Pakistani unionists on advocacy tour in Europe call for worker-centred safety approach and strong due diligence laws

Representatives of Pakistani unions have today started an advocacy tour in Brussels, The Hague and Amsterdam to meet policy-makers and other stakeholders to discuss the need for strong supply chain legislation and a binding country level programme to safeguard garment and textile workers’ rights to decent working conditions.
Protest in Mehran Town, Pakistan, after deadly factory fire in 2021

Trade union leaders Nasir Mansoor, secretary general of the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUF), Zehra Khan, secretary general of the Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), and garment worker Seemi Mustafa will talk to policy-makers, representatives of garment brands, journalists and other stakeholders.This tour comes at a crucial moment in the development of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) on both European level and similar legislative proposals in the Netherlands. This legislation will legally require businesses to adhere to human rights principles in their business conduct abroad. The three representatives will stress their own and professional knowledge of and experiences with the global garment industry and factory level violations in the field of health and safety, gender-based violence, the right to organise, and wage payments to argue that upcoming legislation should be worker-centered, gender-sensitive, and comprehensive and that direct steps are needed to ensure workers can feel safe in the workplace. Garment worker Seemi Mustafa says: “I have experienced first hand that factory managers often ignore women workers speaking up for their rights and respond with intimidation and violence. Strong laws are needed to make sure workers in garment factories are treated decently.”    

Garment and textile workers in Pakistan continue to risk their health or even lives every time they enter their workplace. National inspectorates do not have the capacity needed to ensure factory safety is monitored and addressed effectively and corporate controlled safety programmes fail to look beyond the interests of the companies that employ them. Unions and labour rights organisations in Pakistan have for many years been calling for an expansion to Pakistan of the binding safety agreement that was initiated in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza collapse of 2013 - now called the International Accord on Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. The process to initiate a second Accord country programme is underway. For it to succeed, it is paramount that it meets the needs and demands as voiced by workers and their unions. Zehra Kahn (HBWWF): “A Pakistan Accord programme has to enable workers to appeal to an independent and transparent complaints mechanism and be trained on health and safety issues, including gender based violence and harassment. Such avenues for redress and empowerment would be especially important for workers deeper in a brands’ supply chain, who are often informally employed.”

That such a programme is urgently needed was shown in a recent brief published by Clean Clothes Campaign as well as the organisation’s public factory incidents tracker that links major garment brands to deadly and near lethal factory incidents since January 2021, but can only cover the tip of the iceberg.

For brands, an expanded Accord would be an important contribution to meeting their due diligence obligations in the field of health and safety. It would allow brands sourcing from Pakistan to address worker health and safety issues collectively through a legally enforceable programme with active union participation. During the tour, the three representatives will stress the need for a worker-centred Pakistan safety programme in the context of comprehensive legislation. Nasir Mansoor (NTUF): “For a Pakistan Accord programme to work it should be inclusive towards workers of the whole supply chain, ensure worker registration as part of the programme, extend to fabric mills, and have equal worker participation rather than being corporate-controlled. Brands have no time to waste.”

published 2022-12-05