international brands violate workers human rights in pakistan garment industry
Major international brands and retailers in Pakistan have been found violating human rights through informalization of the workforce in the garment industry. Factories are exploiting workers by engaging them in less formal ways in an effort to reduce risks and costs.
“Labour Behind the Label”, a garment worker solidarity group, in its latest report with Global Rights Compliance, a human rights law firm, revealed that workers earn less than the minimum wage. It said Pakistani factories used by major international brands, such as Boohoo, Adidas, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Puma, and Gap etc, are violating minimum-wage requirements and workers’ rights.
The report also highlighted health and safety concerns – a worker died but the doctor was told that working conditions should not be mentioned as the “cause of death”; the worker’s family was not even paid any compensation.
Workers Complain About Unsafe Workplace
A worker, who works in a factory supplying UK and European brands, said the workplace is not very safe. “Due to cotton dust and fumes, workers find it difficult to breathe. Overlock machines are particularly bad in this regard.” The report says that the shockingly poor health and safety checks risk a repeat of previous tragedies, like the Ali Enterprises disaster (September 2012), wherein a garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, burned down. Over 250 workers were killed. A private social auditing firm had certified the building as compliant with international labor standards just weeks before the disaster.
Garment factory workers are hit the hardest by inflation and rising costs of living. The report states that factories pay workers £68 a month which is below minimum wage, and nearly two-thirds of the workers are not being paid the agreed rate for overtime.
One worker said more workers are working at a piece rate than before. “There used to be 7,000 workers working in our factory, but now only 4,000 are working as salaried workers. The rest have been fired and most of these were rehired on a piece rate.”
Workers at the Bottom Paying the High Cost
Anna Bryher, Policy Lead for Labour Behind the Label, condemned the practice. “Why should the people at the bottom of the supply chains pay the cost? Children are being thrown into poverty and not sent to school because wages at these factories aren’t keeping pace with rising costs.”
But this isn’t the problem only in Pakistan. Bangladesh is also facing similar challenges. Workers cannot afford to buy eggs or meat because inflation outstrips their wage growth. Bryher said fashion brands make huge profits sourcing clothes from factories across Asia where families are being pushed into extreme poverty. “Brands must act to stop this exploitation and ensure the people who make their clothes are paid enough to live with dignity.”