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Child labourers at Madhya Pradesh's Som liquor unit worked 11 hours a day, government says

In the Som inspection report, the state government said the children working there were not given training on how they could protect themselves from harmful chemicals.
Last Updated : 02 July 2024, 06:51 IST

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New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh state government's inspection of a Som Group distillery said child labourers, some aged between 13 and 17, were made to fill and pack liquor bottles and worked long hours.

Police are investigating the use of child labour at the distillery in Madhya Pradesh state after the federal government's National Commission for Protection of Child Rights said last month it had found 58 children working illegally at the factory.

The commission released photos of some with hands showing chemical burns and said some children were transported in school buses for factory work.

A day after the children were found on June 15, an inspection report was drafted by the state's industrial health and safety department based on interviews with 27 workers, the youngest among them being 13 years old. The state says those aged under 21 cannot work in a liquor factory.

The report, which is not public but was seen by Reuters, says children were working 11-hour shifts starting at 8 am.

Som and the Madhya Pradesh government did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

In a submission to the state government on June 18, also seen by Reuters, Som said some children would visit the company to deliver food and medicines to their parents, and no worker was younger than 21.

Som is one of the smaller distilleries in India's thriving alcohol industry, where both foreign and domestic players operate. Its website describes it as an "internationally acclaimed brand" available in more than 20 markets including the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The incident has drawn attention to child labour in Indian supply chains. In 2021, Reuters reported an external audit of two Carlsberg warehouses found underage labourers at a location in the eastern state of Jharkhand. Carlsberg at the time said it had terminated the services of the third-party provider.

In the Som inspection report, the state government said the children working there were not given training on how they could protect themselves from harmful chemicals.

"Since it is hazardous work, there should have been a health centre at the factory," the report said.

The Madhya Pradesh government temporarily suspended the Som distillery's manufacturing licences, but the company has challenged the decision, saying there has been no conclusive finding of wrongdoing.

After Som's challenge, a local court put the state's decision on hold and said it would next hear the case later this month.

In a statement to the stock exchange last month, Som Distilleries and Breweries Ltd said the Madhya Pradesh plant was run by its "associate private limited company" and used labour supplied by contractors who may not have carried out proper age checks. The listed company's shares have fallen by 8 per cent since the children were found at the factory.

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Published 02 July 2024, 06:51 IST

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