Child Labor Scandal Rocks Som Group Distillery in Madhya Pradesh

Child Labor Scandal Rocks Som Group Distillery in Madhya Pradesh

An inspection by the state government of a Som Group distillery in Madhya Pradesh revealed the use of child labor, with children aged between 13 and 17 involved in filling and packing liquor bottles and working long hours. The police are currently investigating following the discovery by the federal National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which reported last month that 58 children were illegally employed at the factory. The commission released photos showing some children with chemical burns and indicated that some were transported in school buses to work at the factory.

On June 15, the day after the children were discovered, the state's industrial health and safety department drafted an inspection report based on interviews with 27 workers, including the youngest, who was 13 years old. The state law prohibits anyone under 21 from working in a liquor factory. This report, seen by Reuters but not publicly available, revealed that the children were working 11-hour shifts starting at 8 a.m.

Som Group and the Madhya Pradesh government did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment. In a submission to the state government on June 18, also reviewed by Reuters, Som claimed that children were only visiting to deliver food and medicines to their parents and that no worker was younger than 21. Som, a smaller player in India’s alcohol industry, markets itself as an "internationally acclaimed brand" available in over 20 countries, including the United States, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

The incident has spotlighted child labor in Indian supply chains. In 2021, Reuters reported that an external audit found underage laborers at two Carlsberg warehouses in Jharkhand. Carlsberg subsequently terminated its contract with the third-party provider involved.

The Madhya Pradesh inspection report noted that the children at the Som distillery were not trained on protecting themselves from harmful chemicals. It emphasized that a health center should have been present at the factory due to the hazardous nature of the work. The state government temporarily suspended the distillery's manufacturing licenses, a decision Som has contested, claiming no conclusive wrongdoing was found.

Following Som's challenge, a local court stayed the suspension and scheduled another hearing for later this month. Som Distilleries and Breweries Ltd, in a statement to the stock exchange last month, stated that the Madhya Pradesh plant was operated by an associate private limited company and that the labor was supplied by contractors who might not have conducted proper age checks. Since the discovery of child labor, the company's shares have fallen by 8%.

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