates.
Asked how the company competes when it is spending so much money, time and effort on employee considerations and other programs, Deshpande said caring for the workface is like raising a tree. There is a high initial investment, but once the tree has grown to maturity, one will enjoy both the fruit and the shade it gives.
Not all of the company’s charitable expenditures come solely from the goodness of its owners’ hearts, however. India has a Corporate Social Responsibility Law, the first country to enact such legislation.
Under the 2013 law, any company with a net worth greater than 5 billion rupees, or $80 million, or net profit of 50 million rupees, or $830,000, must give at least 2 percent of its earnings to community development projects.
According to Kantha GS, a social worker who manages human resources and corporate social responsibility at Indian Designs, the company has given “a little over 2 percent of the average profits of the last three years” to corporate social responsibility projects.
Naseer Humayun, the managing director of Indian Designs, confirmed that in the past year, the company’s payments to these projects came to slightly more than 4.2 million rupees, or exactly 2 percent of what Humayun said were the company’s average profits of the past three years.
The Economic Times reported in April 2014 that 8,000 companies in India fulfill the requirements of the law and have generated $2 billion per year in contributions since the law was enacted.
The Indian Designs factory in Bangalore, with its day-care center, safety signs and emergency exits routes painted on the factory floor, stands in stark contrast to accounts of horrific conditions elsewhere.
Cividep, a Bangalore-based organization that promotes workers’ rights and corporate accountability, cites “appalling” working conditions that violate labor and human rights as problems widespread in the garment sector. It lists “unreasonably high production targets, harassment and verbal abuse of women workers to extract higher productivity, low wages” and “denial of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining” as subjects of “severe criticism.”
Few garment manufacturers in Bangalore are unionized. The Garment and Textile Workers Union, a statewide group, says on its website that garment makers in Bangalore and the surrounding area employ approximately 500,000 workers, yet the union has only 5,000 active members.
Yashoda, the general secretary of the Garment Labour Union, a women-only trade union formed in Bangalore in 2012, said in a telephone interview that few garment workers support unionization.
“Forming trade unions in garment factories is a challenging task,” the GLU’s website says. “Managements go to great lengths to prevent trade unions taking root in factories.”
Indian Designs officials say that instead of a union, workers elect representatives to four employee committees: Works, Canteen, Sexual Harassment Prevention and Health and Safety. Once a month, each committee reviews employee complaints and tries to address grievances.
As for the various problems raised by pro-union groups, Humayun said that Indian Designs is “better than most companies,” but that “our intention is to do more, wherever possible.”
See additional pictures from Indian Designs’ Bangalore factory in our photo gallery.