Letter: Standing up for exploited garment workers

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The Independent Online
Sir: We welcome the news (report 15 April) that a US presidential task force, which includes major US names such as Nike and Liz Claiborne, has become involved in drawing up a code of employment conduct to end the worst abuses of workers in the garment industry.

Trade union research has uncovered terrible practices carried out in factories in Central America and Asia which include punishing women by forcing them to stand with chairs above their heads for hours on end, or making them work 24-hour shifts without pay. Unfortunately these types of practices are all too common.

A Code of Conduct based on international labour standards is a step in the right direction, but in order to operate properly must be independently monitored, and the trade unions which represent the workers at the factories must be involved. Current schemes where "independent" monitoring teams visit factories in the presence of company management to quiz workers about their rights, and then go back and report that they have no complaints, are clearly not adequate.

The key question will be in the details of how the monitoring is carried out, and who will vet the monitors. If major multinationals are serious in their attempts to clean up the industry, trade unions must have a role in setting up the system, and the International Labour Organisation's technical assistance must be brought in to advise. This will help to guarantee consumers and the public that the goods they buy are being made under decent working conditions.

BILL JORDAN

General Secretary

International Confederation

of Free Trade Unions

Brussels

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