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GARMENT factories supplying some of the biggest names in fashion are using Covid-19 as an excuse to smash trade unions, a new report has revealed.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre found that more than 4,870 unionised garment workers had been dismissed by nine factories supplying nine major fashion brands including H&M, Primark and Levi Strauss & Co.
While major brands have blamed mass layoffs on falling sales due to coronavirus-related lockdowns, the centre found that “layoffs disproportionately target unionised workers and labour activists, suggesting that apparel factories are using the pandemic as a cover to attack workers’ freedom of association.”
“Discriminatory targeting of labour activists, dismissals and blacklisting are among the most common reprisals garment workers face for speaking up about violations of their rights, and [are] frequent tactics to stifle union organising and collective action,” it found.
Six of the brands claimed to respect trade union rights, the report says.
But despite claims that they were in dialogue with suppliers over cases of trade unionists being victimised, researchers said that most of these cases “remained unresolved months later.”
Such a gap between policy and practice is not unusual, Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke, who sits on the executive of IndustriALL Global Union, told the Morning Star.
“At times we find that major brands and employers simply ignore agreements we had reached with them,” he said.
Unite and IndustriALL were engaged in a massive campaign alongside local trade unions in Bangladesh and India to “raise awareness of abuses and a lack of action by brands” in countries where the clothes are bought, he said.
Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe, who has campaigned to end the exploitation of garment workers after abuses were uncovered in her city, told the Morning Star: “Our globally connected world should uplift the rights of all workers to the highest possible standards.
“Instead, as this report shows, a worldwide disaster-capitalist agenda is stripping workers of their rights and targeting collective action.
“The scandal of exploitation in Leicester’s garment industry demonstrates the need for much more worker protection — not union-busting by stealth.”
“Trade unions are the best line of defence against employee exploitation. Yet over the last decade, they have been under siege both abroad and in the UK.
“In order to protect vulnerable workers in Leicester, the government must reverse their anti-union approach and create an environment in which workplace protections take priority.”
Labour Behind the Label campaigns manager Meg Lewis said she was aware of a “much higher prevalence” of trade union leaders being sacked as garment factories lay off workers.
“It’s incredibly serious and will have a long-lasting impact on garment workers, preventing them from bargaining collectively over wages or even fighting for unpaid wages due to cancelled orders,” she said.
“We need to hold brands to account on upholding the human rights of supply chain workers.”
The report and case studies can be read here: mstar.link/3kdkZ0H.
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