Health risks for women workers in Tamil Nadu’s garment industry

Women are given pills so that their work is not hampered during their periods.

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Workers sew garments on the production line of the Protik Apparels garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Monday, April 29, 2013. Bangladesh authorities said they were accelerating rescue efforts at the factory complex that collapsed last week as hopes fade for more survivors after the nation's biggest industrial disaster. The government has decided to constitute a panel to identify garment factories in the country at risk of collapse, cabinet secretary Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters on April 29. Photographer: Jeff Holt/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A recent investigation into the working of the garment industry in Tamil Nadu has revealed that women workers were given painkillers without medical advice, so that they would continue to work even during their menstrual cycles.

The workers naturally took the pills without questioning because they helped them work and took care of the pain, especially when they could not afford to take leave or risk getting their wages cut.

However, prolonged consumption of these painkillers have affected the menstrual cycles and general health of most women workers at the garment factories.

Providing drugs to workers without a prescription or without proper medical advice is against labour laws.

Most of these women workers did not really realise that the pills were causing them damage until frequent cases of miscarriages, urinary tract infections, fibroids, depression and anxiety came to light. It took them years to understand that the unlabelled pills they had been given to ease their pains had side effects which they were not warned of.

Investigators from the Thomson Reuters Foundation found no markings or labels that could have revealed either the brand of the pills or give any clue to their composition or date of expiry.

Doctors who examined the pills reported they were non-steroidal in nature and could relieve inflammation and pain. However, they also warned that such pills had possible harmful side-effects if ingested regularly.

With their toilet breaks also being controlled, the women working in Tamil Nadu’s garment factories are putting their health at risk to ensure profits. Most of them have huge burdens of loans and other liabilities that make it impossible for them to take time off and risk getting their wages cut.

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