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February 20, 2019

Pakistan trade body rejects factory worker abuse claims

By Hannah Abdulla

The Pakistan Readymade Garments Exporters Association (PRGMEA) has rejected a Human Rights Watch report claiming labour abuse in the country’s garment factories is rife, adding it “totally disagrees” with the findings.

The report ‘No Room to Bargain: Unfair and Abusive Labor Practices in Pakistan,’ which was published at the end of January, alleged the Pakistani government is failing to enforce laws that could protect millions of garment workers from serious labour rights abuses and documented a range of violations in the country’s clothing factories. 

The report interviewed more than 140 people including 118 garment workers from 24 factories in Pakistan, as well as union leaders, government representatives, and labour rights advocates between June 2017 to December 2018.

But chief coordinator of the PRGMEA, Ijaz Khokhar, told just-style today (20 February) the report made generalised statements based on a small number of factories sampled, primarily located in the Sindh province and which supply goods domestically.

“The vast majority of textile and garment factories are based in Lahore, Sialkot and Faisalabad. These factories were not surveyed. Only the smaller factories that supply local businesses were surveyed. We have no control over these, there are hundreds of them in the unorganised sector and they are not PRGMEA member factories.”

He added that the PRGMEA – whose member factories make up the “organised sector” – was neither consulted on the survey nor was it given feedback on the results or an opportunity to comment on them.

“The survey should at least have consulted with stakeholders [PRGMEA]. We are very supportive and would welcome any international organisation to come and check our factories. We work with the International Labour Organization to protect the rights of garment workers. We have no intention to engage in slave labour, we are compliant with minimum wages and we pay double overtime. We also do not have any under 18s working in our member factories.

“Surveys like this create the wrong image of the Pakistan garment industry,” he said.

When asked whether there had been any fallout of the report with regard to international buyers, Khokhar said there hadn’t and assured PRGMEA member companies are frequently audited by international compliance bodies like WRAP, REACH, SEDEX, SA-8000 and BCSI.

“Our customers visit twice a year and are very satisfied with the findings. There is nothing for us to worry about. We invite international bodies to come and check. No buyers have shown any concern so far. They are confident in the organised sector which is fully compliant.”

According to the re:source by just-style strategic sourcing tool, textiles and apparel contribute nearly 70% to Pakistan’s total export earnings. 

In the last fiscal year to June 2018, ready-made garment exports rose 11.2% to US$2.58bn, while textile exports climbed 8.7% to $13.53bn, according the data of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

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