You won’t find a Western clothing manufacturer that openly approves of sumangali labor, but cracking down on it is a different matter. That’s because textile supply chains are vast and mind-numbingly complex. The average Indian T-shirt begins in a cotton field in western states like Gujarat and Maharashtra, where fluffy, plum-size balls are harvested by workers who generally come from the lower castes. From there, the balls are shipped in trucks to warehouses and sold to spinning mills, where machines (like the kind that cut Aruna’s hand) process raw cotton bales into thread. Then workers weave the thread into strips, dye them, and send them to factories that do final processing.
As Liebelson writes, it isn’t simply that the supply chains are “complex,” it’s also that manufacturers including retailers have great resistance to transparency. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, one possibility is to demand labeling on our clothes that would reveal not only its source but the conditions under which it is made – – – there could be a label “sweat free” analogous to the label “organic.” And there’s more on the relationship between work (including labor under chattel slavery) and the clothes we wear in the chapter “dressing economically.”