28 bonded laborers working on a sugarcane field have been rescued in Karnataka state in south India. Police have now filed a complaint against Bannari Amman Sugars Ltd for trafficking workers, using child labor, and violating provisions of a law to end bonded labor.
“We found clear evidence of bondage, with workers not being paid minimum wages and children below 14 years being used to cut the cane,” said Soujanya Karthik of the Mysore district administration that rescued the workers.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that Bannari Amman Sugars denies any wrongdoing and is asking for the case to be dropped.
The company’s factory near the town of Nanjangud has denied any role in the abuse or bondage of workers. The factory sources cane from nearby farms.
“Ensuring compliance on the fields is not our job. We only deal with the contractor supplying the cane,” said factory general manager Veluswamy, who declined to give his full name.
“Inside the factory we are maintaining labour laws and we have clarified our stand to the labour department as well. This is how it is done across India.”
Gowramma Raja was one of the workers rescued from the sugarcane field. “We had taken a loan of 20,000 rupees ($300) and worked tirelessly for three years. But the supervisor wouldn’t even let me go home when my son died. I had to beg him to give me a few days off,” he said.
India technically banned bonded labor in 1976 but the practice is still widespread, with millions still trapped in exploitative conditions.