The Port of Toamasina is the main gateway for $360m worth of textile products exported to Europe

The Port of Toamasina is the main gateway for $360m worth of textile products exported to Europe

Marks and Spencer, Next, and Men's Warehouse UK, are among a raft of brands that have joined a call to help end the exploitation of Madagascan dockworkers.

Around 43 workers were fired earlier this year after making demands for better working conditions, according to The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). The union says casual dock workers are carrying out their duties without safety equipment, and "struggle to make ends meet" on their wages. The Government of Madagascar is now facing an International Labour Organization (ILO) complaint over the dispute for failing to enforce a decision by the Supreme Court to reinstate the workers.

Madagascar dock worker talks aim for resolution

In the latest move aimed at trying to end the "exploitation" of the workers, and following a request from the ITF, the Ethical Trading Initiative has written a letter to the government raising its concerns about the workers' unfair dismissal.

Written on behalf of Next, M&S, Men's Warehouse UK, and Skins, all of which source goods from Madagascar, the ETI confirmed that its members want to continue sourcing from Madagascar but equally have to consider obligations to comply with international standards.

"In the letter to the government, we confirmed that our members wanted to continue sourcing from Madagascar but equally had to consider obligations to comply with international standards," says category leader of apparel and textiles at ETI, Martin Buttle. "With the full support of our members, we therefore asked that the government of Madagascar take steps to enforce its labour laws, ensure that the 43 dock workers were reinstated and allow the union to organise at the port."

Buttle says there is concern that action against legitimate union activity would deter investor confidence in Madagascar as a future sourcing market.

The garment industry is the largest employer of workers in the formal economy in Madagascar, employing 30% of the formal workforce. And the ICTSI operated Port of Toamasina is the main gateway for $360m worth of textile products exported to Europe, $100m to South Africa, and $60m to the US.

"ETI and our members recognise just how important a thriving industrial sector is to the Madagascan economy and as a source of decent work for Madagascans. As we have written before, investors increasingly expect stronger links between business and the human rights agenda," the ETI said in its letter.

Paddy Crumlin, president of the ITF welcomed the news the ETI member brands have joined the campaign.

"These major international brands join Levi's and Esprit in demonstrating leadership and recognising that the transport workers, who move their clothing from the factory to stores around the world, deserve to be treated fairly. ITF challenged global brands sourcing from Madagascar to step up and support the rights of dockworkers at the Port of Toamasina, and the response has been positive."

Crumlin says the ITF is looking to the Government of Madagascar to show leadership, and step in to defend the workers' basic human rights against ICTSI's "aggressive" campaign to drive down their wages and conditions.