At Mother Jones, Dana Liebelson follows the cheap-clothes supply chain back to:
...a vast facility where close to 1,000 girls, many in their teens, lived 10 or 15 to a room. From 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. every day, including weekends, [Aruna] fed and monitored rusty machines that spun raw cotton into yarn. Her bosses often woke her in the middle of the night because, she recalls, there was "always some sort of work, 24 hours a day." Aruna made just a quarter of the $105 a month she was promised, about $0.84 a day.
Aruna shows me a scar on her hand, more than an inch long, where a machine cut her. She often saw girls faint from standing for too long. One had her hair ripped out when it got caught in a machine. Others were molested by their supervisors. "They said we would get less work if we slept with them," Aruna says. Sometimes girls would disappear, and everyone would speculate whether they'd died or escaped.
Aruna, a Tamil village girl, is now 19 and working as a nurse; she'd started factory work at her facility because of the promised $105 a month, which would have been enough to help her family, get her a college education and build the $1,200 dowry (paid in gold bullion!) that is still required by tradition. The dowry obligation (ban dowries) has created a market for massive exploitation: Liebelson writes, "In Tamil Nadu, many people know a girl like Aruna, someone who has been lured to work in the garment factories with the promise of earning a dowry. The scheme is so common that it even has a name: sumangali, the Tamil word for 'happily married woman.'"
Liebelson (and her photographer, driver and translator) are mobbed and threatened when they try to get into one of the gated, secure compounds, and sumangali labor seems to be a sort of open secret among the industry spokespeople she speaks to. Reform efforts often reach only the first part of the supply chain, and seem awfully toothless: just recommendations without any acknowledgment of implementation, or worse ("The Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association suggested replacing ceiling fans with wall fans, since ceiling fans 'give access for person to commit suicide by hanging'").
Marijn Peepercamp, a researcher who contributed to the 2012 Dutch watchdog report, estimates that 80 percent of spinning mills in Tamil Nadu employ sumangali workers. She tells me that when US companies find out they're supporting sumangali, they often increase inspections in garment factories—but not necessarily the mills, which can be located several villages away. Andrea Roos, a spokeswoman for H&M, told me that when inspectors find safety or labor problems at a garment factory, the company does three unannounced audits over the next 18 to 24 months. But of the spinning mills, she says, "We normally do not have direct contractual influence."
Sure you don't.