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New Study Details Abuse of Textile, Apparel Workers

Incidents of murder and intimidation are cited for union activity.

Employers in Bangladesh were cited as being hostile toward unions.

GENEVA — Textile and apparel labor leaders and workers were among the victims of human rights violations last year, including assassinations, assaults and arbitrary dismissals, for trying to exercise their basic rights, a global study said.


The annual survey by the International Trade Union Confederation that covers violations in 138 countries also lists other serious breaches related to textile and apparel companies, many in export processing zones, in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, Peru, Honduras, Turkey, Morocco, Lesotho, Mauritius, Jordan and Egypt. Export processing zones, or EPZs, include free trade zones, special economic zones, bonded warehouses, free ports, customs zones and maquiladoras.

There were 91 trade unionists murdered worldwide for defending workers’ rights, and systematic harassment and intimidation was reported in 63 countries, the report said.

“Repression of legitimate trade union activities continued unabated in every continent,” said Guy Ryder, ITUC secretary-general. “Governments have failed to do enough to protect workers’ rights, either at home or in their international diplomatic, economic and trade relations.”

The report by the ITUC, a Brussels-based group representing 168 million workers in 155 countries, with 311 national affiliates, including the AFL-CIO, concluded: “The globalization of the world economy and consequent fierce competition between countries and companies for a share of the export markets continues to put strong pressure on labor markets, working conditions and workers’ rights.”

The trend across the globe, the report said, “has been for labor legislation to be amended in order to attract investments rather than to improve protection of workers’ rights.” It cited Vietnam and Morocco as examples.

“Workers continue to be threatened by employers with enterprise relocation, outsourcing and downsizing, with inevitable negative consequences,” the report stated.

In Bangladesh, employers have been consistently hostile toward unions, many from the apparel sector, and “significant antiunion discrimination, including harassment, intimidation and dismissals” were directed at workers’ leaders, the report said. Union leaders in the apparel sector were “routinely harassed verbally and physically, beaten, suspended and fired for pursuing union activities. Most employers operated with total impunity.”

The AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity also faced harassment from Bangladesh’s police and army intelligence despite being legally registered to operate in the country.

Trade unionists were also dismissed in apparel plants in Cambodia, the report said. At the Hong Da garment factory, a member of the Cambodian Federation was fired days after being elected union president at the factory and was only reinstated after intervention by national and international union bodies.

In Honduras, 58 workers at the Star maquiladora — a factory that imports materials and equipment on a duty free and tariff-free basis for assembly or manufacturing and then reexports the finished product — were dismissed in November 2007 for belonging to a union, the study said. The factory makes clothes for Nike, Anvil and the National Football League in the El Porvenir EPZ.

“The dismissed workers put pressure on the company by blocking the factory entrance, work stoppages and occupying the regional labor office,” said the report, adding that these actions were brutally suppressed by the police and armed forces, which had been called by the company, with workers arrested and assaulted. However, after negotiations, the sacked workers were rehired.

In Peru, antiunion campaigns are waged by many textile companies, the report said. Fibras Industriales blocked the initiation of collective bargaining, and at Topy Top, management resorted to “selective dismissals to stop the workers complaining about the long working hours, the dismissal of union leaders and noncompliance with the payment of social benefits,” the report said.

The study also concluded that in Lesotho, foreign employers, mainly textile groups, from South Africa, Hong Kong and Taiwan, generally “ignore national legislation and pay wages below the statutory minimum.”