Serious labor rights abuses in garment factories, says Human Rights Watch
Women and men working in Pakistan’s garment factories are subject to serious labor rights abuses. The situation is so bad that even asking for something as basic as the right to go to the toilet can mean you get fired, says the Human Rights Watch in its report released on Wednesday, January 23.
The report, ‘No Room to Bargain: Unfair and Abusive Labor Practices in Pakistan’, details the poor working conditions at garment factories, which employ 4.2 million people, one of the largest by any sector. It identifies a range of labor rights violations affecting the lives of factory workers whose plight remains off the political agenda of the country’s ruling elite.
Workers, many of them women, said that they experienced verbal abuse, were pressured not to take toilet breaks, and were even denied clean drinking water, the report said, referring to a field survey of 140 people from 24 factories in Karachi, Lahore and Hafizabad.
“I was fired last Sunday for not working overtime. On Monday, when I went to work, my name was listed with the security guard at the gate and he told me that I had been ‘gate stopped’,” the report said, quoting a worker at the manufacturing facility of a domestic brand in Karachi.
In two factories, the global human rights organization documented beatings of workers by managers.
The survey findings point to the abusive treatment of workers by the factory owners who do not pay official minimum wages and pensions. These sweatshops force overtime on workers, don’t give them enough breaks, and ignore regulations requiring paid maternity and medical leaves. They are also clamping down on independent labor unions that demand workers’ rights, the report says.
In recent years, Pakistani garment workers have expressed serious grievances through strikes and protests.
In December 2018, the report says garment workers protested at a training institute in Lahore run by a major Pakistani brand, which they said abused a government incentive program. Workers alleged that the training institute actually operated as a factory, extracting free labor from “trainees.” In 2017, workers protested against Khaadi, a leading Pakistani apparel brand, which fired 32 workers for demanding their rights under Pakistani law, the report said.
“In September 2012, a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi killed 255 workers and injured more than 100. Investigations found a series of irregularities and an almost complete absence of fire and safety systems. Survivors reported that the management made no immediate efforts to rescue the workers and instead attempted to save their merchandise first,” it said.
Even that tragedy did not result in meaningful reforms and a sustained national conversation on labor rights.
“The government is failing to enforce laws that could protect millions of garment workers from serious labor rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch said, identifying problems in the government’s labor inspection system.
It said Pakistan’s authorities should revamp labor inspections and systematically hold factories accountable for abuses.
“Pakistan’s government has long neglected its obligations to protect the rights of the country’s garment workers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government should urgently enforce the labor laws and adopt new policies to protect workers from abuse.”