In Pakistan, unions and corporations pledge to work together to guarantee safety of garment workers

After years of campaigning, the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry is likely to improve the safety and welfare of workers in Pakistan

December 20, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Garment workers Pakistan
(Photo: CleanClothes)

After almost a decade-long campaign by workers and global unions, multi-national garment brands in Pakistan have finally announced their acceptance of a Workplace Health and Safety Programme (WSP) for garment workers in Pakistan this December. The announcement was made during a signatory brand caucus meeting in Amsterdam on December 14.

Brands will be sent an information package on the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry to be formally signed on January 16. (The full text of the Accord can be accessed here.)

This move will work to establish a comprehensive pro-worker program in Pakistan’s textile industry, which comprises an estimated 2.2 million workers. The industry is particularly important in Sindh and Punjab provinces, with garment exports worth $20 billion annually.  

“With the Pakistan Accord, we will improve safety and save lives and increase our reach from the garment sector to home textiles and accessories. International retailers and brands that source from Pakistan that want to be committed to safety should sign up and take responsibility for the workers in their supply chains,” UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman said in a statement.

Garment and textile workers in Pakistan have labored in hazardous conditions for years, and, despite tragedies such as the Ali Enterprises factory fire in Karachi in 2012, little has changed in the industry. Local consultations and signatory surveys found that most factories in the country operate without the oversight of regulatory bodies and workers have little or no access to redressal mechanisms

“If enough brands sign, workers will not have to fear for their lives when going to work and will know who to appeal to when their factory is unsafe. The strength of the Accord is in the fact that unions have equal power to corporations in its decision-making,” Nasir Mansoor, general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan, said in a statement released by the Worker Rights Consortium.

Building on the work done in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashion disasters, the Accord is a legally-binding agreement between global unions and garment brands and retailers for an initial term of three years, starting in 2023. It will cover workplace inspections, industrial accidents, and safety and awareness training for workers, including on gender-based violence. 

The Accord will be implemented in phases, and at its outset will cover the operations of more than 500 factories. Activists hope that the program will eventually encompass thousands of industrial concerns across Pakistan.

“Pakistani garment workers will now face a safer future in their workplaces—preventable deaths and accidents will rapidly decrease as the programme is implemented, workers will receive training on occupational health and safety, which will empower them and hopefully they will see the benefit of joining a trade union to fight collectively for their rights,” explained Atle Høie, general secretary, IndustriALL Global Union.