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Rights groups to move court for inquiry into non-payment of workers’ wages

By Our Correspondent
October 21, 2021

Leading human rights and labour support organisations, including the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and National Trade Union Federation, have announced they will file a public interest litigation in the Sindh High Court on Thursday (today), demanding an inquiry into the non-payment of workers’ wages by 23 garment-exporting factories in Karachi during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rights groups are also demanding that the brands sourcing from these factories be held legally liable as “joint employers” for the wage theft of workers under Pakistan’s laws, and that the exploitative purchasing practices of these brands, which is the basis of such wage theft, should be deemed illegal and unconstitutional.

As per a study conducted by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), 139,200 workers in these 23 factories suffered wage theft of approximately $54,660,525 in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the global fashion brands and retailers sourcing from these factories cancelled orders or demanded retroactive price reductions, for goods which were already in production.

According to the AFWA’s research, 81per cent of garment workers fell below the poverty line between March and May 2020, and household debt increased by around 113 per cent during the same period. All workers surveyed at the AFWA experienced employment shocks either in the form of layoffs or terminations, and workers with an average five years of work experience did not have enough savings to tide over even a one-month layoff period, without reducing consumption, incurring debt or selling assets.

“Garment supply chains are unregulated and extremely asymmetrical with brands being the most powerful actors. Brands control consumer markets in the developed economies, where they sell garments at high prices,” the labour groups said. “At the same time, they control labour markets in developing economies or production countries where they push down labour costs through wage theft. Brands falsely project themselves as ‘buyers’ rather than as employers of workers in their supply chains, creating intense competition among suppliers and governments to push down labour costs to retain the businesses of the brand.”