Children made to work 11 hours a day at Indian distillery, inspection finds

Children made to work 11 hours a day at Indian distillery, inspection finds

A distillery in India has been accused of employing child labourers and making them work 11-hour shifts in an unsafe manner that caused chemical burns.

Police in central Madhya Pradesh state are investigating the use of child labour at a Som Distilleries and Breweries Ltd factory after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights found as many as 59 children working there illegally.

The children, aged 13 to 17 years, were made to fill and pack liquor bottles, the state’s government said following an inspection.

Government officials said 39 boys and 20 girls were rescued from the factory in June.

Children found working at a distillery in Raisen, Madhya Pradesh (Reuters)
Children found working at a distillery in Raisen, Madhya Pradesh (Reuters)

The national child rights body released photos of children with their hands showing chemical burns and said some of them were transported to the factory in school buses.

The inspection report was prepared by Madhya Pradesh’s industrial health and safety department after interviewing 27 child workers, the youngest of among them just 13, Reuters reported.

They were made to toil 11 hours a day in the factory, according to the report, which has not been made public.

The state prohibits anyone aged under 21 from being employed in a liquor factory.

The report said the children working in the Som distillery were not trained to protect themselves from harmful chemicals.

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

Following the inspection, the state government on 19 June suspended the licence of Som Distilleries. But the company this week claimed to have obtained a stay on the suspension order from the state high court.

The state’s chief minister, Mohan Yadav, last month said Som Distilleries “has been booked for the heinous crime of child labour so its licence has been suspended” and that “the careless officials related to this case have been suspended”.

The small Som distillery in Madhya Pradesh is typical of India's thriving alcohol industry, in which both domestic and foreign players operate.

The company website describes it as an "internationally acclaimed brand" available in more than 20 markets, including the US, UK and New Zealand.

The alcohol industry is notorious for using child labour.

In 2021, Reuters reported that an external audit of two Carlsberg warehouses found underage labourers at a location in the eastern state of Jharkhand. Carlsberg said at the time it had terminated the services of the third-party provider.

Som said the Madhya Pradesh plant was run by its "associate private limited company" and used workers supplied by contractors who may not have carried out proper age checks.

The Independent has reached out to Som Distilleries and Breweries Ltd for a comment.

Additional reporting by agencies.