Letter: Sweatshop workers

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your excellent expose of the appalling conditions suffered by garment workers in Saipan reflects the position throughout much labour- intensive manufacturing in the globalised economy. The most effective response would be to ensure that legislation protecting trade union freedoms, and freedom from discrimination, forced labour and child labour is adopted and enforced everywhere.

I welcome Clare Short's call for the Seattle round of the WTO in December to be a "development round". That requires the links between trade liberalisation and internationally agreed core labour standards - the pillars of democratic civil society and sustainable economic and social development - to be given a central place on the agenda.

Company codes of labour practice are not a substitute for effective legislation, or for collective bargaining. Properly applied and monitored, however, they can help companies enforce core labour standards in global supply chains.

That is why the TUC is committed to the Ethical Trading Initiative - an alliance of companies, development NGOs and trade union organisations - which is testing systems of independent monitoring and verification of a code based on the standards of the UN's International Labour Organisation. British garment retailers who want to stamp out abuse in their supply chains should consider joining the ETI.

You suggest an "ethical trade kitemark" scheme. There are huge obstacles to developing universal labelling systems guaranteeing that every garment is made in decent conditions. The truth is this: the best defence against abuse for workers in Saipan and throughout the world is freedom to organise in independent trade unions.