Promoting Decent Work for a Sustainable Textile and Garment Industry in Pakistan

The ILO, the Government of the Netherlands and the International Finance Corporation, in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan, are working together to support international standards and practices in Pakistan’s textile and garment sector, by organizing the first Buyers’ Meeting in Islamabad.

Press release | Islamabad | 16 December 2014
ISLAMABAD (ILO News): The Government of the Netherlands, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan have joined efforts to uphold international standards and practices in Pakistan’s textile and garment sector by organizing the first Buyers’ Meeting in Islamabad from December 15th to 16th.

Pakistan is the 4th largest producer of cotton with the third largest spinning capacity in Asia after China and India, and contributes 5% to the global spinning capacity. After agriculture, the Garment and Textile industry continues to be the second largest employment generating sector for both skilled and unskilled labour in Pakistan allowing the country to be the 8th largest exporter of textile products in Asia. With the European Union (EU) approval of preferential access for Pakistani products to the EU market, under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), (effective since January 2014) there is a great opportunity for Pakistan to further increase their exports to the EU and meet the quality, environmental, labour and health & safety standards required.

The Buyers’ Meeting is an initiative supported by the Government of Pakistan and aligned with the common objective of improving productivity and compliance to all the requirements under the GSP Plus status. This meeting is the beginning of a process, which started in January 2014 and was agreed at a meeting in Washington DC in September 2014, that brings together buyers, brands, manufacturers, Government, workers and employers organizations, in order to create a platform for dialogue to improve their cooperation towards a sustainable growth of the sector improving competitiveness and compliance with international standards.

The event brought together a number of buyers and brands including GAP, Wal-Mart, Target, H&M, Adidas, Levi Strauss, Inditex, Primark, Li & Fung, El Corte Ingles, PVH, Hema, and C&A, who expressed their commitment to sustainable practices, improving compliance and reporting on environmental, labour and health & safety standards and their implementation in the textile and garment sector in Pakistan. The engagement of buyers, brands and all relevant stakeholders is paramount to build the path towards improved workers safety and better compliance with labour standards in Pakistan’s textile and garment industry, ensuring the sector remains attractive to international buyers.

“We recognize the significance of Pakistan’s garment and textile industry to the country’s economic growth, and the jobs it provides its people,” said Mr Pir Syed Sadaruddin Shah Rashidi, Federal Minister Overseas Pakistani and Human Resource Development representing the Government in his key note address. He continued and added that, while there are many challenges in Pakistan, “the step towards establishing a buyer’s forum will help in making significant progress towards ensuring decent working conditions in the sector”. He also mentioned that with the grant of the GSP Plus status to Pakistan, all the relevant government ministries and associated departments at the federal and provincial levels including Ministry of Overseas Pakistani and Human Resource Development, Ministry of Textile and Ministry of Commerce have come together to ensure concerted efforts for the implementation of Pakistan’s national and international obligations. He appreciated the EU, the Netherlands Government, ILO and other development partners for their commitment to provide technical assistance in improving compliance and reporting on GSP Plus.

Ambassador De Vink said: “The Netherlands is a free trade nation. But free trade is not free. It needs to be in compliance with labour standards, human rights and environmental standards. Labour conditions are very important to consumers and companies in Europe. The award of GSP Plus status is a great opportunity to increase trade and investment between Pakistan and Europe. Indeed, mindful of the business Pakistan could attract if it complies with international labour standards, the Netherlands is pleased to see the Pakistani government and the textile industry embrace a vision to further fulfil these conditions.

“We are grateful for the excellent cooperation with the government, ILO, IFC and all other stakeholders”. Ambassador continued, “The labour inspectorate has a key role to play in the implementation of the labour standards. The Netherlands is in discussion with ILO regarding financial support to a major project to improve labour conditions in Pakistan. Strengthening the capacity of the inspectorate, the role of employers and workers in the factories, and the role of global buyers is very important in this respect. Experiences in Bangladesh show that collaboration between public and private labour inspection can avoid duplication, bring a common inspection standard and promote transparency. With the right checks and balances in the global supply chain buyers, industry, government and civil society can work together in partnership and realize the positive effects of responsible trade.”

Mr Stefano Gatto, Chargé d’Affaires, Delegation of the European Union to Pakistan said: "Decent work and adherence to international labour rights and standards are of key importance in a modern economy and it is a high priority area for the European Union, both in our internal policies and in our cooperation with the rest of the world. With the granting of GSP Plus to Pakistan, which is conditional on progress in implementation of –- amongst others – a number of core ILO conventions, it will play an increasingly important role in our relations with Pakistan. We hope establishment of a Buyers Forum in Pakistan can foster a strong partnership between the Government, the private sector and the international community, which can help create tangible improvements in this area.

Mr Francesco d’Ovidio, Country Director ILO Office for Pakistan welcomed the participants and said, “The process of dialogue between the private and public sector is framed around the principles CSR in which labour standards and social dialogue are key aspects. Most CSR initiatives, including codes of conduct, refer to the principles enshrined in international labour standards, developed by Workers and Employers Organizations. In the context of the ongoing work and stakeholder engagement in the garments and textile sector, the ILO and its constituents seek to promote advocacy on the nexus between trade and employment and in particular compliance to ILS and this, is what the effort leading to the full benefit of GSP Plus status is all about.”

Mr Nadeem Siddiqui, Sr Country Manager IFC Pakistan a member of the World Bank Group, encouraged all participants to collaborate with this initiative and stated: “Employment in the textile and garment industry has reduced poverty for millions of workers specifically women across the region. IFC strongly supports a model where buyers and suppliers engage to improve working conditions strengthening the country’s ability to attract new markets and generate economic growth. We very much welcome the establishment of a Buyers’ Forum for Pakistan as a platform for collaboration between all actors to ensure a sustainable growth for the sector. ”

The presence of international and national buyers’ representatives showed their positive outlook and their commitment to enhance trade and social linkages with Pakistan.