International workers’ rights organisation slams Sonam Kapoor’s husband’s company for assault and abuse of its workers

An international workers’ rights organisation has accused garment exporter Shahi Exports Ltd of beating, harassing its workers and carrying out a ‘vicious campaign’ of repression and retaliation against its workers’ exercise of fundamental labour rights.

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) is an independent labour rights organisation based in the USA. The organisation mainly focuses on the labour rights and working conditions of garment workers who make garments for export into the USA, chiefly under the logo of Universities. As per the organisation’s claim, it attempts to address issues of bonded labour, child labour and safe working environment. Presently hundreds of universities, colleges and schools across the US, UK and Canada are affiliates of this organisation to ensure ethical practices in garment manufacturing.

The WRC report on Shahi Exports states that the company, in its Unit 8 factory in Bangalore, had carried out harassment, termination and expulsions of several employees over their exercise of fundamental labour rights. The report states that senior management of Shahi Exports had ordered beating, gender/religion based abuse, death threats and mass termination when the expelled 15 worker-activists from the Bangalore factory.

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The report goes ahead to claim that Shahi Exports Ltd not only paid its workers 0.62 dollars per hour but also actively repressed the labour union’s attempts to organise and demand higher wages. In another allegation, the report also claims that Shahi Exports also successfully lobbied the Government of Karnataka against the scheduled increase in the minimum wage level for garment factory workers.

The report goes ahead to state that Shahi Exports is India’s largest garment exporter and is owned by the Ahuja family, whose elder son Anand Ahuja recently married Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor. Shahi Exports’ Unit 8 factory alone, reportedly has over 3000 workers. The company allegedly earns over 850 million USD in annual revenues.

The WRC, in its report, has also stated that even though they had contacted and informed about the alleged violations of the code of conduct by Shahi to its principal buyers, which includes names like Benetton, H&M, Decathlon, Tesco, GAP, Puma and Walmart, the company had refused to terminate the employees who participated in the harassment and is also not willing to recognise the labour union.

The report states that in through March-April, 2018, some workers of Shahi had joined with the Karnataka Garment Worker’s Union and were demanding better wages, working conditions and transport facilities form the company. WRC claims that Shahi had done surveillance, interrogation and attempted bribery on the workers.

The report also adds that Shahi had engaged in severe threats and intimidation (including threatening to terminate) and abuse of the workers associated with the union. Later, officials of the company had also allegedly beaten, abused and robbed the workers.

The report also states that the Shahi Exports management had also made a leading newspaper retract the published article on the violence meted out to its workers.

The WRC, in its report, has stated that they have contacted many Garment brands and universities who are the customers of Shahi and they have acknowledged the report. It adds that while Shahi has agreed to take some corrective measures as suggested by the report, it still needs to commit to the issues of taking disciplinary action on officials who participated in the harassment and recognising the worker’s union. Acting on the WRC report, Shahi has reportedly agreed to reinstate the terminated workers with due apology, provide back pay for the time lost, pay for medical expenses and has also agreed to compensate for the personal artefacts (jewellery, phone, watches) lost or damaged during the assault.

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