Reflections on Globalisation and Labour Standards in the Indian Garment Industry: Codes of Conduct Versus 'Codes of Practice' Imposed by the Firm


  • Alessandra Mezzadri SOAS, University of London



garment industry, India, informalisation, labour standards,


The ‘globalisation’ of the garment industry has taken place in a context of increasing flexibilisation and informalisation of labour. Concerns of corporate social responsibility, especially in the form of codes of conduct, have been presented as a potential way to address this ‘race to the bottom’ for labour. Focusing on the experience of two important garment producing areas in India, Delhi and Bangalore, this paper shows that these codes have limited impact on improving working standards. This is due to a sharp mismatch between codes of conduct and the effective ‘codes of practice’ imposed by firms to deploy labour and organise the labour process. Firstly, codes are mainly elaborated as factory-based regulations, and are inapplicable to non-factory realms of production. However, these are remarkably significant in India. In Delhi, armies of urban and rural homeworkers are employed in highly complex production networks. Secondly, even in the factory-based realm of production, codes are only designed to target a workforce enjoying permanent status. However, in the Indian garment sector, the very meaning of ‘permanent work’ is currently being challenged by exporters in new innovative ways. In Bangalore, exporters engage in different processes of feminisation and re-feminisation of the factory workforce in order to minimise their responsibility towards labour. The analysis shows how local architectures of production crucially mediate the impact of given formal regulatory measures. Moreover, it also highlights how the firm can effectively be used as a fundamental prism through which to study labour and labour standards.