The group representing Indian apparel exporters has moved to emphasise that the country's garment sector is not marked by child labour or forced labour after a report from the US Department of Labor accused the industry of labour violations.

"The garment industry of India is deeply engaged in ensuring compliance with the law and that its efforts encompass the informal sector, including home workers, and facilities serving solely the domestic market," said Dr A Sakthivel, chairman of the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC).

He added that there has been a significant increase in the number of initiatives at government, industry and NGO level to help "achieve the policies and compliance for which the export sector is rightly recognized".

The Indian apparel industry some 11.2m workers, and monitoring such a workforce, particularly when over 80% of the sector is made up of small to medium-sized firms (SME) is a "challenge," said Sakthivel.

"The efforts of the government and the industry should be appreciated on the basis of the intent, its scope and commitment demonstrated and corroboration of the same through data may not be possible in all cases. There is no reason to believe that Indian apparel and garments may have been produced by forced or indentured child labour."

AEPC last year initiated a pan-India social compliance programme called 'Driving Industry Towards Sustainable Human Capital Advancement' (DISHA). 140 apparel manufacturers and exporters have enrolled so far, with a target of 400 units set during the first phase.

It has been designed in part to meet the concerns of key export destinations, such as the US and the European Union, who have sometimes criticised Indian companies for their record on child labour, health and safety, and environmental practices.