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Press statement: Industry statements about Bangladesh crackdown belie fashion brands’ abject failure to protect their garment workers

Press statement: Industry statements about Bangladesh crackdown belie fashion brands’ abject failure to protect their garment workers

Press statement: Industry statements about Bangladesh crackdown belie fashion brands’ abject failure to protect their garment workers

For immediate release, 28 March 2024

In the wake of the Bangladesh minimum wage struggle of 2023 and the setting of another poverty wage, the government of Bangladesh cracked down hard on workers’ protests. Criminal charges, often filed by suppliers to major international brands, are now hanging over the heads of tens of thousands of workers. Yet, through recent industry statements, brands attempt to wash their hands of the responsibility for both the setting of yet another wage that leaves workers unable to put enough food on the table and of the legal threats now facing them.

In February and early March, 45 major fashion and sportswear brands, including H&M, Zara, Next, North Face (VF Corp.), and Gap, received communication from organisations within the Clean Clothes Campaign network, demanding they compel their Bangladeshi suppliers to drop these baseless criminal charges filed against workers and labour leaders during the 2023 protests calling for a higher minimum wage.

To date, only a handful of brands have met this request to respect their workers’ basic human rights, by pressuring their suppliers to take such action. The vast majority of brands have shirked responsibility by falsely claiming that their suppliers aren’t involved, defending their suppliers’ filing of criminal cases, and/or denying that the charges are being used as a tool of systematic retaliation against workers who demonstrated for higher wages, or not answering at all. Many others stated that their sole response was to involve the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) or the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) to issue a joint statement on their behalf.

Last week’s statements from AAFA and the ETI omitted that their concerns about the mass criminalisation of garment workers were in response to a push from rights groups directed at their member brands – many of which continue to take little action to compel their suppliers to drop false charges as a condition of continuing business with them. While both groups directed their calls to stop the criminalisation of workers to the Bangladesh Government, most criminal cases, at least 26, have been filed by factory owners producing for AAFA and ETI member brands, not the police who have filed at least 6. In this context, unless AAFA and ETI members require their suppliers to withdraw cases, the notes of concern ring hollow.

Filing baseless criminal cases that accuse workers generically, and without individualised evidence, of inciting vandalism and other serious crimes is a page from the well-worn playbook used by the Bangladesh Government and garment factory owners to repress freedom of association and maintain poverty wages in the industry. These charges against unnamed workers pose a threat to any worker who steps out of line, Even with the increase to a monthly wage of 12,500 BDT ($113), Bangladeshi workers earn among the lowest wages in the world, less than neighbouring Pakistan and India, and even less than Cambodia and Indonesia.

The refusal of international brands, garment manufacturers in Bangladesh, and the country’s government to meaningfully support an increase in the legal minimum wage to a sustainable level for workers and their families led to a wave of labour protests during last year’s minimum wage setting process that takes place every five years. Workers were not included in the process and were therefore left with no choice but to demonstrate on the street for their target wage of at least 23,000 BDT ($208) despite risks.

Both manufacturers and the government responded to the workers’ demand with harsh and violent repression which saw four workers killed, hundreds injured, and 40,000 at risk of false arrest under at least 35 baseless criminal charges that left dozens of workers jailed for months, including four union leaders.

Brands’ failure to protect workers’ basic rights, despite the clear threat of violent repression, constituted the industry’s tacit approval of the excessive response to these protests – a response that was predictable given the similar repression against workers that took place during the last minimum wage setting process in 2018.

In general, there is no evidence of workers being implicated in criminal conduct of the type and to the degree that factories are alleging in their recent complaints. Many workers arrested under serious charges of assault and attempted murder were not even in the vicinity of protests they are alleged to have taken part in. These cases are being brought based not on facts, or to hold individuals accountable for criminal activity, but rather, to intimidate and discourage dissent.

