13216 Wed, 12/05/2007 - 6:11pm
By Jennifer Quail
NEW DELHI, India--Working conditions and the welfare of Indian workers in general continues to be a topic on the minds of both U.S. importers and Indian business owners.
Many executives here are taking matters into their own hands with regard to providing educational and wellness programs for their employees. Vrinda Overseas, the New Delhi-based textiles company, and a resident of International Home Deco Park in Noida, with a specialty in handmade infant and child bedding, is a good example.
Owner Kalpna Agarwal said she realized early on in her company's development that if she did not provide methods for her primarily female artisan staff to better themselves through health and general education, the women would likely never receive such opportunity. As a result, Vrinda Overseas offers health camps and primary education for adult women on Saturdays and has also established a program to help them save money in case of medical emergencies.
"Most of the women who work for us, they are the only money coming into the household," Agarwal said, adding her average employee has a husband and as many as 11 children to support. Agarwal's plan was to require her workers to put a specific portion of their salaries into an account that the company holds in their name "in case of emergency," she said. "For example, say a woman earns 3,000 rupees. I have her put 300 away with the company for her health care."
It's an idea other Indian companies are working on, too, with more and more providing educational services and working on how to incorporate health-care options in various forms to be sure their workers are safeguarded, a practice, it was said, that is not routine in the country.
An obstacle most Westerners would likely not expect is that Indian workers are not always open to the idea. Agarwal said it is often very difficult to explain to her artisans, who tend to want all their money up front, why there is a need for such savings, but Agarwal said that is all part of the educational process.
"You have to be socially responsible," she said.