Clothing supplied to leading European and US brands by the Indian garment industry is being produced by young Dalit (or Untouchables, as they were formerly labelled) women, a new report claims.

The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) say efforts by brands and retailers to improve labour conditions at their suppliers in Tamil Nadu have failed.

A report, called 'Maid in India', found that despite a range of "well meaning initiatives", thousands of women in the garment and textile industry in Tamil Nadu work under recruitment and employment schemes that amount to bonded labour.

It found that workers are recruited within and outside the state, and that the majority of workers are Dalit girls aged under 18. They come from poor families and are lured with promises of a decent wage, comfortable accommodation and, in some cases, a sum of money upon completion of their contract that may be used for their dowry. These recruitment and employment practices are often referred to as 'Sumangali scheme'.

The two groups have reached out to more than 70 US and European brands, retailers and buying houses, including C&A, Diesel, American Eagle Outfitters, Primark, Decathlon, PVH, Quicksilver, as well as suppliers like Crystal Martin, who allegedly source from the exploitative manufacturers.

While they acknowledge a number of companies have undertaken steps to eliminatie the Sumangali Scheme, abusive labour practices remain widespread, the NGOs says.

They are calling for corporate and other initiatives by the whole supply chain to tackle the problem, with an emphasis on second tier suppliers.

The study interviewed 180 workers, analysed export data and researched corporate compliance initiatives.

It found labour migrants often live in strictly supervised factory-owned hostels where they have little opportunity to contact their families, let alone with trade unions or labour advocates. It found workers toil for long hours, in some cases up to 24-hours on end, for low wages and under unhealthy conditions.

Verbal and physical abuse is frequently reported. Often, completing a three to five year contract is a condition for receiving a lump sum payment, which is not a bonus but made up of withheld wages. Even if the women manage to finish the term, they often do not receive the promised amount.