The four workers who died (Rasel Howlader, 26, Jalal Uddin, 40, Anjuara Khatun, 23, Imran Hossain, 32) produced for international brands including H&M, Zara, C&A, Bestseller and Walmart. Each of these brands has thus far refused to provide compensation for the families that these workers have left behind, instead pointing to the paltry compensation already received of around $4,500 as being sufficient despite falling far short of the international norms (ILO C121) used in the wake of the deadly Rana Plaza disaster. Factories failed to protect workers from the clear risk of deadly violence from police and military forces stationed in industrial areas and closed their factories without notice or assistance to workers, exposing them to serious danger.

As Bogu Gojdź, Public Outreach Coordinator from Clean Clothes Campaign said: “Brands have a chance to make up for their silence during the workers’ wage struggle to at least sure that workers will not go to jail for standing up for their right to a wage they can survive on, most are still refusing to act. Some brands have used their leverage with suppliers to ensure cases are dropped, but most act like protecting freedom of association is irrelevant. We will be publicly releasing a tracker of how they have responded, brands have until 8 April to ensure they end up on the positive side of that list”.

Thulsi Narayanasamy, Director of International Advocacy from US labour investigative organisation, Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) said: “The systematic punishment of workers for speaking out against a poverty wage cannot be separated from brands’ unwillingness to use their leverage to protect the rights of workers in their supply chains. We have gathered harrowing testimony from workers and union leaders impacted by violence and horrifying weeks in jail and all of this is connected to supply chains of international brands”.

Anna Bryher, Policy Lead from UK advocacy group Labour Behind the Label said: “The silence of the brands on these issues and their slowness to respond amounts to complicity in human rights violations. Where are the brands in making sure that suppliers drop the blanket legal charges against workers who protested against poverty pay? Repression is predictable, and it shouldn’t take rights groups having to fight for these vile legal cases to be dropped, for brands and the ETI to take notice and start work”.

ENDS

Notes for editors:

For press enquiries please contact Anna Bryher, Policy Lead at Labour Behind the Label: anna@labourbehindthelabel.org // press@labourbehindthelabel.org

Press Reactive: Commitment To Leicester Workers Should Be The Priority

Press Reactive: Commitment To Leicester Workers Should Be The Priority

Press Reactive: Commitment To Leicester Workers Should Be The Priority

*Embargoed for 6 am Monday*

*Credit: BBC Panorama: Boohoo’s Broken Promises on BBC One at 8pm*

Commitment to Leicester garment workers should be the priority for Boohoo, following the revelations of BBC Panorama into abusive sourcing practices by the fashion brand

  • BBC Panorama’s investigation reveals abusive sourcing practices not unique to one brand or country, but systemic and widespread across the garment industry.
  • The programme shows clearly that the pressure to drive prices down comes from the very top at Boohoo and disregards the commitments previously made to suppliers, as well as the welfare of workers
  • Employment conditions in Leicester are worsening as a result with workers paying the price for reduced prices on orders and outsourcing abroad – official data shows a reduction of 67% in manufacturing of garments employment in Leicester between 2021-2023. (1)
  • The practices revealed by Panorama are enabled by lack of regulation and oversight of the industry on behalf of the government and the failures of voluntary agreements.

In response to the revelations of tonight’s BBC Panorama expose of the garment industry in Leicester, Dominique Muller, UK policy lead for Labour Behind the Label, said:

“For far too long garment workers have sounded the alarm that fashion brands turn a blind eye to what is happening on the ground. What is worse – brands are actively sanctioning rules-breaking in order to drive a bargain with no regard to the financial strain this will put over workers.

Blaming bad apples for what are systemic issues in the industry won’t cut it. We urgently need legislation that ensures all brands treat all suppliers throughout their supply chains fairly. Brands must pay due diligence to ensure contract value covers labour costs at decent level, both here in the UK and abroad. Companies must investigate and remediate abuses within their supply chain and halt business practices, such as those seen in the programme, which encourage treating skilled workers as cheap and disposable workforce.

It is clear from the BBC’s most recent findings that only binding agreements between brands, suppliers and unions which commit brands to improving sourcing and purchasing will make a difference. Twenty years of voluntary initiatives have achieved nothing. In the absence of a government which cares about regulation and protection of workers, a binding agreement must be back on the table.

