A new plan has been launched to reinvigorate the labour inspection system in Pakistan

A new plan has been launched to reinvigorate the labour inspection system in Pakistan

Some of the largest international fashion brands sourcing from Pakistan – including H&M, Li & Fung, Gap India and C&A – have reaffirmed their commitment to improving labour and environmental practices in the country’s textile and clothing sector.

Representatives from 19 international brands last month took part in the third meeting of the Buyers’ Forum for the Textile sector, which was set up at the end of last year by the Netherlands Government, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The participants are working to share good practices on labour, environmental and social compliance so that Pakistan’s textile and clothing sector can remain competitive and attractive to international buyers.

They also discussed the findings of a project by Dutch NGO the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) to map compliance and existing good practices in the textile sector.

The study found that smaller local manufacturers across the textile value chain do not have compliance monitoring mechanisms in place. Ineffective labour inspection and the absence of building safety and fire codes are among other issues that prevent companies from maximising the potential of GSP+ preferential trade access to the European Union (EU).

Buyers have now agreed to set up a committee to work towards an action plan to tackle key issues including strengthening the labour inspection regime, issues of contractual employment, and supporting smaller manufacturers to improve compliance in line with international standards.

One immediate scheme to reinvigorate the labour inspection system in Pakistan will see the Dutch Government and the ILO train labour inspectors and introduce mechanisms to improve worker welfare.

"This is especially pertinent now that Pakistan’s GSP+ has greatly increased textile exports to the EU," explained Karel Hartogh, the acting ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. "European buyers are keen on compliance with international and national labour standards, which is also a crucial condition to maintain GSP+ status."

ILO country director Francesco d’Ovidio added that it is important for buyers to support local SMEs across the textile value chain, particularly those at the tail end, to strengthen their capacity to comply with international labour and environmental standards.

"The overall objective of this support system would be to increase productivity and ultimately competitiveness of textile goods produced in Pakistan in the multilateral trade system," d’Ovidio said.

He added that the ILO has conducted research that will provide policy and legal recommendations on minimum wages, implementation and working conditions in textiles sector.

Pakistan's apparel and textile exports reached $10.21bn in the nine months from July to March, with knitwear exports uo 7.5% year-on-year to $1.79bn, ND woven garment exports increasing 8.5% to $1.55bn.