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AHMEDABAD: Apparel exporters risk losing clients like GAP, Reebok and Nike if India fails to convince the US on Friday that its industry does not employ children. India has been asked to defend itself in the US on May 20 against charges of child labour.
Child labour is a sensitive issue for American multinationals who source 30% of their global requirements from India. The brands can stop India sourcing if the country fails to establish that there are no children working in clothes-making units.
"For brands, it does not matter if it is India or some other non-compliant nation. They will snap ties with us if we do not refurbish our image. We have to get out of the list," said Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) chief Premal Udani. Friday's task is critical for AEPC as the US blacklisted India last year and has expressed doubts over recent claims by Indian exporters. The $11.16-billion Indian apparel industry does minuscule trade with the US government.
India's share in the global market is 3%. The US will review the Executive Order List 13126 that blacklisted India from engaging in apparel business with the US federal government in 2010. If India's figures yet again in the list, top brands like Next, GAP, Reebok, Primark or Nike who vouch for social compliance may look at other destinations to source their requirement.
India competes with other south-east Asian countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam for supplying to the US retailers and is known for excellence in value-added cotton garments across men's, women's and children wear categories.
Earlier this year, AEPC had roped in the Northern India Textile Research Association (NITRA) to prepare a report on the sector. Some 8,000 exporters represented by AEPC banked upon the NITRA report card that was viewed with skepticism by the US. US has questioned the methodology of survey, says V Srinivas, joint secretary (exports) in the Textiles Ministry. "India needs to dialogue more with the US now," he said. Of the 95 units that NITRA surveyed last year across 49 garment export clusters in Delhi, Lucknow and Tirupur employing 18,000 workers, there was just one instance of child labour.
Four child workers were working in a subcontactor facility owing to the latter's lack of knowledge of child labour laws, the report claimed. Apart from children found in zari units, NITRA found no pattern or practice of child labour in formal garment factories. AEPC insists that the US is being "judgemental".
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