Ploumen: Pakistani textile industry not yet fair for all

Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, has been in Pakistan calling for better working conditions in the textile chain.

‘The spotlight is on Bangladesh, but reports from Pakistan suggest major irregularities in the textile industry. Safety and working conditions are well regulated in many factories, but there are many others which are unsafe and where workers are paid less than the minimum wage. So there is room for improvement in Pakistan, too. I am committed to working with textile companies, social partners, the government, NGOs and international donors in Pakistan to make a difference,’ Ms Ploumen said.

The minister also visited a textile factory where items are made for companies like the Dutch firm Hema. ‘This factory is a good example of how to get safety and working conditions right,’ she added. ‘With its own school for employees’ children, a gender specialist and housing for workers, it’s a calling card for the Pakistani textile industry.’
Smaller textile factories and businesses targeting the domestic market, though, tend to have poor working and safety conditions, and are responsible for considerable environmental pollution. ‘In 2012, while our attention was focused on the problems in Bangladesh, nearly 300 workers lost their lives in a fire in a textile factory in Karachi,’ Ms Ploumen said. ‘Working conditions are also far from ideal in the Pakistani cotton-picking industry, where most workers are women.’

Pakistan has a long tradition of textile production and export. The sector is dominated by a handful of large family businesses that have been producing textiles for decades. In contrast to many smaller factories, these family businesses are professional and, increasingly, are forerunners when it comes to corporate social responsibility. Companies like Hema, Ikea, Zeeman and V&D all buy items from these businesses, mainly textiles for household use.

Each year the Netherlands imports more than 200 million euros’ worth of textiles from Pakistan. As well as visiting the textile factory, Ms Ploumen met with the Federal Ministers for Planning, Development & Reform and Commerce and participated in a round table discussion with the Federal Minister for the Textile Industry organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO is working to improve employment policy, give more powers to labour inspectorates and develop social security. Ms Ploumen announced that the Netherlands will be funding an ILO project to follow up the findings of her visit. The Netherlands supports a number of organisations working to improve the textile chain. One example is the programme run by Better Cotton and the WWF for improving environmental and working conditions in cotton farms in Pakistan, to which the Netherlands contributes through the EU.