Social and labour standards in the textile and garment sector in Asia
Title: Social and labour standards in the textile and garment sector in Asia
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Asia; in particular Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Myanmar and Pakistan
Overall term: 2015 to 2019
From cotton fields in Africa to textile factories in Asia and then onto clothes hangers in Europe – globalisation in the garment sector makes it possible to meet the constant demand for new fashion. The sector’s steady growth is due largely to countries in South and South-East Asia where production is cheap and fast.
This boom benefits Asian countries in that it creates jobs and brings in foreign currency. However, the economic success has not led to widespread improvement in the living conditions of the millions of people who work in the factories. The main factors behind this imbalance include the intense competitive pressure in the sector and the fear that adhering to labour and social standards will result in additional costs that then limit competitiveness.
On the other hand, there is increasing awareness of the importance of labour and social standards, due not only to the social pressure exerted by consumers and international buyers, but also to a growing confidence among workers to assert their rights.
Visible progress is being made in the field of compliance with social and labour standards in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan, but the industry still faces some major challenges. Competition between these countries’ textile sectors pushes down prices, which in turn increases the risk of poor working conditions. The fact that many investors from China do not pay sufficient attention to social and labour standards in factories outside their own country also has negative consequences.
Social and labour standards in the Asian textile and garment sector are improved.
The programme is actively involved in the development of the Asian textile sector. It works with factory employees and management, and within and across borders to kick-start and facilitate exchange of experiences and knowledge and to promote cooperation. The experts involved in the project cooperate with all interest groups, ranging from ministries, business associations and factories, to international buyers, NGOs and trade unions. The programme also jointly implements activities at regional level with the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Chinese investors have considerable influence in countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar because many factories are under Chinese ownership. The project experts therefore collaborate with the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC) and with Chinese factory managers in the partner countries. Their aim is to develop solutions for improving standards in line with national legislation.
- Better working conditions in the factories: Training to improve communication between management and staff representatives was held in around 60 factories in Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan where more than 20,000 workers are employed. Some of the courses are run by the consulting firm Sustainability Agents SUSA. This interaction enables workers to devise ways of improving working conditions that are jointly implemented and accepted by all. For example, factories have improved ventilation in the production areas and ensured that sanitation facilities are kept clean. Other issues included payments in the event of absence due to illness and timely payment of wages.
- Rights for women workers. Every Sunday, between 40 and 200 women visit one of the two Sunday cafés in Myanmar set up by the development organisation sequa gGmbH. This gives seamstresses an opportunity to meet and exchange views outside the workplace. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has introduced legal advice in the Sunday cafés for women in conflict situations. Experience gained with similar cafés in Bangladesh shows that higher levels of awareness and confidence among seamstresses in the factories reduce the likelihood of conflict escalation. Some 200 women were informed about the key aspects of Myanmar labour law and had the opportunity to discuss their questions. In addition, they talked about how to deal with specific conflicts in one-on-one consultations.
- Mobile app for information and knowledge: The Shwe Job app was released in cooperation with sequa gGmbH to provide workers in Myanmar with information on labour law and occupational health and safety. More than 5,500 employees have already used the app. Ten manufacturers have introduced it at their factories to deliver targeted information aimed at promoting better compliance with labour and social standards.
- Improved political conditions: The programme supports government institutions in complying with sustainability standards, for example through more effective labour inspections. The code of practice for labour inspectors in Cambodia has been revised and published. In addition, 150 labour inspectors have been trained. Both measures are helping to make inspections in Cambodia more effective and transparent.
- Learning from others’ experience: GIZ has established a regional network of women’s NGOs. At conferences attended by some 80 representatives from Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar, as well as during a joint study trip, the women discussed issues such as how to ensure the sustainability of women’s cafés by making them financially independent through additional offerings and income.
- Networking across borders: The first inter-Asian network of producer associations allows participants from Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan to come together and find solutions to shared challenges. The members have established a virtual information and knowledge platform, which provides content including examples of workplace health, women’s promotion, and waste management.