Factory: Shahi Exports Pvt. Ltd.
Key Buyers: Columbia Sportswear
Last Updated: 2021
In April 2020, a minimum wage increase went into effect in the Indian state of Karnataka, one of the country’s largest centers of garment manufacturing. Factory owners producing for leading apparel brands refused to pay. As a result, 400,000 garment workers across over a thousand factories were cheated of the legal minimum wage.
This is the worst wage theft the WRC has documented in the global garment industry. Apparel brands were aware of the theft and allowed it to continue for nearly two years. By January 2022, factories collectively owed workers more than $58 million, per WRC calculations.
In early February of 2022—after a successful lawsuit by the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU), after months of engagement with brands by the WRC, and after a growing list of labor rights advocates brought their voices to bear—India’s largest garment manufacturer, Shahi Exports, announced that it would begin paying its 80,000 employees in Karnataka the correct minimum wage. The company also committed to pay all arrears, to both current and former workers. Other suppliers soon followed suit.
An investigation by the WRC found that the management of Shahi Exports Pvt. Ltd.’s (Shahi) Unit 8 factory (Bangalore, India) carried out a campaign of vicious repression and retaliation against workers’ exercise of fundamental labor rights. This retaliation occurred in response to workers organizing with the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU) and petitioning for better working conditions. The factory makes university logo apparel for Columbia Sportswear and apparel for Benetton, H&M, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Shahi is India’s largest garment manufacturer and is owned by the Ahuja family. In early 2018, the company successfully lobbied the government of the state of Karnataka to cancel a scheduled increased in the minimum wage for workers in the garment industry. The WRC’s investigation of the factory, conducted in late April and early 2018, involved interviews with over 30 Shahi workers. The WRC found Shahi to be in violation of Indian law, international labor standards, and university and brand codes of conduct. These violations included physical beatings, death threats, gender, caste, and religion-based abuse, and threats of mass termination; and the expulsion from the factory of 15 worker activists.
The WRC shared findings and recommendations with Shahi, Columbia Sportswear, and other brands and pressed for action, including the reinstatement of the fired leaders, the dismissal of managers directly implicated in acts of violence, and immediate recognition of the union. Shahi initially agreed to reinstate the Unit 8 workers, but did not agree to take the basic steps necessary to ensure that workers are able to return safely to the factory to ensure their fundamental right of freedom of association. In light of Shahi’s failure to produce meaningful corrective action, the WRC made their investigation public, securing substantial media coverage to put pressure on Shahi and the brands, while bringing university pressure to bear to motivate the collegiate licensee, Columbia.
Under pressure from the publication of the WRC’s report, Shahi met on June 25 with the workers’ union and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), the key elements of which were implemented successfully by the end of June. The 15 workers who had been brutally beaten, subjected to death threats, and were suspended from the Shahi Unit 8 factory, returned to their jobs at the factory, without incident or harassment, and received their back wages. The workers’ return was observed inside the factory by representatives of the WRC and buyers. Shahi also recognized the union, agreed to regular negotiations, and proceeded to terminate most of the managers and supervisors responsible for the violence.
- WRC Update: $9.4 Million in Back Wages Paid by Collegiate Supplier in India – July 8, 2022
- $28.6 Million in Back Pay Commitments for Indian Garment Workers – March 2, 2022
- Collegiate Supplier to Pay Back Wages to 80,000 Workers – February 2, 2022
- 80,000 Shahi Exports Workers Will Finally Get Their Back Pay – February 2, 2022
- Sweeping Minimum Wage Violations in Karnataka, India – October 14, 2021
- Columbia Supplier Says It Has Terminated Managers Who Directed Violence – July 5, 2018
- Workers Who Were Beaten Return to Columbia Supplier Factory in India, Now Violent Managers and Supervisors Must Go – June 28, 2018
- Update on Violence at Shahi Exports (Columbia Sportswear) – June 26, 2018
- WRC report on Shahi Exports PVT. LTD. – June 20, 2018
In the News:
- “US watchdog uncovers violence against pro-union workers at Indian factory,” The Guardian. – July 19, 2018
- “H&M, Columbia, and others are accused ofignoring disturbing abuses at a large Indian supplier,” Quartz. – June 25, 2018
- “Sonam Kapoor’s in-laws spend millions on wedding but get their own workers assaulted,” Catch News. – June 23, 2018
- “WRC Issues Report Alleging Abuse and Violence in Shahi Exports Factory in Bangalore,” WWD. – June 22, 2018