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Padma has been producing apparel for large western brands for ten years. But after her demobilization, she accuses the manager of the factory where she was working, of using the Covid-19 crisis to get rid of her and “break” her union.
A workers’ defense organization says thousands of female union workers have been expelled from production workshops in Asia since the start of the epidemic, calling on Zara, H&M and other Western companies to intervene.
Padma heads every morning to the workshop “Euro Clothing Company 2” in the heart of Karnataka state in southern India. She sits in front of sewing machine lines that have been stalled since June, and remains silent for hours, protesting her demobilization.
In total, 1,200 workers were laid off, 900 of whom were union members.
The worker assigned to check the final shape of the jackets, shirts and pants before sending them to her stores of the Swedish group “H&M”, said that she “was stranded here for years for $ 4.6 per day.”
The group operating it “Gokaldas” more than twenty factories. But the factory where she was working was the only one that most of her workers were affiliated with.
Padma said “Gokaldas” had “wanted to shut down this unit for a long time and used the Corona virus as an excuse.”
Gautam Modi, Secretary-General of the “New Trade Union Initiative” (New Trade Union Innovation), the union that includes hundreds of workers’ organizations in India, confirmed that the employer “broke the union under the pretext of the epidemic.”
In response to a call from France, “Gokaldas” did not make any comment.
As for H&M, it confirmed the closure of the unit, noting that it was “in close contact with the unions (…) and with the group provided to help them settle the conflict peacefully.”
The “New Syndication Initiative” indicated that the giant Swedish group obtained its products from four other factories affiliated with “Gokaldas”.
The health crisis has rocked the global economy. Many western brands have canceled orders of billions of dollars or demanded discounts from their suppliers based in China, India, Burma, Bangladesh and Cambodia.
The result is that many textile workers, mostly women who came from rural areas, were expelled.
Orders began to witness a shy rebound, and Dhaka’s concerns were operating at just over fifty percent of its capacity. But workers registered with unions are still targeted by employers.
And in Bangladesh alone, the second global source of ready-to-wear, more than 100,000 workers lost their jobs and “more than half of them” were associated with trade union organizations, said Rafiul Islam Sujun, president of one of the unions specializing in this field, the Bangladesh Garments Federation (Bangladesh Garments And End) Shilbo Ceramics Federation).
The repression against them is a persistent problem in the textile sector in Asia. But, says Jimmy Davis of the Solidarity Center (Solidarity Center) for the defense of workers, he has been practicing “on a large scale” since the beginning of the epidemic.
In Burma, 298 unionized workers who were laid off from a factory near Rangoon sent a message to the founder of the Zara group, Omancio Ortega, the world’s sixth-largest wealth, estimated by Forbes at 55 billion euros.
They said in the letter, which obtained a copy of Agence France-Presse that “a man of this degree of wealth does not certainly need to use the global epidemic to break our unions,” begging for his intervention.
But major brands protect themselves with codes of conduct developed under international pressure to regulate the policies of their suppliers.
“We expressly prohibit any discrimination against workers’ representatives,” a spokesman for the “Inditex” group which owns “Zara” told France Press.
As for the “Primark” group, which is one of the major companies in this field, it stressed that “the current epidemic did not change our commitment”, stressing “the right of all workers to join and form unions.”
Scott Nova, CEO of the Workers’ Rights Federation, stressed that these statements were “very conservative” by major brands in the face of their suppliers.
He believed that the only solution is to “cut off all cooperation if violations continue because most layoffs take place illegally.”
Laws to prevent union repression, he said, “exist in most countries, including Cambodia, Burma, and India, although unfortunately they are often not applied.”
Unions are facing harassment because of their positions. To oppose layoffs may actually lead to imprisonment.
On March 31, dozens of union-affiliated workers, including a six-month-old pregnant woman, were laid off from the Superl leather factory in Cambodia, which produces handbags for relationships including Michael Kors, Tori Porsche and Kate Spade.
Union actress Soi Serus protested her Facebook page on that, after only 48 hours she was charged with publishing false news and being arrested.
She spent 55 days in prison and was eventually released under pressure, but is still being followed.
In India, Padma continues to protest at its closed plant and dreams that its battle will become a “model” for thousands of workers in Karnataka, which believes in twenty percent of Indian textile production. Its goal is for “small hands” to continue its union struggle “without fear of reprisal.”
© 2020 AFP