At the same time, brands must act, not flee. There is the opportunity to build a thriving industry that provides good, sustainable jobs in Leicester with the commitment of brands and the government. This would provide workers with decent work and stability – and manufacturers with the confidence to invest in the workforce. Abandoning ship and moving all production abroad will do nothing to stamp out unethical and abusive practices that continue abroad. Addressing the deep economic crisis that workers in Leicester are facing through providing good jobs should be part of a blueprint for a responsible industry globally.”

ENDS
Notes for editors

(1) Comparison of Leicester’s 2021, 2022 and 2023 Economic Profiles as published by LLEP: https://llep.org.uk/

For press enquiries please contact:

Dominique Muller, UK Policy Lead at Labour Behind the Label
dominique@labourbehindthelabel.org // press@labourbehindthelabel.org // +44 7596 098399

Press release: UK union leaders call for Bangladesh minimum wage boost and condemn police violence

Press release: UK union leaders call for Bangladesh minimum wage boost and condemn police violence

Press release: UK union leaders call for Bangladesh minimum wage boost and condemn police violence

For immediate release, 1 November 2023

  • General secretaries of 15 major UK trade unions issue call on the Government of Bangladesh to set a 23,000 taka (£172) monthly minimum wage for Bangladeshi garment workers [1]

  • Violence and unrest rising on the streets of Dhaka and Gazipur, as police clash with protesting workers – 2 dead and a number of union leaders arrested [2]

  • UK unions and NGOs condemn the violence and call on Bangladesh officials to protect worker lives and freedoms.

Amid rising unrest and repression of garment union representatives in Bangladesh, UK unions and NGOs have issued a letter calling on the Government of Bangladesh to urgently set the minimum wage for garment workers at a liveable level, and stop the violence.

Reports say that tens of thousands of garment workers have been protesting on the streets since Tuesday, clashing with police in Gazipur and Dhaka. Officers used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds of factory workers, who were blocking roads near factories producing clothing for major western brands. Two workers have been killed by police [3].

The currently monthly minimum stands at just 8,000 taka or £60 a month, last revised in 2018, which workers report is so low they have to skip meals to survive. Protests started last week after the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) put forward proposals for the new monthly minimum wage to be set at 10,400 taka (£78) – less than half of the trade unions’ demand of 23,000 (£172). The wage board convened again today (1 November), but no conclusion was declared. The employers have committed to return with a revised offer in a week [4].

Anna Bryher, Policy Lead at the human rights charity Labour Behind the Label said: “These protests can only be seen as a consequence of the desperate need for wage to be set that people can survive on and a lack of faith in the wage revision process to deliver this.

While workers risk their lives to voice the need for a bare minimum liveable wage, fashion brands sourcing from Bangladesh have remained silent. Without brands expressing a commitment to pay prices that cover significantly increased wages and condemning the violence, what hope is there? Their silence is ensuring poverty, and legitimising the undemocratic environment in which the wage revision is taking place.”

Labour Behind the Label further expressed concerns about a repetition of the heavy-handed police retaliation against protesting workers that took place in Bangladesh five years ago during the previous wage revision. Three trade union officials have so far been arrested [5] and union organisers have reported pre-emptive information gathering visits from secret police, further stoking fears of union repression.

Stephen Russell, Senior International Officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said:

“It beggars belief that the Government of Bangladesh would still rather kill and imprison trade unionists than just sit down to negotiate with them. It’s just a few years since it agreed a roadmap at the ILO to respect union rights – but the government has betrayed workers yet again.

The TUC stands in solidarity with unions in Bangladesh, whose members shouldn’t have to risk their lives just to demand an adequate minimum wage.”

Garment worker rights groups No Sweat, War on Want, Remake and Labour Behind the Label delivered the letter signed by around 500 UK Trade Unions, NGOs and individuals to the Bangladesh High Commission on Monday calling for the workers’ demand for a 23,000 taka minimum wage to be met, and condemning violence against unions and workers. Officials accepted the letter at the door and committed to pass its contents on [6].

