17 November 2020 LESSONS Labour rights

Fighting the Sumangali scheme

Women working on a sewing machine surrounded by children

The initiative aimed to end exploitative working conditions in the textile industry in South India. The Sumangali scheme, specifically in the textile industry, restricts individual young women (and girls) worker's freedom of mobility, to choose workplace and actively exposes workers to exploitation without any limit of protection.


  1. Rehabilitation of 24,000 girls and young women as survivors of the Sumangali scheme in 12 blocks of Tamil Nadu, India.
  2. Prevention of recruitment of girls and young women under the Sumangali scheme in 12 direct blocks and 48 extended blocks.
  3. Development and implementation of a universal code of conduct and recruitment guidelines by associations of spinning mills and exporters of garment manufacturers through a multistakeholder dialogue process with support of German Textile Alliance.
  4. Discussion of a draft bill (recruitment law) for the termination of the Sumangali scheme.


Partner: Terre des hommes & CARE T

Investment: EUR 2.1 million (Laudes Foundation, formerly C&A Foundation, invested EUR 800,000)

Duration: 3 years (2016-19)

Geographic region: India


While the objective of eradicating the Sumangali system was highly relevant, the initiative design was weak and did not address systemic issues

The goals of economic rehabilitation of Sumangali survivors, a proposed universal code of conduct of minimum employment standards, awareness generation about the forced labour system and proposed anti-Sumangali law was relevant to context of the textile industry in southern India. However, the design failed to address systemic issues such as lack of employment opportunities, and recruitment practices of mills.

The design did not consider a holistic, needs based rehabilitation approach that included counselling to education or vocational training for long term changes in lives of survivors. 

Further, the strategies employed by the initiative were inadequate to comprehensively cover the entire coverage area of 12 blocks in the state of Tamil Nadu. The prevention strategy did not address systemic issues such as safety concerns for girls in villages, economic deprivation and social norms. A disconnect between the different activities failed to correspond to the achievement of the overall objective of eradication of this specific form of forced labour.

The initiative’s effectiveness was mixed and outcomes targeting systemic changes such as recruitment guidelines and the anti-Sumangali law need more time

The initiative was effective in contributing towards the reduction of girls entering the Sumangali system from the coverage area through the village awareness raising programmes. Over 35,000 survivors were identified beyond the initiative target of 24,000.

The rehabilitation strategy was effective in building life skills of close to 5,000 girls who engaged with the Regional Resource Centers (RRCs) over a longer duration of 6-12 months. 4,250 survivors were trained in alternate livelihoods against a target of 6,600 of which 2,039 survivors had started earning. Efficient functioning of RRCs providing psychosocial and life-skill support and RRC staff’s continuous mentoring was instrumental in achieving these results. While the initiative design envisaged development of an individual case file for all survivors identified, this was not implemented. 

However, systemic issues such as lack of employment in the local markets, and unfair recruitment practices of mills resorting to bringing inter-state migrant workers from other districts needed to be addressed. The draft recruitment guideline for textile industry (Mill Codex) had been prepared but had yet to garner feedback from the most key stakeholders, i.e. employer organisations. 

The draft bill to eradicate the Sumangali system was in its preparatory phase and delayed as per initiative timeframe.

The evaluation reported that the efficiency and sustainability of the initiative was adequate with varied results

The initiative had a multi-level project management structure that supported efficient implementation. Suggested areas of improvement included technical capacities in psychosocial support, tracking and reporting of results and policy advocacy with a multi-stakeholder approach.

The sustainability of the results was mixed. Long term positive changes in confidence, self-esteem, education and vocation skills were visible in the target beneficiaries of the rehabilitation activities but these are limited to the duration of funding. An unintended sustainable outcome was an improvement in the capacities of the partners.

What did we learn?

Laudes Foundation

Initiatives aimed at forced labour prevention strategies must focus on systemic issues such as recruitment practices and feasibility of alternative employment in the local markets.

A multistakeholder dialogue process requires significant investment in relationship building and lobbying from the initial stages to ensure buy-in of and consensus among all the key stakeholders. 

Synergies among partners of similar funded initiatives (for example, partners like Freedom Fund and Partnership for Sustainable Textiles) is vital to support mutual learning and support towards common goals.

For Partners & Others

Effective rehabilitation of Sumangali or similar forced labour and child labour survivors require a longer-term systematic support with a holistic approach.

Formulating and implementation of a new law, i.e. the proposed anti-Sumangali law is complex and time agnostic. Policy advocacy alternatives such as better enforcement of existing laws and judicial mechanisms such as public interest litigation could have been explored within the grant duration. 

A forced labour prevention strategy must focus on addressing systemic issues at the individual, family, societal and workplace levels to eradicate exploitative conditions in the textile industry.

Terre des hommes' Management Response:

“Sumangali – Eradication of Extremely Exploitative Working Conditions in Southern India’s Textile Industry” is a project supported by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and C&A Foundation. This four-year project (April 2016–Dec 2019) is being implemented in 12 blocks of eight districts of the state of Tamil Nadu by terre des hommes Germany – India Program (tdh) and Community Awareness Research Education Trust (CARE-T), a Coimbatore based NGO.