In the development policy discussion concerning a world division of labour, the textile and garment industry is regarded as being the appropriate starting point for the industrialisation efforts of the South. This is due, not least,to the fact that this field is very labour-intensive and is regarded in many countries as being the most important source of foreign exchange. For investors from industrialised and newly industrialising countries, generous conditions for the location of industry were created. In addition to this is the calculable access to the financially sound markets of industrialised countries which facilitates the generation of desperately needed foreign exchange. Particularly through the establishment of free export zones, the so-called "Free Trade Zones" (FTZ), interested countries offer foreign investors attractive framework conditions for industrial location. For the most part, it is industries in the textile, garment and electronics field which use the model of free export zones. Experience made over the last few years shows the following fields of tension:
Offers concerning the location of textile and garment industries were taken up on a large-scale by foreign investors. Parallel to this, firms in the industrialised countries were closed down. This caused a dramatic decline in employment and structural change in the textile and garment sector in industrialised countries. Depending on the economic policy of a government, social repercussions were either eased by socio-political measures, or a high rate of unemployment in the key national areas of production was tolerated.
It became quickly apparent that the early capitalistic working conditions and very low wage levels were, in part, the main reasons for the success of the FTZ concept. Through wage and social dumping, investors reap additional profits and competitive advantages. At the same time, employees in most free trade zones are either denied the right of freedom of association, that means the right to form trade unions, or trade union rights are substantially restricted. The minimum norms approved by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in the fields of labour law, health and safety at the workplace are deliberately disregarded by many firms. That the governments of many developing, but also newly industrialising countries, not only tolerate these violations of civil rights but also defend them aggressively in international forums as being a necessary incentive for investment, increasingly aggravates international controversy between governments on the one hand, and trade unions and human rights organisations on the other.
For the governments in the countries of the South, export-orientated industries in the free export zones are an important source of foreign exchange. The vast majority of employees in the export zones are young women. The labour-intensive nature of the textile and garment industry renders "remunerative " advantages possible, as women are almost exclusively badly paid and are employed in jobs requiring only low qualifications. Their work is, as a rule, also underrated at the social level. But even if wage levels are low and working conditions are bad, the derived income is, in view of the widespread unemployment in most countries, nevertheless, an important contribution to the support of the, as a rule, large extended family. Despite trade union prohibition and high risks, women workers fight for improvements in their working conditions and for higher wages. Their efforts are linked up with a long tradition of social disputes in the textile and garment field. The International Women's Day remembers the social fight of women workers in the textile and garment industry. Several thousand women went on strike in 1857 in New York and fought under the banner "Bread and Roses", for fair remuneration and better working conditions. Even though international ILO Conventions on the protection of working women, such as Convention 111 on "discrimination in respect of employment and occupation ", as well as Convention 100 concerning "equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value", exist for over 40 years, many women workers in the textile and garment industry are occupied in totally unprotected employment relationships. As a background to their importance as directives, extracts of the conventions have been included in the appendix to this publication.
The selected country reports show that where women are already organised in trade unions, they have ascertained that problems specific to women are not adequately dealt with in the trade unions and women are insufficiently represented in decision-making positions. Within the trade unions they are striving for recognition of their interests. In the long term, a legal framework must be established which takes up questions of improving maternity and parental leave arrangements, child-minding facilities, equal opportunity in terms of training and further training and complaints procedures in the case of sexual molestation at the workplace.
Seamstresses on strike. Berlin 1896.
Source: Trade Union Textile and Garment. Document to commemorate 150 years of women working in the textile and garment industry. Düsseldorf 1981.
Trade unions in the industrialised and developing countries are in an area of tension between the striven for world division of labour, and support for the South in the development of national economies on the one hand, and the realisation of worker and trade union rights, as formulated by the ILO, on the other hand. With inhumane working conditions in mind, trade unions are internationally pressing for the inclusion of social clauses in trade agreements. They are also demanding a catalogue of sanctions in order to oblige governments to respect worker and trade union rights, if necessary by a limitation of trade advantages or access to markets. Alongside the trade unions, human rights organisations and consumer initiatives are trying to establish a link between world trade and human rights norms. They are committed, amongst other things, to the introduction of trademarks which would identify products which have been produced under conditions conforming to human rights standards.
These controversies are overshadowed by protectionism on the world markets. Less than 10 per cent of total world trade conforms to the principles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The Multi-Fibre Arrangement expires at the end of 1992. As a result of this agreement, the textile and garment industry in the European Community enjoys a certain amount of protection which, apart from agriculture, is not taken up by any other sector. Where and how much may be supplied, is regulated by the Multi-Fibre Arrangement. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in this year's "Human Development Report" estimates losses incurred by developing countries caused by protectionism in the North at US dollars 75 bn. per annum. According to calculations made by the UNDP, the abolition of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement could increase the export receipts of the South by US dollars 24 bn. per annum. Industrial societies bear the main responsibility for the removal of protectionism in order to increase export potential for processed products from the countries of the South. The pending transfer of world trade in textiles under general free trade rules must meet the challenge linked to the codification, under international law, of the rights of male and female workers.
In new negotiations for a world textile agreement, trade unions are pressing internationally for the inclusion of social clauses. As a result of this, trade unions in industrialised countries are being accused by some governments in countries of the South of hidden protectionism: one demands higher wages and improved working conditions for male and female workers in developing countries in order, at the end of the day, to make production more expensive and thereby halt the exodus of textile and garment industries from the industrialised countries. Trade unions in the countries of the South are being increasingly accused by their respective governments of adopting in their demands allegedly protectionist slogans of the industrialised countries and thereby acting contrary to the development interests of their own countries. In this way international areas of conflict in the employment and social field become exemplary clear as shown in the case of the textile and garment industry and could lead to further tension in North-South relations.
With contributions from various countries we want to draw particular attention to the situation of women workers in the textile and garment sector. A fair world division of labour must be based on humane working and living conditions for the employees. The connection between world trade and respect of international conventions for the protection of workers' rights must be based on the right of freedom of association, that is the right to form free trade unions,on wage agreements freely negotiated by both parties and the right to collective bargaining.
In place of the country reports published here, other countries in Africa, Latin and Central America and Asia could have been chosen. The contributions show the importance of the textile and garment sector for the economic development of the South and, at the same time, that discussions concerning a fair world division of labour and humane working and living conditions have in no way been completed. Reported about here, are the working conditions and trade union demands of women workers. It is quite evident that a need for world-wide action exists in order to, on the one hand, expand protection of women in their working environment and on the other hand to ensure the right for free and independent trade unions. It is only in this framework that a world division of labour can guarantee a humane life to women textile workers.
Colleagues who are, in part, working as staff members of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Brazil, India, Mexico and Sri Lanka have contributed to this publication. In Germany, the archives helped in the search for material. Gerd Ernst and Monika Riedenklau helped, in an interested and proficient way, with the completion of the manuscript . The Trade Union Textile and Garment kindly made documents available to us on this subject,extracts of which have been included in the appendix to the publication. Veronica Milhan-Forrester translated the German contributions into English. We would like to thank them all for their support and cooperation in producing this publication.
Bonn, October 1992 Ludgera Klemp and Bernd Reddies
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