When Samant Chauhan told me there was a handloom in every household in Bhagalpur, I took it rather lightly. Then I went into Manali, North India where tradition and tourism seem to sit comfortably side by side. Watching Himachal women prepare their handloom for the day, proceeding to climb into to it and begin weaving. They really are everywhere, most of the women I witnessed spent around 30 minutes working before having a break chatting, eating, sleeping in the shade, and even grooming, then the process repeated for the rest of the day.
Looking at production in Bhuttico, the 570 weavers produce 10 million pieces a year, with 170 living onsite, sharing 106 Residential homes and 400 working from homes within a 40km radius of Kullu. You can see the housing in the picture; some of them house two families. There is a dispensary, communal hall for social events and a small government school onsite encouraging community development. I asked if there was a Trade Union for the workers and he answered ‘all members are shareholders, all are responsible for profits and loses’ and because of this there’s ‘no need for a trade union’.
Those who work from home are provided with the exact amount of materials to achieve specific patterns, some of which are more complicated than others, they work according to Piece Rate and deliver the shawls on completion. They are monitored through visiting staff, and quality control checks are conducted at the factory. Mr. Ramesh said working from home meant ‘all the family can have a turn’, but this has its pros and cons. At home, children and babies can be taken care of, but it cannot be insured a young child has been made to weave. In some ways this is how the trade passes on, and I’m not saying it is right but I think it is normal here.
Walking around the factory, we visited the store room, quality control room, the grounds, and the production rooms. The male and female weavers are of near equal ratio, and work in separate buildings as not to get distracted! Working on their own looms they seemed busy at work, some weaving plain shawls at a rate of five a day, and others weaving incredibly intricate eight colour patterns requiring much more time.
In the men’s building it seemed a little more relaxed, they were taken care of by a master weaver, who worked amongst them. I noticed a strange invention on the floor, made up of half a bike. It turns out it was for loading the spools for weaving, again using only human power.
Weavers receive 12 days earned leave, 7 days medical leave, and 6 days casual leave per year. In addition, each year’s pay is adapted according to profits and they are paid for seven days per week but will only work six of them. This all sounds alright to me apart from pay decreasing if profits drop. I can say that when I visited the employees throughout the company, everyone seemed respectful, relaxed, and comfortable with Mr. Ramesh and one another.
Whilst travelling in Himachal Pradesh I saw many handmade shawl shops stating Co-operative Certification and Government approval, and in Delhi I saw many men offering Government affiliated money changers and pay now trips to the volatile Kashmir region. Seem fishy? The government’s name is applied to so many things and they do not take action. I asked if the Government monitors Co-operatives with affiliation, and I was told they provide money to the sector but in many cases it is wasted in false Co-operatives. Regarding auditing, Government control was available but with minimal support. How do you know who to trust?
Bhuttico has been around for more than fifty years, its 27 sales outlets and involvement in overseas expos, insures it as a leader. It is said that the Co-operative has a monopoly over others which maybe the case. I am going to try to meet some smaller Co-operatives over the next few weeks to find out more and compare the difference.
Bhuttico have run projects with NIFT, India’s finest Fashion School, and designers like Guarav Gupta, a Luxury Textiles Designer with an Ethical Future, who I have had the pleasure of spending time with. I want to find out his opinion on India and its Ethical Future soon...
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