Opening Remarks by Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific at the ILO-Sweden meeting on Promoting Decent Work in Garment Sector Supply Chains in Asia

Statement | Bangkok, Thailand | 03 October 2017
Good morning and warm welcome to you all to Thailand, known as the Land of Smiles!

I myself came here today with a smile as I am very happy that the ILO is able to provide a platform for a regional dialogue among key players and stakeholders on decent work in garment sector supply chains in Asia.  This is a wonderful mix of people with knowledge of and hands-on engagement in the Garment Sector in Asia. I thank each one of you for accepting the invitation and taking time to join us for this dialogue on the very important sector.

What comes to people’s mind when they hear the word, the garment sector? Its contribution to economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction across the region? Yes, its contribution is significant, indeed.

A crucial source of revenue for national governments to finance their own development policies and programmes? Yes, without any doubt.

How about an image of young female workers all sitting in front of sewing machines? Yes, women constitute a majority of the workforce in the garment sector.

How about decent work deficits? Unfortunately, yes - various and often serious decent work deficits have been widely reported – the issues related to wages, working hours, compulsory overtime and the increasing casualization of work, along with health and safety at work.

For female workers, additional issues need to be addressed – harassment at work, gender-based violence, insufficient access to provisions on reproductive health as well as inadequate representation and voice in the workplace.

The matters related to operation of enterprises in the sector go beyond decent work deficits in a traditional sense. The sector also has a significant impact on the environment, through for example, the use intensity of water resources, chemical use including toxic chemicals, waste water discharges and lack of treatment processes, and energy use and carbon intensity of electricity.

Workers and their families surrounding these facilities can be significantly impacted in terms of health, quality of life, and in many cases, secondary impacts on livelihoods from farming and fishing. Thus any consideration of the development of the garment sector, from a sustainable development perspective, must also promote cleaner and low-carbon production practices.

It is clear that when discussing the garment sector – its challenges and way forward – we are touching upon several Sustainable Development Goals: of course Goal 8 – Decent Work for All and Economic Growth, but also Goal 1 – No poverty, Goal 4 - Gender Equality, Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities, Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and production and Goal 17 – Global Partnerships among others.

Such a systematic and integrated approach is fully consistent with the sprit behind the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which puts people and planet at its centre and gives the international community the impetus it needs to work together, to tackle the formidable challenges confronting humanity, including those in the world of work.

In recognition of the importance, challenges and opportunities of global supply chains, in June 2016 the International Labour Conference debated for the first time how global supply chains can effectively contribute to decent work and sustainable development.

The conclusions of the June 2016 discussion recommend that the ILO develop a programme of action to address decent work in global supply chains through a comprehensive and coordinated framework, together with other actors and international fora.

In the garment sector, effort has been well under way.  The ILO has been implementing focused activities and interventions for the last 17 years. Its portfolio of activities in the garment sector has grown significantly.  In addition, there are many more industry initiatives being implemented by the social partners and by other stakeholders, some represented here today.

With so much going on, some may argue that we are overlapping in certain areas.  In some countries, we hear the expression such as the garment sector is “overcrowded” with initiatives and technical cooperation projects.  And yet there are some areas where we are absent and challenges remain untouched.

Whichever side you may be looking at, at this juncture, I expect that no one would disagree that there exists a very real opportunity and need for a more coordinated and concerted effort supported by a systematic approach that fosters greater collaboration, partnerships, shared learning and capacity building amongst all stakeholders involved in the sector.

As we shortly hear, the Government of Sweden has launched a regional strategy for Asia and the Pacific to contribute to strengthening the capacity of stakeholders to deal with challenges and opportunities in the areas of human rights, democracy and gender equality, and environment and climate change in a mutually reinforcing manner.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been invited to provide inputs into components of their strategy, particularly in relation to promotion of Decent Work in Garment Sector Supply Chains in Asia. In the presence of our own tripartite constituents and a group of highly regarded stakeholders representing buyers, business and union initiatives and alliances, this meeting is an opportunity for all of us to exchange views and information on how to address decent work deficits and governance gaps in the garment sector supply chains across Asia.

The meeting agenda has been designed to be highly participatory and its outputs will serve to inform possible future actions including the possibility of a regional project to address these deficits. In considering the possibility of the added-value of regional project, it is important to stress that in any such programme of work we must recognize that no one-size fits all. Governments have the duty to adopt, implement and enforce national laws and regulations, and to ensure that the fundamental principles and rights at work and ratified international labour Conventions are applied to all workers.

Ladies and gentlemen, I started by saying that Thailand is the Land of Smiles. In fact, the Thai language takes smiles really seriously. There are many words describing different types of smiles – 13 to be exact.
There is one used to describe a happy smile or a smile with joy. another for a polite smile, and for an admiration smile. Or a victory smile. There are also the words for the nervous and apologetic smile, for a sad smile and the smile of hopelessness.

You must have seen all these different types of smiles in the faces of garment sector workers in your engagement in the garment industry. Many of them – female workers. 
Can you take a moment to recall the faces of the garment sector workers you interact with? Are they smiling back to you? Are these happy smiles? Or sad smiles, or the smiles of hopelessness? 

Here is the platform where we can discuss and come up with measures to put an end to the smile of hopelessness in the garment industry. You are here because of the key roles you play in and for the garment industry.
Here is the platform where we can see the demonstration of your leadership – the leadership with courage which takes us to the area we have never been and break through to a new norm.  I truly look forward to witnessing such a courageous leadership during these two days.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge with sincere appreciation the support of the Government of Sweden and their trust in the ILO to facilitate this meeting.  Ambassador Herrstrom, I would be grateful if you could convey our gratitude back to your home country and the people of Sweden.  Thank you, Ambassador.

Ladies and gentlemen, now let us begin tackling the challenges head on.  I look forward to participating in the dialogue and receiving the outcomes of this meeting.

Thank you.