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Berlin, Bonn. Unsafe workplaces, piece-rate contracts and starvation wages – almost 15 years after the devastating fire at the Pakistani textile factory Ali Enterprises, the German textile discounter KiK is still not fulfilling its responsibility to guarantee safe and fair working conditions in its supplier factories in Pakistan. At the time, when 260 people lost their lives in the fire, KiK was Ali Enterprises’ main client.

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Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) in Germany aim to strengthen corporate due diligence by addressing the negative impacts of corporate activities on foreign production sites and value chains of German industrial players. This discussion paper is now translated into English, French and Spanish and can be downloaded from the Website of the NGO 'Germanwatch'.

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© UN Women/Fahad Abdullah Kaizer via Flickr.

Guest post: This article was originally published on LSE International Blog on January 18, 2024. Author: Paulina Jerrentrup

PhD candidate Pauline Jerrentrup explores whether enforceable brand agreements are the solution to the exploitation of workers in supplier economies. 

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© FEMNET

The year 2023 has cruelly revealed the severe repression suffered by workers and trade unionists in Bangladesh. Four people were killed in protests in favour of a new minimum wage, activists were threatened and civil society was increasingly restricted. Statements from Western fashion brands have largely failed to materialise. What do these developments mean for the lives of women in the garment industry and what is the future of what is arguably Bangladesh's most important industry?

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Nasir Mansoor (NTUF), Zehra Khan (HBWWF) and Sina Marx (FEMNET) are protesting for the Supply Chain Law in front of the German Parliament in Berlin, Januar 2024. © FEMNET

© FEMNET

September 2012: 260 people burn to death in Pakistani textile factory

On 11 September 2012, 260 people were burned alive and more than 50 people were injured at the Ali Enterprises textile factory in Pakistan. Barred windows, defective fire extinguishers and emergency exits that led nowhere made the factory a deadly trap for the workers. Just three weeks before the fire, the certification company RINA had categorised the factory - which mainly produced for the German textile company KiK - as safe.

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links: Zehra Khan (Foto: Patricia Carney) | rechts: Nasir Mansoor (Foto: Sina Marx)

The German Supply Chain Act (LkSG), which came into force on 1 January 2023, obliges companies to ensure compliance with labour rights in their value chains. One year after the law came into force, members of the Pakistani trade unions NTUF and HBWWF will come to Germany to discuss which human rights are still not being implemented in the value chains of German companies.

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© NGWF

Fears are growing that ongoing wage negotiations for the Bangladesh garment industry could result in a new poverty wage of only about 89 euros per month (10,400 taka), based on an outrageous proposal put forward by employers* at the last meeting of the wage committee. Unions and labor rights organizations reject this brazen attempt to keep workers trapped in poverty. The low wage proposal is the result of the unwillingness of major fashion brands to actively support workers* in their struggle for decent wages.

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© FEMNET

Taslima Akhter

Over 40 lakh of the workers in our country's readymade garments sector are waiting for a welcome change. Whether that change will come and bring relief is still in question. On one side, we have the workers protesting for a minimum wage of Tk 25,000, and on the other, those in power are concocting ways to thwart this mission.

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© Nandita Shivakumar

Across the garment industry, a majority-women workforce labours in plants owned and managed by men. A new report sheds light on gender-based violence in textile factories in India’s southernmost region.

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© FEMNET

For the first time in five years, the Bangladeshi government has formed a Wage Board to revise the minimum wage for the country’s RMG sector which employs roughly 4 million workers. The current minimum wage of 8,000 taka (roughly 65 Euro) was already insufficient for a decent living when it came into force in 2019. Since then, workers had to endure the additional pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent high inflation without seeing their wages increase at all.

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FEMNET partner organisation investigates prevailing working conditions and wage practices in garment manufacturing, and designs a fairer wage structure.

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© CIVIDEP, India

In the Indian state of Karnataka, with its textile industry stronghold Bengaluru, drastic changes to an important labor law are about to be implemented. The so-called Factories Bill 2023, Karnataka Amendment replaces a previously applicable standard. Important labor law achievements such as the abolition of night shifts or the introduction of the 8-hour day are to be repealed. The amended law is intended to give suppliers more leeway to respond more flexibly to order situations. The labor rights organization Cividep expects a significant deterioration in working conditions for thousands of female employees.

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