Hello! Following up on Amy’s post, I’d like to share updates about our internship at Shahi Exports garment factory.
We have now started to think more about our personal research projects. These are not yet finalized but the staff at Shahi has been extremely helpful in helping us narrow down our projects. Chitra especially; she is the head of the OD (organization development) department and is extremely knowledgeable about Shahi, especially about aspects pertaining to welfare initiatives amongst female workers. As Amy described in her post, our orientation was extensive: it has acquainted us with the various empowerment and wellbeing initiatives Shahi deploys for its employees and has provided us with many ideas to think about. As it stands right now, the four of us (Kendra, Chan, Amy and I) have decided to focus on the topic of attrition, which is a main issue at Shahi and in the garment industry in general. We are each planning on tackling different aspects /reasons of this broad problem (more to come later). I am thinking of working on the implementation of buddy and “club” community systems that would help new incoming workers feel more at home in the hostels they settle in upon joining Shahi.
Two day ago, we also took a two-hour long car ride to visit unit 97, a Shahi factory that specialized in the washing of denim clothes. Jeans that are produced in another unit, unit 23, situated 60 km away, are sent to unit 97 to undergo three main processes: wiskering, brushing and tagging. Remember these wiskers (horizontal faded stripes) on the upper front part of your jeans? Or the faded effect on the legs? Well, these effects are obtained through a process that is completely separate from jeans’ fabrication (sewing). This process requires a lot of hard labor: workers stand on their feet all day and energetically brush jeans using appropriate tools. Although such physical jobs are traditionally given to men, in unit 97, these workers are females who are recruited from nearby villages. Shahi has made this choice because it had observed that women in these villages had few job opportunities. I admired the strength and determination of these women, some of whom were our age, or barely older. The day was extremely interesting and also quite moving, as we then got to talk (via translation) to some of these female workers and learned about their (sometimes really challenging) life and work experiences.
In interviewing them, we also hoped to learn more about potential working issues as well as about attrition. Although interviews teach us a lot, we currently encounter severe limitations. As most workers do not speak English and we do not speak Hindi, Kannada, or Tamil, our questions and their answers are translated by one of the Shahi Human resources employees. Because some of the responses are lengthy, we sometimes only get a translated summary of them. We also suspect that many of the women do not share the bulk of their thoughts, struggles or resentments in the presence of their manager! One contemplated solution would be to hire an external translator as soon as we can.
With regards to our daily life in India, we are now well settled in our hotel and eating mangos at a pretty good rate (my high peak so far has been three mangos in a day). Language is still a barrier, but we have learned to identify a few English key words or gestures that most people would understand (it is now our turn to make an effort and learn Kannada…). I have also grown much more comfortable with eating with my hands (I am sure my parents will be delighted to see my progress when I return home in two months!). However, I still haven’t reached the level of professionalism that most Indians demonstrate. (I still need two hands to rip my bread and cannot put a handful of rice in my mouth without spilling some everywhere).