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12 Jul 2021

Human Rights Watch

Sri Lanka: Rights group urges govt and brands to protect garment workers’ rights during pandemic

"Sri Lanka: Protect Garment Workers’ Rights During Pandemic", 12 July 2021

The Sri Lankan government, factory owners, and the international clothes brands sourcing from Sri Lanka should protect the safety and employment rights of garment workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch said today.

...Following an October 2020 Covid-19 outbreak in a factory owned by Brandix Lanka Limited, the government made it mandatory for all factories to have a Covid-19 health committee, including management and workers’ representatives. As of early July, people interviewed said, most factories had not established the committees.

...Following the major outbreak at a Brandix factory in October, trade unions filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka alleging that soldiers “rounded up” 98 workers in the middle of the night and arbitrarily detained them in an unsanitary quarantine facility. In response, the army accused the complainants of pursuing “hidden plans,” and said the military should not be “insulted or downgraded.” Human Rights Watch wrote to Brandix seeking information about the October outbreak but received no response.

...Security force intimidation of workers is particularly acute in the Tamil-majority north of Sri Lanka, which has remained heavily militarized since the end of the civil war in 2009. In Maruthankerny, security officials reportedly told workers they would lose pay and benefits if they did not report for work, despite safety fears related to the spread of Covid-19.

...International and local labor rights groups from numerous countries have started a campaign for brands to help support workers and shore up social protection systems by joining a Wage Assurance Fund and Severance Guarantee Fund. Brands should support such initiatives, Human Rights Watch said.

Sri Lankan garment manufactures have applied for loans from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a part of the World Bank Group. The IFC should rigorously ensure that companies receiving loans adhere to its performance standards on labor and working conditions, and uphold fundamental labor rights enshrined in ILO conventions, including freedom of association and collective bargaining.