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ILO Meeting Targets Sweatshops in Footwear, Textiles and Clothing; Adopts Resolution on Child Labour


Press release | 01 November 1996


GENEVA (ILO News) - A Tripartite meeting on the effects of globalization of the textile, clothing and footwear industries (TCF) cited the emergence of "sweatshops" and of occupational health problems in some countries as a "cause for concern" and warned that globalization in the sector may not prove sustainable if it is not accompanied by social justice.

They concluded that "the fight against clandestine work should be intensified" in the TCF sector. They noted that "efficient tripartite coordination at national and international levels of the action against the so-called "sweatshops" can reduce the pressure on wages and general working conditions resulting from unfair competition created by enterprises which do not comply with fiscal and legal obligations, which exploit workers and disrupt markets."

The delegates, representing employers, workers and governments from over 30 nations, concluded that dramatic evolution in the sector during the last two decades "has brought about a new distribution of production and employment worldwide with job losses and somewhat insecure jobs being created in both developed and developing countries." However, "the overall effect on the level of worldwide employment has been positive."

The conclusions said that "In an environment characterised by relatively stagnant demand and stronger competition among manufacturers, retailers and countries, TCF enterprises need to adapt in order to survive. This requires more flexibility than previously in the operations of enterprises."

They urged that "steady growth and long-term competitiveness of the TCF enterprises should go hand in hand with social progress" and require "sound industrial relations and well-functioning tripartite and/or bipartite systems for consultation."

The delegates also concluded that in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) "special attention should be given to the establishment of economic linkages with the rest of the economy and respect of basic human rights at work so as to avoid an "enclave" type of expansion." They urged that EPZs "be covered by national labour legislation and the core ILO standards," and that "tripartite advisory committees on industrial relations should be established" in existing EPZs.

They said that "employers' and workers' organizations should cooperate with a view to reducing non-wage labour costs without having a negative impact on wages and benefits," by, for example, introducing modern safety and health management programmes to limit occupational injuries, diseases and the associated costs these produce.

The delegates also concluded that "a precondition for ensuring respect for basic human and worker rights and to maintain and improve the quality of working conditions is to make sure, in all countries, that all labour laws which enterprises are legally required to respect are enforced and that compulsory education laws exist and are implemented."

A separate Resolution adopted by delegates to the meeting called upon ILO member States to "ratify and fully implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973, (No. 138), the Forced Labour Convention, (1930 (No. 29), and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105), as a matter of priority."

It urged the ILO member States to "call on all employers, employers' organizations, merchandisers and retailers of footwear, textile and clothing products ... to develop policies and adopt voluntary guidelines that aim to eliminate the use of child labour in the manufacturing, directly or indirectly, marketing or retailing of their products."

Another resolution urged ILO "to ensure that the footwear, textile and clothing industries continue to receive adequate attention and the resources necessary to enhance the levels of technical cooperation and research."

The meeting was organised by the ILO's Sectoral Activities Department and met in Geneva from 28 October to 1 November. The ILO, founded in 1919 to advance the cause of social justice in the workplace, counts 174 member States.