Fragile Futures for Hidden Workers When Consumers Stop Buying
By Nina Smith
With demand for toilet paper and other household items in the headlines, the COVID-19 crisis has made supply chains news, highlighting what disruptions mean to consumers, companies, and workers. This story of a little girl and her village calls attention to the world’s largest labor force—informal workers. Their exploitation, namely child, forced and bonded labor, drives intergenerational poverty.
The home-based workers in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh in northern India possess special skills in beading and handwork. These embellishments turn ordinary products into something special to consumers. Yet the brands that profit from these artisans do not know they exist, nor that their children work alongside them for penny wages. Consumers, too, don’t understand the connection between the things they buy and the individuals who made them. Now, since the COVID-19 lockdown, the home-based workers in this Meerut community are completely without income. Customers aren’t buying beaded jewelry and garments. Orders have stopped, while finished products sit in warehouses across India, Europe, and the United States.
Photo courtesy of Abhas Mishra.