ENDS

Notes for editors:

For press enquiries please contact Anna Bryher, Policy Lead at Labour Behind the Label: anna@labourbehindthelabel.org // press@labourbehindthelabel.org // +44 7786 832 035

[1] https://labourbehindthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Letter-to-Bangladesh-Embassy-on-23000-taka-minimum-wage-with-Logos.pdf

[2] https://apnews.com/article/bangladesh-garment-workers-protest-minimum-wage-928de69317e2f39911987f9369285bdf

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-67273559

[4] https://www.tbsnews.net/economy/rmg/factory-owners-agree-raise-minimum-wage-rmg-workers-above-their-own-proposal-731082

[5] https://www.industriall-union.org/worker-shot-dead-by-police-as-minimum-wage-protests-intensify-in-bangladesh

[6] Photos including an image of the letter being handed in:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Py_MRKIloQc3gYcoC2NGTAZ2xyL80tDb?usp=sharing

Please credit Labour Behind the Label

 

Press release: Leicester garment workers rally in fight for decent jobs

Press release: Leicester garment workers rally in fight for decent jobs

Press release: Leicester garment workers rally in fight for decent jobs

Image: @ReelNews

 

For immediate release: 1 October 2023

 

 

  • Hundreds of workers protested job losses in Leicester garment industry.

  • Suppliers and workers report significant drop in work coming from fashion brands.
  • Garment workers demand brands “take responsibility” and commit to decent jobs in Leicester amidst economic crisis.

Around 500 workers in the garment industry gathered in Leicester’s Spinney Hill Park on Sunday, 1 October to protest the worsening conditions workers are facing amid factory closures in the city. They were joined by labour rights campaigners and trade unionists. This was the first time workers had gathered to publicly protest their situation, but workers said they were ‘ready to speak’.

 

Suppliers have warned that fashion brands sourcing garments in the city are demanding price reductions, often on orders of clothing already made and delivered, which is making businesses unviable. In turn, garment workers in Leicester report significant reductions in hours and factory closures, increasing pressure on already low paid workers on the frontline of the cost of living crisis. 40% of children in Leicester are living in poverty, including those where parents are in work.

 

Garment workers are calling on fashion brands to take urgent measures to support the industry in Leicester. They want brands to commit to orders from local suppliers with decent wages and standards safeguarded in the contract price, and for a long-term commitment to the area. At the rally, women spontaneously spoke from the crowd to express their anger and frustration at the lack of work as well as the discrimination they face. Women spoke of being given unpaid trial shifts, zero predictability of the amount of work they’d be offered and the struggle to access services and support without speaking English.

 

A Leicester garment worker said: “Brands should take responsibility and commit to orders in Leicester. I know that the factories here have been running for many years. I speak to other workers who have been working in this industry for 20+ years. This is the time when workers are in need of work the most because of the cost of living being so high but instead the factories are slowly closing one by one. Thousands of workers are dependent on working in the factories in Leicester and most of us are migrant workers who have moved to the UK because of our suffering and for a better future ahead. 

 

We want factories to stay open and busy, we want improved working conditions and better workplaces with correct rules and regulations and factories that look after workers rights and pay national minimum wage, holiday, and sick pay.

 

Dominique Muller, UK Policy Lead at Labour Behind the Label, said: “It is high time for UK fashion brands to accept they are responsible for the present crisis garment workers are facing in Leicester. We’ve been here before: during the pandemic revelations about the industry in Leicester forced brands to take measures to improve the treatment of workers. But once public scrutiny moved on, all that remained were vague and aspirational pledges towards a more ethical industry. 3 years later, we see they have failed to live up to their promises. 

 

If brands are serious about building a fairer, more sustainable industry, they must commit to it. They must adopt an ethical sourcing strategy which includes assessing the working conditions of workers in their supply chain and making improvements. In this case, it means committing to UK suppliers and supporting workers in obtaining decent work. The workers who have given brands years of their labour and millions in profits deserve nothing less.

