As a part of TransFair’s work on developing a Fair Trade standard for textile products, our team planned a three week trip to India to connect with garment workers, cotton farmers, worker representatives and labor rights Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s).
I am traveling with TransFair’s Chief Operating Officer,Todd Stark.We have just ended our second amazing day in Kolkata (formerly known by most Westerners as Calcutta).
Kolkata is India’s third largest city and home to over 15 million people. Approximately a third of the residents of Kolkata live in slums. All along the road between our hotel and the factory we see shacks made from whatever materials people can scavenge. The poverty is obvious and unrelenting, but I am feeling optimistic rather than dispirited, because of what else we have seen here.
We have spent the last two days visiting Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills Pvt. Ltd.  Rajlakshmi is truly a “best in class” garment factory, run by a truly inspirational man; Rajat Jaipuria. Rajat and his team produce organic cotton apparel and bedding for many socially and environmentally conscious brands in the US and Europe.
Some of the benefits all Rajlakshmi workers receive are:
- Subsidized housing
- Educational fees for all children up to the university level
- Free transportation to and from work
- Subsidized meals
- Medical care (in addition to the required national health insurance)
- Interest free loans
- Annual bonuses
- Guaranteed yearly raises
A training center is under construction on the Rajlakshmi campus. Once completed, the center will provide skills trainings for local youth and be available to workers to use for their own departmental trainings.
Workers at Rajlakshmi are represented by two groups. About half of the workers belong to a trade union and the other half are members of a workers committee, Rajlakshmi Works Committee. We met with representatives from both of these groups to discuss Fair Trade. One particularly interesting outcome of the meeting was the degree of concern the workers expressed for cotton farmers.
Rajlakshmi obtains most of its cotton from an organic cotton project called Chetna . In addition to being suppliers, Chenta farmers are shareholders in Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills Pvt. Ltd.
Chetna’s mission is to “improve the livelihood options of small holder farmers from rain-fed regions by supporting them to adopt sustainable agriculture and empowering them as informed stakeholders in ethical supply chains.”
Todd and I leave for Hyderabad tomorrow to visit Chetna to learn more about the project and talk to the farmers.