abusesaffiliationarrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upattack-typeburgerchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upClock iconclosedeletedevelopment-povertydiscriminationdollardownloademailenvironmentexternal-linkfacebookfiltergenderglobegroupshealthC4067174-3DD9-4B9E-AD64-284FDAAE6338@1xinformation-outlineinformationinstagraminvestment-trade-globalisationissueslabourlanguagesShapeCombined Shapeline, chart, up, arrow, graphLinkedInlocationmap-pinminusnewsorganisationotheroverviewpluspreviewArtboard 185profilerefreshIconnewssearchsecurityPathStock downStock steadyStock uptagticktooltiptwitteruniversalityweb

The content is also available in the following languages: 日本語


19 Jun 2024

Just for show: Worker representation in Asia’s garment sector & the role of fashion brands & employers

Shutterstock (licensed)

As the fashion industry grapples with supply chain disruption, climate breakdown, geopolitical trade shifts, the aftermath of the pandemic and a rapidly evolving landscape of human rights and environmental regulation and incentives, it will only be successful in transforming if its redesign includes the genuine voice of the supply chain workers on which it relies. Freedom of association is at the core of meaningful worker representation, genuine dialogue and fair negotiation – and a fashion industry that can adapt successfully and contribute to shared prosperity through decent work and a living wage.

This report examines the role of trade unions and alternative representative structures across six major garment-producing countries in South and Southeast Asia: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It reveals how brands and their suppliers are relying on ineffective representation structures as an alternative to union engagement – undermining freedom of association and collective bargaining, depleting trade unions’ ability to build their membership and represent workers, and creating a vicious cycle of poor working conditions in the sector.

The report - and the case studies it contains - are based on interviews and focus groups with unions and workers. Half (50%) of survey respondents said: “International brands say that they respect freedom of association but it’s just for show – they rarely intervene when there is an issue”.

The brands and factories named in the report were contacted in advance of publication for comment on the allegations to which they were linked. Responses (and non-responses) can be seen here.

Legal framework for worker representation in the garment sector: Country profiles

This guide includes accessible legal profiles for each of the countries covered in the report: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It provides international fashion brands and other interested parties with clear information on the status of the various representative structures found in apparel factories and their remits under the law, along with detailed information on the key tenets for genuine freedom of association at facility level.

Further reading

Labour rights

Explore all our resources on labour rights in global supply chains.

Unpicked: Fashion & Freedom of Association (2022)

We interviewed 24 trade union leaders and surveyed 124 union activists and labour advocates in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka on freedom of association during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who pays for the crisis?

How brand purchasing practices during crises - including economic slowdowns, political instability, and climate-related events – have impacted workers, leading to factory closures, mass layoffs, reduced working hours and reduced wages.