 

ENDS

 

Notes for editors

 

For media enquiries:

  • maya@labourbehindthelabel.org //+447491669231
  • dominique@labourbehindthelabel.org // +447596098399

 

Images available here. Please credit @ReelNews when using.

 

Kaenat Issufo, Community Engagement Lead at Labour Behind the Label, is available for interviews on Wednesday mornings.

 

Labour Behind the Label cannot provide translation services for journalists. 

 

  • Boohoo demands retrospective discounts from suppliers: 

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/jun/05/leicester-garment-makers-manufacturers-fast-fashion-brands

 

 


2020 Labour Behind the Label report, ‘Boohoo & Covid-19: The people behind the profits’: https://labourbehindthelabel.org/report-boohoo-covid-19-the-people-behind-the-profit/

Press release: New report on labour rights in Pakistan exposes gross failings in the global fashion industry

Press release: New report on labour rights in Pakistan exposes gross failings in the global fashion industry

Press release: New report on labour rights in Pakistan exposes gross failings in the global fashion industry

For immediate release: 28 September 2023

“Urgent wake-up call” for western high street brands using factories routinely violating workers’ rights, ignoring minimum wages and health and safety laws

  • New report, “Hanging On By a Thread”, exposes gross exploitation of garment workers in Pakistan
  • Global high street brands including GAP, adidas, Asda, H&M, M&S, Puma, Levi’s, Primark, Boohoo and Inditex (Zara etc) sourcing from suppliers where worker rights are routinely undermined are implicated in report and called on to act
  • One in three workers paid less than the £68 per month minimum wage, with excessive hours routinely enforced
  • Families of injured and killed workers from working conditions reportedly not paid compensation, with auditing shown to routinely fail to identify serious risks
  • A matter of time before another disaster,” say experts amidst declining health and safety standards at factories reported
  • Mass inflation also squeezing workers at the bottom of the fashion supply chain
  • Report produced by garment worker solidarity group Labour Behind the Label in collaboration with international human rights law firm and foundation Global Rights Compliance

[London: 28 September 2023]: A new report[1] released today has exposed the increasing exploitation of garment workers in Pakistan, revealing details of how factories used by some of the world’s biggest fashion brands are routinely violating minimum wage requirements, enforcing excessive hours, ignoring health and safety concerns, and avoiding compensation for injured and killed workers.

The report, by garment worker solidarity group Labour Behind the Label in collaboration with international human rights law firm and foundation Global Rights Compliance, found that the informalisation of worker’s jobs is leading to illegally low pay, mandatory unpaid overtime and the absence of secure contracts.

This announcement comes as Pakistan is experiencing mass inflation with rates hitting 36% in April 2023, the highest rate for nearly 5 decades. Workers at the bottom of the supply chains are being hit the hardest with an erosion of purchasing power and an exacerbation of already challenging living conditions.

The report reveals that factories have been exploiting workers by employing them in less formal ways to reduce risks and cut costs. Findings show factories paying over a third of workers surveyed less than the minimum wage, equivalent to £68 a month, while nearly two thirds of workers weren’t being paid the agreed rate for enforced overtime.

Workers reported that they were being shifted to piece rate contracts where they are only compensated for what they make, resulting in less earnings and increased hours. One worker said: There are more workers working on piece rate than before. There used to be 7,000 workers working in our factory, but now only 4,000 are working as salaried workers. The rest have been fired and most of these were rehired on a piece rate…Workers protested outside the factory but to no avail.”

Health and safety violations were found to be endemic at the factories studied, with auditing routinely failing to identify violations and flag risk.

One worker employed in a factory supplying UK and European brands stated Our workplace is not a very safe place. Due to cotton dust and fumes, workers find it difficult to breathe. Overlock machines are particularly bad in this regard. A worker died but the doctor was asked that working conditions should not be mentioned as the cause of death. His family was not paid any compensation”.

