India to impound liquor firm Som's distillery over child labour

FILE PHOTO: FILE PIX: Exterior of wine and beer shop in New Delhi, India

By Arpan Chaturvedi and Tanvi Mehta

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Indian authorities said on Wednesday they were impounding a Som Group distillery and temporarily suspending the plant's manufacturing licences after the federal child rights agency found 59 children working at the site illegally.

Police launched an investigation into Som after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) last week found 39 boys and 20 girls working at the factory. The agency also released photos of children's hands it said showed burns due to contact with chemicals.

"We have sent the police force to ensure there are no issues during the sealing process," Vikas Kumar Shahwal, a senior Madhya Pradesh police official, told Reuters.

The state government said in a separate order it was temporarily suspending the plant's manufacturing licences and had asked the labour department to investigate the matter.

Som did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to the stock exchange earlier this week, Som Distilleries and Breweries Ltd said the issue was 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 checks.

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

Some of the children found working at the distillery were transported to the factory in school buses, NCPCR Chief Priyank Kanoongo told Reuters on Wednesday.

"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," Kanoongo said.

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, Miral Fahmy and Mark Potter)