Sri Lanka’s Stand Up Movement and Commercial & Industrial Workers’ Union (CIWU) filed a complaint with the Labour Commissioner to conduct an inquiry into nonpayment of workers’ wages and bonuses, and mass retrenchments without adequate compensation in Hirdaramani Mercury Apparel (Pvt) Ltd located in Katunayake.
In the complaint, global fashion brands – Levi Strauss & Co., PVH Corp., ASICS, Columbia Sportswear Company, G-III Apparel Group Ltd. – along with their supplier, have been held jointly liable under Sri Lankan laws for labour rights violations during the Covid-19 period.
According to Labour Unions, the supplier ( Hirdaramani ) had informed workers that the non-payment of wages and bonuses and mass retrenchments were a result of all major brands that had been sourcing from the factory over the long term – Levi Strauss & Co., PVH Corp., ASICS, Columbia Sportswear Company, G-III Apparel Group Ltd. – pulling out their production during the Covid period.
“Termination of workers without adequate compensation and non-payment of wages are not only labour violations but have severe impacts on their human rights. The refusal of the brands to take responsibility for workers employed in their supplier factory has resulted in workers’ inability to access minimum consumption required for survival, making the brands directly responsible for the conditions of workers during Covid-19.” said Ashila Niroshine Dandeniya of Stand Up Movement .
The workers, who are pre-dominantly women from low-wage households – including single women, pregnant women and young mothers – were pushed to desperation.
” They were unable to meet food, housing or healthcare expenses. They have become severely indebted, and forced to sell their few assets to meet expenses, having long-term impacts on their lives and livelihoods,” the Asia Floor Wage Alliance said in a media release.
The Labour unions filing the complaint have stated that brands, whose practices determine the wages and terms of employment of workers in Sri Lanka, cannot be exempt from liability under Sri Lanka’s labour laws. They have argued that brands act as joint employers of workers, and are, therefore, jointly liable along with the supplier, for labour rights violations in their supplier factories.
“Unfair purchasing practices by the brands have resulted in unfair labour practices and human rights impacts on workers. The real nature of the relationship between the supplier and the brands must be revealed so that brands are not shielded from legal liability for labour rights violations in the supplier factory, while making profits through the exploitation of workers” urged Commercial & Industrial Workers’ Union.