Sri Lankan workers continue two-months long strike for decent wages, while brands fail to take sufficient action

On 10 February 2024, workers of the Sumithra Hasalaka factory in Sri Lanka organised by the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union (FTZ & GSEU) startedstriking for a wage offer that meets their cost of living. Two months on, these brave workers’ strike continues in the face of harassment and intimidation, financial hardship, and during the most important family holiday of the year, the Sinhala and Tamil new year. International brands sourcing from the factory group have taken insufficient action to ensure their suppliertreatsworkers better.  
Workers protesting at the Sumithra Hasalaka factory on the one month anniversary of the strike

In February, workers at Sumithra Hasalaka started striking when factory management tried to obstruct union members from holding a meeting to discuss the factory’s woefully insufficient wage offer. Workers were asking for a monthly increase of 10,000 SKR (33 USD) to compensate for the fact that the factory failed to increase wages in 2023 at a moment of massive inflation, the factory offered a monthly increase of a mere 1500 LKR (5 USD). While the union has offered to half its proposal, the factory management still refuses to come to the negotiation table.

The Sumithra Hasalaka factory produces clothes for brands like Superdry, ASDA, and Tom Tailor. The larger Sumithra Hasalaka factory group, which comprises of three other factories, also produces for Marks & Spencer, Dillard’s, Dunnes Stores, Huckberry, J&N Herz Ltd, and PrAna (Columbia). The low wage proposal applies to the other Sumithra factories supplying these brands as well, but Sumithra Hasalaka is the only currently actively operating factory within the group with an independent trade union presence.

After the events that led to the strike, FTZ & GSEU and the Clean Clothes Campaign network started to reach out to the brands sourcing from the Sumithra Hasalaka group. They urged these brands to use their leverage to ensure the factory management stopped repression and union busting against striking workers, paid workers for the period of the strike in view of management provocation and harassment, and returned to the negotiating table with the FTZ & GSEU branch union with an improved wage offer.

In response, several brands say they have contacted Sumithra management or have been in conversation with the union. This includes Superdry, ASDA, Tom Tailor, Marks & Spencer and prAna, who however showed varied levels of engagement. Several brands refused to interact on this topic at all until threats of public campaigning led them to send answers that still fail to indicate any decisive action. This includes Dunnes Stores, Dillard's, and Huckberry. Some, like J&N Hertz, remain silent. ⁠None of the brands have indicated how exactly they intend to use their significant leverage over the factory management to ensure fair wages and freedom of association rights in the factory group of their close business partner. In response to the trade union’s and Clean Clothes Campaign’s case group’s demand that brands enable higher wages across the factory group by paying more for the products made at Sumithra, only one brand referred to future pricing discussions. All other brands remain silent on this crucial point.

Anton Marcus, joint secretary of the Free Trade Zones & General Service Employees Union, says: “Today, marks the start of the Tamil and Sinhala new year during which workers receive a bonus they have built up during the year. The striking Sumithra Hasalaka workers, however, have nothing to celebrate during this time that they should be spending merrily with their families. After two months of fighting under difficult circumstances for decent wages for themselves and their fellow workers, they now even decided to follow up on the management’s demand to report to the factory to collect their annual bonus, which they need direly for essential expenses for their families or to school their children. Brands sourcing from the Sumithra Hasalaka group must ensure the management comes to the negotiating table immediately and can no longer deny the demands of the workers.”

The striking workers demand:

- An immediate end to all union-busting measures including declaring all enforced union resignations null and void; 

- A return to work for all striking workers to their previous positions, without retaliation;

- Payment of workers’ wages and full bonuses for the period of the strike;

- A return to the negotiation table of the Sumithra management with the intention to negotiate in good faith with the FTZ & GSEU branch union to reach a fair wage agreement.

The FTZ & GSEU parent union invites the brands with the largest buying share from the Sumithra group to a meeting next week, in order to further discuss actions needed from them to use their leverage to convince the management into taking a difference stance.


For inquiries: Christie Miedema, Clean Clothes Campaign,, +31 6 42060638. Photos and interviews available on request.

published 2024-04-10