More than half of Sri Lanka’s economy relies on apparel exports, and industry organizations are pledging their support to the country amid ongoing economic hardship.
In a letter dated July 26, trade unions and worker rights’ organizations, including the Clean Clothes Campaign, Labor Behind the Label, Maquila Solidarity Network, War on Want and Workers United, expressed their solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka who, amid a debt crisis in the country, have faced food, fuel and power shortages, and resulting protests led to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation last month.
Few brands have followed labor organizers’ swift efforts to denounce the fallout, although the mass protests against the government sparked violence last week.
Citing decades of international debt and recent political strife, including attacks on protesters, the groups led a call to action to get the fashion industry’s attention.
The letter affirmed, “We endorse and support the trade unions’ call, and we call upon national governments, international financial institutions, private sector enterprises (including international brands and retailers sourcing garments from Sri Lanka) and other stakeholders to support a program of emergency relief, mid- and long-term financial support, and a democratic political solution to the crisis.”
The hope, according to the letter, is to “amplify worker voices” in the garment and sportswear industry while raising awareness of the hardships. It was posted formally on the Clean Clothes Campaign’s website, where a number of campaigns drawing attention to alleged wage theft and malpractice in the industry are also underway.
According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, Sri Lanka’s garment industry employs more than 400,000 garment workers directly and some two million workers are indirectly employed through webs of subcontracting.
Major brands, among them Nike Inc., Uniqlo, Gap Inc., Everlane and others, manufacture in the country.