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 2018
From the cotton field in Africa via the textile factory in Asia to the clothes hanger in Europe – globalisation in the garment sector enables the industry to meet the constant demand for new fashion. The sector’s constant growth is made possible by the cheap and fast production capacities of countries in South and South-East Asia.
This boom benefits Asian countries in that it creates jobs and brings in foreign currency. However, this 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 massive 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 increased awareness of the importance of labour and social standards, due not only to consumers and international buyers exerting social pressure, but also to increased numbers of confident workers assertively claiming 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 labour conditions. A further negative factor is that many investors from China do not pay sufficient attention to social and labour standards in factories outside their own country.
Public and private actors in the Asian textile and garment sector improve their social and labour standards. Employees, employers and state organisations pilot mechanisms and processes that help to improve sustainability standards.
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.
Programme agreements are in place with the governments of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan. Contact with the sector itself is mainly via business associations.
In China, the programme has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC). To ensure that workers’ interests are given sufficient consideration, workers or their representative bodies are involved in planning and implementing measures alongside the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. At regional level the programme cooperates closely with the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The programme builds on GIZ’s experience of labour and social standards in the textile sector in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The lessons learned here are being applied to Cambodia and Myanmar. China is involved in the programme as an investor and because of its experience of putting social and labour standards in place.
Training workers in factories. Over 20,000 workers across more than 25 factories in Pakistan and Cambodia have attended training courses on communication between management and staff. This interaction enables workers to devise ways of improving working conditions that are jointly implemented and accepted by all.
Promoting labour inspections. The code of practice for labour inspections in Cambodia has been revised. The government is running a media campaign to highlight the importance of effective and transparent inspections in textile factories.
Building networks. In Pakistan, decision-makers from industry, politics, society and academia meet in the newly formed Garment Sector Stakeholder Forum to jointly come up with ideas for ways of taking the textile and garment industry forward in terms of sustainable production.
Working across borders. At the first Inter-Asian Business Association Network, participants from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Myanmar and Pakistan sit around a table together to devise solutions to mutual challenges.
Utilising lessons learned. A Sunday café has been set up for female textile workers in Myanmar based on the format of the women’s cafés in Bangladesh. Here, women are informed about their rights and given support in asserting these rights in their factories.