November 2, 2007

'Stick with India in Spite of Child Slave Scandals’ Buyers Urged

Global brands and retailers sourcing production in India were warned today not to cut and run from existing suppliers or from India but to work with producers and the authorities to build a culture of compliance with national and international legal standards. Quitting errant suppliers without attempting to bring them into compliance would rightly invite condemnation.

Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the global trade union for the sector, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation said the news today that a further 76 child slaves have been rescued from Delhi's embroidery dens is the latest in a series of child labour scandals rocking India's garment industry this week, putting in doubt its future and challenging the key brands and retailers who source there to find fool-proof ways to protect their reputations.

Said Mr. Kearney, "Some brands and retailers may be tempted to quit. But cutting and running is no solution. Their next supplier is likely to be no better than the last. And there is only so far a retailer can run. Eventually they will meet a wall and the problem will still be there. Better to stick with the suppliers they know and help mould them into providing decent work for those they employ.

"Gap this week found themselves in the eye of the storm over child labour in their Indian supply chain", said Mr. Kearney. "But, the name Gap could have been supplanted by hundreds of other brands and retailers sourcing from suppliers who use sub-contractors in more than two dozen countries. All are vulnerable to seedy behaviour down the supply chain. Protecting themselves and those who produce their merchandise isn't easy but a few simple purchasing rules can lessen the risks.

"Firstly source from suppliers direct. Avoid the use of agents or merchandisers or the host of other names used by the hucksters who leech off the garment industry.

"Secondly, insist that production is conducted in-house without the use of sub-contractors. Only in exceptional circumstances should sub-contracting be permitted and then only after each specific sub-contractor has been approved.

"Thirdly, if the approved sub-contractor involves homeworking this should be conducted in specialised local or community centres properly supervised and with each worker properly registered. In India, the Self Employed Women's Association, a growing trade union for homeworkers, is well placed to provide such supervision through the organisation of the workers involved.

"Fourthly, given the debate over the need for monitoring of workplace conditions it needs to be recognised that such monitoring from an external position is nearly impossible and is best done internally through a mature system of industrial relations in each workplace. Here representatives of management and workers take responsibility for overseeing working condition in a continuous manner, hour by hour, week by week, dealing with problems as they arise and usually anticipating issues of contention and dealing with them before they become problems.

"Fifthly, such a system operates best where the workforce is unionised. Thus, if brands and retailers really want to ensure decent work and avoid child labour and other exploitative practices in their supply chains they should do business only with unionised workplaces.

"Finally, just seeking reputation protection through codes of conduct is no substitute for decent work. Brands and retailers need to be more committed to their sources of supply. They need to publicly commit to remaining in countries where they are currently sourcing and to sticking with individual suppliers even when they fall short on working practices as Gap have done in India this week. In such circumstances they need to work with the supplier to help bring them quickly to compliance and only cut orders when the supplier refuses to change. In such extreme cases orders should be switched to other local suppliers willing to provide decent work", concluded Mr. Kearney.

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation is a global union federation bringing together 220 affiliated organisations in 110 countries with a combined membership of 10 million workers.

ITGLWF Secretariat at tel: 32/02/511.26.06, fax: 32/02/511.09.04 or
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