#IMadeYourFabric: Textile Worker Stories from Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is the largest producer of cotton yarn in India with over 2,000 mills employing 280,000 workers that supply international fashion brands. The mostly young, female workforce face problems such as pay below the minimum wage, sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions and excessive overtime.
With the help of grassroots organisations in Tamil Nadu, we reached out to workers making clothes and fabrics for the fashion industry to ask them what they think about their work and what changes they would like fashion brands to help them make.
Some of the key themes that emerged from these interviews were that many workers said they like their jobs and are proud of the work they do. These are skilled workers that are demanding fairer working conditions for the work they are committed to excelling at. The areas that workers wanted to see change included low wages, long hours, excessive and unpaid overtime, lack of PPE and lack of sufficient rest breaks and leave.
We also heard about the lack of social security benefits such as ESI (Employee State Insurance) and EPF (Employee Provident Fund) that many informal, temporary or contract-based workers were particularly facing, in addition to issues such debt bondage and being driven to work far from home. There were also various gender-related issues arising, such as risks of verbal abuse and gender-based violence as well as lack of toilet facilities and period products.
Here, explore a small selection of the dozens of #IMadeYourFabric images we received in both English and Tamil language alongside biographies that each worker provided. We hope to share many more in the coming weeks.
Workers’ voices are central to our movement, so we aim to remove barriers between producers and consumers by sharing their stories in their own words. It is important to note that clear informed consent was provided from everyone involved in this campaign and various safeguarding measures were taken to ensure safety and confidence. We expect this same level of due diligence from any brands, suppliers or organisations sharing #IMadeYourFabric and #IMadeYourClothes content.
“I am Mallika, 35 years old. I am working in a textile mill in Namakkal District, Tamilnadu. I am working on yarn driving in the reeling section for the past 25 years. I like this job very much. I am working overtime but I don’t get a salary for it.”
“I am working in a private spinning mill that produces yarn for your shirts located at Virudhunagar District of Tamilnadu. I am working under the management for more than 10 years and I am not very healthy nowadays. Most of my earnings are spent on medicines and medical treatments. Because our working environment is not clean and PPEs are not provided properly. We wish to have a healthy working environment for me and for my colleagues.”
“I am Amsaveni, living in Coimbatore District of Tamil Nadu, India. I worked in a power loom unit as a helper. The main problem faced by me in the workplace is the enormous heat problem in the machine. I got ill due to this workplace issue. The fashion industry supports us to bring change in our working conditions.”
“My name is Perumal and I am 33 years old. I have been a labourer in a private spinning mill located in Virudhunagar District of Tamilnadu, India. I have been working in the spinning mill for the past fifteen years without any basic facilities like restrooms, hygienic space for having food and without regular increment. I would like to have basic facilities and to receive proper papers for the deduction of my provident fund. So, I request the brands take steps to improve our working conditions.”
“I am working in a spinning mill located at Virudhunagar District, Tamil Nadu. I am a spinning department worker. I like my job which is supporting to produce yarn. I need clean and sufficient toilets at my workplace. I request the brands to help to improve our working conditions.”
I am Ambika, 35 years old. I am working in a Textile mill located at Namakkal District, Tamilnadu. I am working on yarn driving in the reeling section for the past 10 years. I like this job very much. The spinning mill has all kinds of basic amenities. However, I don’t get a salary that suited my experience. The salary is not increased yet. I requesting the brands who are using our production to help us to raise our living standards by ensuring benefits of labourers.”
“My name is Eswari from West Brooke in Kotagiri, The Nilgiris district, Tamil Nadu, India. I was worked in a textile mill in the Coimbatore district as a line supervisor. I felt safe in the workplace and hostel. But I could not get leave even in general holidays. The leave procedure was so tricky in my company. We also received very low wage and could not access the PF, ESI benefits. The fashion brands should address the issues like wages, leave and social welfare benefits of women workers.”
“I am Bhuvaneswari from Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, India. I am working in the yarn division of a cotton mill to make yarn and fabric from cotton. Supervisors should stop using abusive language against women in the workplace. The fashion industry should support to change this working environment.”
“I am Rengaraj aged 27 working in a private spinning mill located at Virudhunagar District of Tamilnadu, India. We have been paid very low, have no leisure and have not toilet facilities in my workspace. We would be grateful to if the above mentioned problems have been rectified.”
“I am working in a spinning mill located at Virudhunagar district of Tamilnadu. I am in helping the production of yarn in the spinning department. Napkins should be provided for women workers during our menstrual periods. Women are suffering a lot when they got periods during working days. I request the brands to improve our working condition.”
“I am working in a spinning mill located at Tirunelveli District of Tamilnadu. I like my job but I am working on a contract basis so no permanency for my job. I want to change this condition. I request the fashion brands to support us to improve our working conditions.”
“My name is Tamilselvi aged about 32 years. I am working in a garment factory located at Tirunelveli district of Tamilnadu. I like my job but I have to work for long hours without any break and I am getting a very low wage. I want to change my working conditions. I request the brands who are sourcing from my factory support us to improve our working conditions.”
“I am working in a spinning mill located at Tiruneveli district. I like my job but I need to stand long hours without break. My working environment is also not in clean and hygienic condition. I request the fashion brands to support us to improve our working conditions.”
I” am P. Gokila working in a garment factory located at Pudukkottai District, Tamil Nadu, India. The government should implement Minimum Wage Policy for the welfare of the workers in the textile garment industry. Wage for overtime working hours to be provided to all women workers. The fashion brands must take responsibility on the issues of workers at workplaces.”
Shanthi, Dhivya, Susila
“We are working in a spinning mill located at Erode District. Though we are working twelve hours per day we only receive two hundred and thirty rupees as our salary. We expect minimum wage for our salary. We request the fashion brands to support to improve our working conditions.”
“My name is Ganesh Babu aged about 49 years. I am working in a garment factory located at Tirunelveli district, Tamilnadu. I am working in the process of making fabric from yarn. I have to continuously stand a long time without any break. My workplace is not in clean and hygienic condition. My daily wage is also very low and I am working as a temporary worker. I want to change these working conditions. I request the brands who source from our region support us to improve our working conditions.”
“My name is C. Kavitha. I am from Dindigul District in Tamilnadu, India. I am working in a garment unit in our district. I stitch various types of dresses and other textile materials. I like my job of sewing clothes but I feel like I am not getting paid enough for the work I am doing. I kindly request the fashion industry that are using the threads that I am making to be responsible and support for the change of the working conditions in the spinning mills.”
Monika, Jayanthi and Sarathnizha
“We are working in a spinning mill located at Erode District. We like our job but due to lack of maintenance of machines and workload, our workers met accidents often. We also didn’t receive any accident damage from our management. We want to change this working condition. We request the fashion brands to improve our working conditions.”
Find out more about the #WhoMadeMyFabric campaign, including a tool for emailing brands that source fabrics in Tamil Nadu, and read the Out of Sight: A Call for Transparency From Field to Fabric report for more details.
Some English translations were edited for clarity.