Children found working at India distillery went there by school bus, official says

By Thomson Reuters Jun 19, 2024 | 4:51 AM

By Arpan Chaturvedi and Tanvi Mehta

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Some of the 58 children found working illegally in a distillery of India’s Som Group were transported to the factory in school buses, the chief of the Indian government child rights agency overseeing case told Reuters.

Police in the state of Madhya Pradesh launched an investigation into Som after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) last week found 39 boys and 19 girls working at the factory. The agency also released photos of children’s hands it said showed burns due to contact with chemicals.

“They were enrolled in a school and would come in school buses. So people thought they were going to the school, but they worked in the liquor factory,” NCPCR Chief Priyank Kanoongo said on Wednesday.

Som did not respond to a request for comment on NCPCR’s remarks.

In a statement to the stock exchange earlier this week, Som Distilleries and Breweries Ltd said the concerns are related to a plant run by its “associate private limited company” which used labour supplied by contractors, who may not have carried out proper age verification checks.

Their services have been terminated, Som said, adding it is cooperating with the authorities. The company’s shares have fallen 7% this week.

Kanoongo said he would ask the local authorities why no arrests have been made and the distillery had not been sealed.

“We will soon send a notice to the local authorities,” he added.

Repeated calls to Vikas Kumar Shahwal, the senior Madhya Pradesh police official who is overseeing the case, were not answered.

Som is one of the smaller distilleries in India’s thriving alcohol industry where both foreign and domestic players operate. Its website describes it as an “internationally acclaimed brand” available in over 20 markets including the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Child labour is a concern in India. In 2021, Reuters reported that an external audit of two Carlsberg warehouses had found underage labourers at a location in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.

Carlsberg at the time said “the third-party provider was terminated immediately in 2018 following the findings in the internal report.”

(Reporting by Arpan Chaturvedi; Additional reproting Jatindra Dash and Indranil Sarkar; Editing by Aditya Kalra and Miral Fahmy)