In Asia, the small hands of the textile accuse their boss to “break the unions”

En Asie, les petites mains du textile accusent leur patron de «briser les syndicats»

BANGKOK, Thailand | Padma, little hand of the Indian textile, made during 10 years of clothes for major western brands. Dismissed, she accuses the boss of his factory has used the crisis of the sars coronavirus to get rid of it and “break” the union.

Thousands of workers-union members have been put at the door of a sweatshop in Asia since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the defence organizations of the workers who urge Zara, H&M and other western groups to react.

Every morning, Padma joined the manufactory, Euro Clothing Company II, in the heart of the State of Karnataka in south India. It sits near rows of sewing machines, in the judgment since the beginning of June, and remains of long hours sitting in silence to protest against his dismissal.

In total, 1,200 employees were dismissed. Among them, 900 of which were unionized.

“I’ve been sweating here for years for $ 4.6 per day,” complains the worker, the task of monitoring the finishing of jackets, t-shirts and pants before they are shipped, in the stores of the Swedish H&M.

His employer Gokaldas has more than 20 factories. But hers is the only one where the majority of workers were affiliated to a trade union.

“He wanted to close this unit for a long time and has served the coronavirus as an excuse”, she says.

The boss has “broken the union, under the pretext of a pandemic,” says Gautam Mody, general secretary, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), a plant which represents many workers ‘ organizations in India.

Requested by the AFP, Gokaldas has not made any comments.

H&M has, for its part, confirmed the closure of the unit and is said to be “in close dialogue with the trade unions (…) and the provider to help resolve the conflict peacefully”.

The Swedish giant is provided in four other facilities of Gokaldas, says the NTUI.

Billion gone up in smoke

The health crisis has shaken the global economy. Many western brands have cancelled billions of dollars of orders or demanded discounts from suppliers concentrated in China, India, Burma, Bangladesh or Cambodia.

Result, many employees in the textile, women from the rural areas for the most part, have been shown the door.

Orders will recommence shyly — the workshops of Dhaka are now operating at a little more than 50 % of their capacity, but the unionized workers remain in the sights of the patrons.

Nothing that in Bangladesh, the world’s second largest exporter of ready-to-wear, over 100,000 workers have lost their jobs, and “more than half” of them were involved in trade union organizations, according to Rafiqul Islam Sujon, president of the BGSSF (Bangladesh Garments and Shilpo Sramik Federation), a union specialized in the sector.

The repression against them is a recurring problem in the textile industry in Asia.

But it is carried out “large-scale” since the pandemic, denounces Jamie Davis of the organisation for the defence of workers, Solidarity Center.

In Burma, 298 unionized employees put at the door of a factory near Rangoon, have written to the founder of Zara, the Spanish Amancio Ortega, 6th in fortune’s world (55 billion euros, according to Forbes).

“A man of such wealth did certainly not need to take advantage of the global pandemic to break our unions,” argue they, begging him to intervene, in this letter, of which AFP has obtained a copy.

Marks “too timid”

But the big brands hide behind the codes of conduct drawn up, under international pressure, to govern the policies of their subcontractors.

“We prohibit explicitly any discrimination against workers ‘representatives”, stressed to AFP a spokesman of the group Inditex, owner of Zara.

“The current pandemic has not changed our commitment,” notes does one at the british Primark, another heavyweight in the sector. “All the workers have the right to join and form unions”.

To Scott Nova, executive director of the Consortium for workers ‘ rights, these declarations are “far too timid” on the part of brands all-powerful in the face to their suppliers.

The only solution, according to him, is “to break any collaboration if the violation continues, the majority of these layoffs being operated illegally”.

Laws to prevent the repression of trade unionists “exist in most countries, including in Cambodia, in Burma and in India, though they are unfortunately often not enforced”, he noted.


The unions are also worried for their positions. Oppose the layoffs may in fact lead to prison.

On 31 march, dozens of unionized workers, including a woman six months pregnant, are thanked for the factory of leather goods Superl in Cambodia — which produces handbags for brands like Michael Kors, Tory Burch, or Kate Spade.

Soy Sros, trade union representative, protested on Facebook. 48 hours later, she is accused of spreading false information and arrested.

After having spent 55 days behind bars, she is finally released under pressure, but remains charged.

In India, Padma continues to protest in his factory closed, dreaming of making his fight “an example” for the thousands of workers of the State of Karnataka, supplier of 20 % of the textile indian. His goal: that small hands are pursuing the trade union struggle “without fear of reprisal”.

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