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December 6, 2021

US brands voice concerns over welfare of Sri Lanka workers

US apparel and footwear brands and retailers represented by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) have voiced their concerns over the welfare of factory workers in Sri Lanka, urging the country’s apparel trade body to ensure worker rights and freedom of association are not limited.

By Hannah Abdulla

in a letter to the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), which represents workers in Sri Lanka, the AAFA reiterates its continued commitment to ensuring workers in its supply chains are safe and treated in an ethical and humane manner and that suppliers comply fully with local labour laws and freedom of association principles.

The letter comes following allegations from international labour groups that freedom of association rights have been terminated – claims JAAF strongly refuted when it spoke to Just Style last week. 

“Recently, international labour groups have alleged termination and freedom of association issues in Sri Lanka. These allegations have created uncertainty for brands,” AAFA said in its letter. “While we are not aware of the veracity of these allegations, we trust you will treat them seriously, make sure they are fully committed, and use this as an opportunity to reconfirm your social responsibility leadership.

“As with your members, our members incorporate the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core labour standards, the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Guidance on Responsible Business Conduct into their own standards, principles, and social responsibility programs. Further, our members partner with their suppliers and implement internal policies to ensure we achieve these standards and principles.

“As such, AAFA and its members are committed to ensuring adherence by our suppliers to the labour laws in the countries from which we source.”

The letter adds AAFA and its members are committed to ensuring the protection of associational rights and collective bargaining as outlined in ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

“Working together and in partnership with our suppliers, your members, we have and continue to safeguard workers in our supply chains and grow our important partnership with Sri Lanka.”

Last week, The Solidarity Center published a report together with IndustriAll which claimed employer opposition and harassment has limited workers’ ability to form unions and address workplace rights violations such as increased workloads and work hours, layoffs and temporary termination.

JAAF issued a detailed response to Just Style in which it said allegations of union-busting in factories were absolutely false, adding that factories were regularly audited by independent bodies.

It also criticised the report’s methodology adding: “ “The industry provides employment to around 350,000 apparel workers, while indirectly creating livelihood for an additional 700,000 within the country. The sample size of this survey is not representative of even 0.04 % of the entire direct labour force, and as such, its findings cannot be considered as being representative of the entire industry.”

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