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Rights violations ‘systematic’ in Indonesia’s garment industry

August 2014

Overwhelming evidence of “systematic violation” of the right to human dignity suffered by Indonesian garment workers was found by a jury at a two-day public hearing in Jakarta.

The conclusion was declared at the People’s Tribunal, convened annually as a court to assess human rights in the garment sectors of Asian countries.

The tribunal, hosted this year by Asia Floor Wage Indonesia, a trade union grouping, to consider conditions in Indonesia, heard the jury emphasise that a living wage and freedom of association were vital human rights in a global garment industry.

Delegates were told that Indonesia’s laws make it easy to suspend the minimum wage. The average monthly minimum for garment workers anyway is only about €82 ($110, £65), estimated to be 31% of a living wage or one needed to support a family.

Emelia Yanti, secretary general of the GSBI, an alliance of Indonesian garment workers’ unions, said: “A living wage is the cornerstone of decent working conditions. Paying a living wage has a positive effect on the reduction of overtime and malnutrition.
“It means workers have the choice to refuse work due to unsafe working conditions and it means they can take time off for ill health.”

Other complaints at the tribunal concerned illegal compulsory overtime, unreasonable productivity measures, denial of social security payments and gender discrimination.

The jury acknowledged: “In recent years some progress has been made in tackling the challenges faced by workers in an industry dominated by a small number of buyers.”

However, jurors were gravely worried about “lack of urgency and transparency” among the brands.

The H&M representative said the company was working towards a living wage, though it had never tried to calculate a figure.
The representative of Adidas, the only other large customer present, upset delegates when he told a witness: “No factory is perfect.”

The tribunal’s message to global brands was that they must accept they are complicit in their suppliers’ rights violations and are responsible for conditions in the factories.

It is recommending action by trade unions, the International Labour Organisation, international brands, national companies, suppliers and the Indonesian government, officials and labour officers.

Mirjam van Heugten, public outreach co-ordinator of the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, the international group dedicated to improving conditions in the industry, said: “If garment workers are still living in poverty, which we know they are, no brand can claim that they are truly sustainable.

“The fact that brands have become ‘manufacturers without factories’ does not mean they can shirk responsibility for the human rights violations of the women who stitch their clothes.”

Asia | Human rights

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