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August 10, 2022

Global apparel industry issues call to action on Sri Lanka’s economic crisis

Apparel industry organisations are mobilising worldwide to express their support for Sri Lanka’s garment industry, and its workers, during the country's ongoing economic crisis.

By Beth Wright

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) sent a letter on behalf of buyers to its counterpart association in Sri Lanka, the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), to reiterate the US apparel and footwear industry’s strong support for the Sri Lankan garment industry during what it calls this time of crisis and transition.

In the letter, AAFA president and CEO Steve Lamar says the organisation applauds JAAF and its members for its “relentless efforts” to keep workers employed, safe, and healthy amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

“Your continued work has kept the industry moving forward, preserved jobs in Sri Lanka’s garment industry, and supported the Sri Lankan economy through these extremely difficult times.”

Lamar adds the AAFA recognises any significant changes in sourcing during this time could have a major impact on Sri Lanka’s garment industry, the hundreds of thousands of workers the industry employs, their families, and the Sri Lankan economy. Therefore, he says the organisation commits to being cognisant and mindful of the current situation, and the industry’s ongoing commitment to consider the impact on workers, in any sourcing decisions.

“As part of those efforts, we also commit to maintaining regular communications with our partners in Sri Lanka,” he notes, adding the AAFA will work with its suppliers to ensure all payments are made in a timely matter and that all workers are treated in accordance with the law.

Meanwhile, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Fair Wear Foundation, Fair Labor Association and British Retail Consortium have signed a joint call to action, encouraging companies sourcing from Sri Lanka to take specific steps to support workers, suppliers, and the sector at large, during this difficult period.

The ETI says it has been engaging with economists, industry associations, worker representatives, and member companies operating in Sri Lanka, to better understand implications on workers and the industry at large. These meetings have helped to present a clearer picture of the current crisis and steps stakeholders are taking to alleviate risks to workers and suppliers, it says.

To facilitate a collective response, ETI convened a meeting for all companies sourcing from Sri Lanka to engage with the JAAF. ETI, Fair Wear Foundation, Fair Labor Association and British Retail Consortium reached out to their own members and partners with supply chains in the country.

The group is calling for greater support from business and the international community to aid Sri Lanka amid the current economic crisis.

Specifically, it wants to encourage companies sourcing from Sri Lanka to take the following actions:

• Ensure there is a clear understanding of the risk to workers in the current situation.
• Maintain regular communications with your suppliers to understand their current situation and ensure timely payment of orders.
• Avoid cancellation of orders and assure suppliers of business continuity for the time being.
• Ensure all pending wages and severance payments are paid to all employees and workers.
• Review negotiated prices and ensure future price negotiations include the increase in costs for energy, other raw materials and labour exposed to inflation.
• Engage with unions and suppliers to explore innovative remedial solutions to support workers.
• Work collaboratively to consider other actions to improve respect for human rights in the context of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.

“Sri Lanka plays an important role supplying global apparel brands and retailers. It is crucial businesses support the country’s apparel industry during this difficult time, to keep workers and their families afloat and the Sri Lankan economy in motion, amid the current crisis,” says Peter McAllister, executive director at Ethical Trading Initiative.

Click here for Just Style’s timeline exploring how the economic crisis has impacted the country’s apparel sector so far.

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