The shockingly poor health and safety checks risk a repeat of previous tragedies such as the Ali Enterprises disaster, where on 11 September 2012 a garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, burned down, killing over 250 workers[2]. Only weeks before the fire, the building had been certified by a private social auditing firm as compliant with international labour standards.

Fashion brands GAP, adidas, Asda, H&M, M&S, Puma, Levi’s, Primark, Boohoo and Inditex (Zara etc) were all found to be sourcing from suppliers featured in the report, despite claiming to use social auditing to check standards. Authors of the report expressed extreme concern that these auditing processes seemed to completely miss the human rights violations, exposed by the report, and furthermore brands are doing nothing to remedy the urgent situation.

Low wages combined with high inflation have resulted in 70% of workers surveyed reporting finding it difficult to cover household expenses such as electricity bills[3]. 21% said they were not sending their children to school because they could no longer afford it.

Anna Bryher, Policy Lead for Labour Behind the Label said: “In the face of economic crisis, why should the people at the bottom of supply chains pay the cost? Children are being thrown into poverty and not sent to school because wages at these factories aren’t keeping pace with rising costs. This isn’t just a problem for Pakistan. In Bangladesh too, workers are reporting they cannot afford to buy meat or even eggs in the month, because inflation is outstripping wage growth.

“Fashion brands make huge profits sourcing clothes from factories across Asia where families are being pushed into extreme poverty. Brands must act to stop this exploitation and ensure the people who make their clothes are paid enough to live with dignity.”

The report provides recommendations on how fashion brands can ensure that garment workers’ rights are upheld at their supplier factories:

  • Stop the increasing informalisation in factories in Pakistan
  • Ensure the minimum wage is paid for all workers and adopt progressive policies that work towards payment of a living wage
  • Fix monitoring and complaints mechanisms by installing effective worker driven complaints mechanisms in suppliers and improving and publishing audit reports.
  • Ensure health and safety for Pakistan’s garment and textile workers, by signing the Pakistan accord and ensuring true worker representation on safety committees.
  • Ensure all workers are recognised by mapping and publishing full supply chain data, and ensure rights are afforded at all levels
  • Take a zero tolerance approach to workplace gender-based violence and harassment and ensure that anti-harassment committees are established in all supplier factories
  • Ensure Social Security is accessible to all workers, and that all workers are registered with national institutions including those for pension and healthcare.
  • Actively promote genuine freedom of association, and collective bargaining which is key to improvements in all other labour rights

Lara Strangways, Head of Business and Human Rights at Global Rights Compliance said:

“The findings of this report should be an urgent wake-up call to brands, showing gross failings in their due diligence processes to identify human rights and labor rights violations in the  making their products. Social auditing is failing to pick up violations and is clearly not fit for purpose. Brands must act with urgency to reassess their approach to sourcing and engage in discussion on appropriate remedy with the labour movement. If they fail to do so, it is only a matter of time before we see another disaster, in which they would have played a part.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

[1] https://labourbehindthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Hangingonbyathread-2023.pdf

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/13/karachi-fire-pakistan-workplaces

[3] The IMF bailed out Pakistan from default in June. Bailout loan conditions included ‘pro investor’ provisos that energy price subsidies be cut, and this has hit the lowest income workers in Pakistan hard. Petrol prices have rocketed and the cost of electricity has doubled. One worker with a PKR 25,000 monthly salary reported receiving an electricity bill for 40,000 rupees. These kind of increases only serve to further push workers into poverty. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/sep/05/pakistan-uproar-violent-protests-soaring-fuel-electricity-prices#:~:text=The%20cost%20of%20electricity%20has,to%20305%20rupees%20this%20month

 

Press release issued on behalf of Global Rights Compliance and Labour Behind the Label.  

