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Why Ivanka Trump's Lecture On Women Empowerment In India Sounds Phony

Does she know about the poor conditions women face in Indian factories?

05/12/2017 4:34 PM IST | Updated 05/12/2017 4:43 PM IST
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HYDERABAD, INDIA - NOVEMBER 29: Advisor to the U.S. President and head of the United States delegation Ivanka Trump speaks during a quiz with emerging enterpreneurs on the second day of the 8th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Hyderabad, India on November 29, 2017.

"Only when women are empowered to thrive; will our families, our economies, and our societies reach their fullest potential," Ms Ivanka Trump said while addressing the recently concluded 8th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), in Hyderabad.

One wonders if her sentiment would resonate with the women who work at India's garment factories - earning just about $100 a month while battling verbal and sexual abuse in mostly hostile workplaces. Many of these women could be stitching cotton tops for her apparel brand.

According to a Washington Post report, a significant percentage of Ivanka Trump's products is manufactured in Asia across factories located in India, China, Vietnam and Bangladesh among others.

In China, the story revealed, factories used by the Ivanka Trump brand not only made its labourers work excessive hours, they were also guilty of several violations including paying labourers salaries below minimum wage in China. Managers also, allegedly, verbally abused several women workers.

Rights activists feel that if Trump actually wants to walk the talk, she should perhaps address the issues related to miserable conditions factory workers -- especially women -- are subjected to.

In the run-up to her recent India visit, The Post carried a story pointing out the mystery shrouding the conditions of labourers - especially women - in the Indian factories that could be manufacturing products for Ivanka Trump's brands.

The report further mentioned G-III -- a large clothing distributor and the manufacturing partner of Ivanka Trump's brand -- recently expanding its base to Bangalore. While there is no direct evidence of labour rights violation by this company in India, the terrible condition of garments workers in Bangalore, with women being the worst hit, is no secret. However, Time magazine had reported, how the there have been allegations of poor working conditions in factories owned by G-III in China.

As per this report, one in every seven women working in the garment industry in the city has been raped or forced into a sexual act at work. In absence of any effective factory-level reparation mechanisms, number of complaints lodged by these women workers is negligible says a report by Scroll.in.

It's quite an irony then that while speaking about women charting their own courses and achieving incredible feats, Trump - who has made women empowerment and economic independence the overriding focus of her political image - seems to have expunged the reality of the women workforce who comprise more than half of India's textile industry labourers.

For a sector that contributes 11% to India's exports and over 5% to the gross domestic product, a majority of garment factory workers earn only minimum wages.

In Bangalore, the monthly wage of over five lakh labourers employed in more than 1,200 factories is just about Rs 7,474 including dearness allowance - an income way below the minimum amount required to sustain a family.

To add to that reports have shown that wage related non-compliance rates in India's garment sector have been higher for women at 74% compared to 45% for men, clearly indicating the gender centric bias.

The Scroll report quotes labour rights advocates stating that the women workers don't have much bargaining power.They are poor, non-unionised, and often the sole breadwinners for their families. Multinational brands largely offer "narrow margins" to manufacturers, who then fight to keep service conditions low.

No wonder then, her rhetoric about the Donald Trump administration 'striving to promote greater opportunity for women around the world, both through our domestic reforms and our international initiatives' at the Summit themed "Women First, Prosperity for All," seems like an empty gesture.

If Trump wants the world to find any substance in her #WomenWhoWork declaration, she might as well make some sincere attempts to improve the working conditions of women labourers. Let the first phase of this effort begin in India by revealing the identities of all the factories she partners with in the country, followed by a meticulous investigation of their day to day operations.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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