Stop labor rights violations in the apparel sector of Sri Lanka and comply with ILO standards to protect US GSP

-Trade Union Confederation
(July 02, 2010, Colombo - Lanka Polity) The US government has accepted a petition to review the US GSP status enjoyed by Sri Lanka. The American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) filed the petition. Sri Lanka is now at the brink of losing both EU and US GSP regimes. The Republic of Maldives lost its US GSP due to such complaints at the beginning of this millennium.

The TUC wishes to state that the US GSP complaint accepted this week by the US government is a direct result of poor labour conditions and non-compliance with international labour standards of the ILO especially by the apparel sector employers and the government of Sri Lanka. It draws attention to poor enforcement of labour laws in Export Processing Zones and the apparel sector, restrictions to form union federations consisting of public-private sectors, etc..

The AFL-CIO submitted the complaint to the US government as all efforts of local unions to address issues with Sri Lankan labour authorities failed despite repeated attempts. The complaint could have been avoided if local labour authorities discharged their duties effectively and impartially.

The AFL-CIO complaint is inundated with solid and verifiable evidence relating to a plethora of violations of labour standards i.e. restrictions on freedom of association and collective bargaining, anti-union discrimination, sever exploitation, non enforcement of labour laws impartially etc.. in the Sri Lankan apparel sector.

It is no more possible to sweep these issues under the carpet or cover them with expensive fake PR campaigns such as “garments without guilt”. The pathetic labour situation in the apparel sector is now an open secret. All cases against Sri Lanka, of the last two decades before the ILO quasijudicial body based in Geneva, are exclusively on the Sri Lankan apparel sector or involving apparel sector organisations. These international body findings have exposed the violations of rights and exploitations in the apparel industry. It is shocking to note that some of Sri Lanka’s top apparel exporting companies stand accused of serious workers’ rights violations in the complaint.

The complaint exposes the duplicity of these apparel conglomerates. A key factor raised in the AFL-CIO complaint is Sri Lanka’s non-compliance with the recommendations of the ILO quasi-judicial body’s decision on the restriction of the right to strike.

This issue was sparked before the Geneva based ILO body due to irresponsible actions of an apparel sector organisation in 2006. The ILO held the joint apparel body’s court intervention was a violation of international labour standards. These developments cast serious doubts on the fake “garments without guilt” campaign.


The TUC notes, the US government prior to accepting the AFL-CIO complaint held extensive highlevel
consultations with government representatives, trade unions and apparel sector employer organisations over the last 18 months. Therefore, the decision to conduct the review is not ad hoc.

It’s based on credible and verifiable evidence presented.

The TUC considers that the time has now come for all stakeholders in the labour sector to accept facts as they are and engage them with a view to positively improve realistic ground situations. The TUC strongly urges all apparel sector employers to recognise trade unions, stop anti-union discriminations and respect ILO principles on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.

The TUC strongly believes that as a nation we can overcome the challenge of the AFL-CIO petition only if employers, trade unions and the government are committed to work together and present a joint position before the US authorities. There ought to be a constructive dialogue on the issues raised in the petition among the relevant stakeholders and consensus needs to be reached with a view to making positive and progressive changes in the workers’ rights situation. The TUC is willing to support Sri Lanka’s position in such an event before the US government.

The TUC hopes the government will accept the support offered by it to overcome the current situation arising from the US GSP review. Therefore, the TUC urges the government to begin immediately a genuine and constructive process of engagement of relevant issues in order to put things in order and save the US GSP.

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