For further information, and interview opportunities, please contact: 

Harriet Shearer / Harvey Presence / Will Heron
The Communication Group plc
020 7630 1411
globalrightscompliance@thecommunicationgroup.co.uk 

Anna Bryher, Labour Behind the Label
anna@labourbehindthelabel.org , +44 7786 832 035

 

Available for Interview:

Zehra Khan, Home Based Women Workers Federation, in Pakistan
Anna Bryher, Labour Behind the Label, in UK
Lara Strangways, Global Rights Compliance, in UK

 

’Hanging On By a Thread’

This new report produced by Labour Behind the Label in collaboration with Global Rights Compliance is based on findings of a baseline study for a project aimed at promoting and advancing international labour rights in Pakistan, hosted by Global Rights Compliance.

The survey supporting the findings of the report was conducted in early 2023 through in-depth interviews with 273 workers. 249 of the workers interviewed work in the textile factories exporting to the UK, EU or US, while 24 were homebased workers. It covered 62 workplaces, with 3-6 respondents interviewed per workplace.

 

Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label is a not-for-profit cooperative company founded in 2001. It supports garment workers’ efforts worldwide to improve their working conditions through awareness raising, research and lobbying in support of workers’ demands for improved pay and conditions.

 

Global Rights Compliance 

Global Rights Compliance was founded in 2013. It is an international law firm and foundation specialising in international humanitarian law, international criminal law and business and human rights. The company’s mission is to provide justice through the innovative application of international law. The Business and Human Rights team are engaged across a number of multi-jurisdictional projects and have experience working with a variety of clients, ranging from industry bodies and companies through to INGOs, CSOs and governments.

 

Photos available:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1QX1JCAhBGY91QLq9HAa2nYeE87-mCeDi?usp=drive_link

Press release: protesters denounce anti-worker reforms in Sri Lanka

Press release: protesters denounce anti-worker reforms in Sri Lanka

Press release: protesters denounce anti-worker reforms in Sri Lanka

For immediate release: 20 September 2023

  • Workers struggling to survive Sri Lanka’s cost of living crisis face new attacks on labour rights and pensions.
  • ‘Hands off workers rights’ – trade unions and campaigners protest reforms at Sri Lankan High Commission, London.

Trade unions and labour rights campaigners gathered in London today in solidarity with workers in Sri Lanka, where labour law reforms are set to undermine employment rights while debt restructuring targets workers’ pensions. War on Want and Labour Behind the Label submitted a letter supported by Unite the union, GMB, Fire Brigades Union, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) and the Trades Union Congress, Scottish Trades Union Congress and Wales Trades Union Congress to the Sri Lanka High Commission, raising concerns about the roll-back on workers’ rights, pay and pensions and calling on the Sri Lankan government to engage with the labour movement.

High inflation and currency devaluation has already pushed workers into poverty in Sri Lanka. Now the government is seeking to push through a unified Labour Law which would push hundreds of thousands of working people into further precarity by downgrading basic rights and protections. The new law would put workers at the mercy of employers who could unilaterally increase their working day to 12 or 16 hours without overtime, increase night-work or arbitrarily dismiss them.

At the same time, workers’ pension funds (Employee Provident and Trust Funds) have been singled out by the Government and Central Bank to bear the burden of domestic debt restructuring, a process which itself is arguably unnecessary except to please foreign debt and IMF creditors. This will diminish returns to wage-earners and deplete the fund – which represents the retirement savings of 2.6 million workers – to half its current value.

Anton Marcus, joint secretary of the Free Trades Zones and General Services Employees Union, representing workers in Sri Lanka’s biggest export industry – the garment sector – said:

If these reforms go through it will unleash a race to the bottom on labour rights in Sri Lanka that will hurt ordinary working people – especially women in the apparel sector who are often sole breadwinners for their families. They will be at the mercy of their employers – forced to accept longer hours, or working more nights out of fear of losing their jobs and what little wages they can earn. We are encouraged to see organisations around the world, including trade unions, also raising their concerns about these reforms. International solidarity with working people in Sri Lanka is really important at this time.”

ENDS

 

Notes to editors

For media enquiries please contact:

Photographs available on request.

Letter handed in to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner: https://waronwant.org/sites/default/files/2023-09/Joint%20Ltr_SriLankaHC_20Sept23%20signed.pdf

Further information