Joining forces to improve working conditions in Sri Lanka's garment industry

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Joining forces to improve working conditions in Sri Lanka's garment industry

For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka's garment industry, representatives from global sports and leisure wear brands, trade unions, a supplier and the Ministry of Labour came together on 26 and 27 March 2011 in Katunayake to agree on how to work together to improve conditions for workers.

The meeting was organised by the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU) with the support of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF). Brands and retailers participating at the meeting were adidas, Nike, Colombia Sportswear Company and Next. Next Manufacturers was the only supplier to attend.

The FTZ&GSEU presented their concerns about working conditions to participants, based on their research in 22 garment factories producing for export and supplying a range of multinational apparel brands. Leaders of the Ceylon Mercantile Industrial & General Workers' Union (CMU) and the Textile, Garment & Clothing Trade Federation also expressed their concerns about working conditions in the industry. Discussions particularly focussed on wages, overtime, respect for the right to join and form a trade union, and freedom from discrimination.

The key outcomes of the meeting were:

  • An agreement to hold a following up meeting with broader participation, particularly from suppliers and the employers' federation JAAF. The purpose of this meeting will be to agree practical, achievable steps towards achieving mature systems of industrial relations in the industry and address specific workplace issues. This meeting will take place within three months.
  • Brands will ensure that supervisor training is carried out in selected supplier factories. As a first step good practice models for supervisor training will be shared with all participants with a view to adapting these to the local context.
  • Brands will write to their suppliers in Sri Lanka to highlight that Employee's Councils do not constitute respect for the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  • Each brand will share the details for their key contact people, so that the brands can assist in the timely resolution of issues that cannot be resolved at factory level. The ITGLWF will maintain this list and share it with affiliates in Sri Lanka.

Next are considering whether to write such a letter to their suppliers

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