By Minerwa TahirSome people thought a small victory that has perhaps never been seen before had been achieved as Khaadi entered into an agreement with National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) on Monday, promising that labour laws will be implemented at all their production units. However, confusion prevails over the interpretation of the agreement.Speaking to Samaa, Khaadi says it is the vendors alone who can ensure implementation of labour laws at production units while Khaadi can only intervene to convince them for the purpose. “The workers were hired on third party contracts,” said M Usman, the head of marketing department at Khaadi. According to him, the workers are hired by vendors such as TexMark while Khaadi, a retail company, buys products from these manufacturing companies. Khaadi was asked to share names of the various vendors that they buy their products from. The request was declined as Usman maintained that this was ‘confidential’ information.NTUF Secretary-General Nasir Mansoor was irked by this mention of third party contracts. “This shows their mala fide intentions,” he said. “If they were not Khaadi’s workers, they should not have entered into an agreement with us. We should have had the agreement with TexMark instead.”Mansoor and the factory workers assert that Khaadi is the employer. “Unfortunately, the workers have been working without any appointment letters and have no documented proof of hiring,” says Mansoor. “But if these workers are not Khaadi’s just because they have no proof, then by that logic they are not the workers of TexMark or any other company either.”What does the law say? In the 2011 Fauji Fertiliser Company case, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the employees, saying that they were employees of the company, not the contractor. The judgment says: “The definition of ‘worker’ provided in section 2 (xxviii) provides that worker and workman means any person not falling within the definition of employer who is employed in an establishment or industry for hire or reward either directly or through a contractor whether the terms of employment be express or implied. As per this definition, the phrase ‘directly or through a contractor’ means employees of an employer whether they are directly recruited or recruited through a contractor. The word ‘establishment’ has been defined in section 2(ix) to mean any office, firm, industrial unit, undertaking, shop or premises in which workmen are employed for the purpose of carrying on any industry.”The ruling further adds: “‘Worker’ means a person employed directly or through an agency whether for wages or not, in any manufacturing process, or in cleaning any part of the machinery or premises used for a manufacturing process, or in any other kind of work whatsoever, incidental to connect with the subject of the manufacturing process.”Mansoor refers to this judgment to prove that the factory workers belong to Khaadi.Meanwhile, National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) was approached by 32 factory workers who had alleged that Khaadi had been threatening to dismiss them from their jobs. Mansoor says that on April 20, 2017, Khaadi’s lawyer, Muhammad Rafiq Malik, and its deputy general manager, Irfan Dalia, submitted a statement before the NIRC stating that ‘the respondent company [Khaadi] has no intention to dismiss or threaten the petitioners’. “How can you have or not have an intention to dismiss a worker if they weren’t employed by you?” asks Mansoor. According to Mansoor, Dalia was the person who signed the agreement as Khaadi’s representative on June 5. NTUF made the agreement public during a press conference on July 6. The agreement says that Khaadi will improve labour laws’ implementation at the ‘production units where only its merchandise is made’. Unfortunately, Khaadi is not willing to even name these manufacturing companies that provide merchandise to Khaadi alone.Will Khaadi stop buying products from the vendors if they violate the terms agreed between Khaadi and NTUF? Responding to this question, Khaadi’s public relations officer replied: “Khaadi and its vendors will take every care to ensure that all applicable laws are abided by, that all employees are well looked after, and that the highest possible care is taken to ensure quality of all products. However as with any fast-growing business, there is always room for improvement. The important thing is that we are open to constructive criticism should we be found wanting in any respect, and we fully appreciate that our future growth is deeply dependent on our readiness to bring about improvement and to better ourselves wherever there is a gap.”When contacted, TexMark CEO Imran Shiwani said that when Khaadi has given in writing that workers will be taken care of, why the manufacturing company should provide any assurances. “Is it not enough that Khaadi has signed the agreement?” he said while speaking to Samaa. When asked if the complaints of the workers about exploitation at production units were true, he said that the questions should be emailed to him. He has yet to reply to the email.Meanwhile, Mansoor says the matter of Khaadi’s factory workers will be deliberated upon in a meeting with the Sindh labour department on June 12. Also, he said, the hearing of another case filed by 124 Khaadi workers against the company will be held on July 7.‘Subcontracts are a fiction’According to lawyer Saroop Ijaz, the system of hiring workers through a third party is basically a ‘fiction’. He was of the view that the companies are not alone in this rampant practice – the state is to be equally blamed as they are hand in glove with the businessmen. Citing the 2011 Fauji Fertiliser case, Ijaz also said that the employer of the factory workers is Khaadi and is responsible for ensuring the provision of rights to the workers. “Even if the workers have no documented proof of their employment, why has Khaadi spoken of them as its own before the NIRC?” he asked.The woman who had an abortion to save her job at KhaadiFehmida Imran recently came to the fore to pioneer the movement for the rights of Khaadi labourers. She seems brave and determined and is never afraid to speak her mind. However, she has come a long way after suffering an ample amount of anguish at the factories to become the woman that she is today.According to Fehmida, female workers at the factories are not granted maternity leaves. "I know how women suffer at the factories," she says as her voice breaks. "They have to leave their jobs if they get pregnant because there is no maternity leave for female workers. I had an abortion because I could not afford to leave my job.”Fehmida's job at the factory is to put the labels of Khaadi on the collars of each kurta. She lives with her husband and four children in a one-room rented house in Baldia Town. "I earn Rs15,000 while my husband, who is also in the stitching department of another local factory, earns the same amount," she says. "We pay Rs5,000 for rent alone." She adds that she sends her children to public schools as she can barely afford that.“We are very poor people and it’s difficult to make ends meet,” she says as she breaks into tears.Talking about the agreement signed between Khaadi and NTUF, Fehmida says she doesn't feel completely satisfied. "They have increased our salaries by Rs2,000 as per the agreement but I still have a feeling that they will not stand true to their words," she says. "You know how these big companies are. Workers are always suppressed."The campaign highlighting the alleged rights violations at Khaadi began with a protest outside Karachi Press Club. A video became viral on social media in which Fehmida is among the workers who speak up about their suffering. Fehmida has remained in touch with NTUF since and has been at the forefront of the struggle for the factory workers’ rights.As awareness about the alleged rights violations spread, people expressed solidarity with the workers and decided to boycott Khaadi products until factory workers are given due rights. A protest took place in Lahore, followed by one in London outside a Khaadi store. Finally, Khaadi had negotiations with NTUF and decided to enter into an agreement that promises rights for the workers.Praising Fehmida's initiative to speak up for her rights, NTUF Central President Rafiq Baloch says that it is small but a victory indeed and that her role is laudable.However, Fehmida still doesn't feel completely satisfied. The extent of suffering at the hands of employers that she has faced makes her doubt the possibility of anything positive. This is perhaps due to the manner in which workers, especially female ones, are exploited at the factories.