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14 Apr 2022

Asia Floor Wage Alliance & Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum

Sri Lanka: Report alleges Brandix engaged in campaign of 'reprisals and repression' against unions and labour orgs. for exposing alleged COVID-19 violation at ‘superspreader’ company event

"Voices from the Field: Reprisals and Repression of Garment Worker Unions and Workers’ Organizations during COVID-19 in Sri Lanka", April 2022

A new report released today by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) details how Sri Lanka’s largest garment manufacturer Brandix Lanka and the government cracked down on unions after they spoke out about a COVID-19 superspreader event in a free trade zone outside of Colombo. 

The outbreak in October 2020, in which thousands of garment workers and people in the surrounding communities were infected, followed a concert that Brandix management hosted in clear violation of COVID-19 protocols. 

Based on interviews with unions, workers’ rights organizations and garment workers, the report... shows that Brandix violated government COVID-19 guidelines in the days before the superspreader outbreak that infected 1,000 of the 1,400 workers at the factory. The outbreak – one of the country’s largest — would sicken thousands more in the region, especially garment workers, who themselves were blamed for the outbreak. 

When the garment workers – who are largely women – and the women-led unions and workers’ rights organizations that support them spoke out publicly about Brandix’s responsibility for the outbreak, Brandix and the Sri Lankan government, police and military escalated a campaign of reprisals and repression against them...

The retaliation by the Sri Lankan government and military includes public threats and police searches of garment sector trade unions and workers’ rights organizations, police searches of union leaders’ homes and the head of the Sri Lankan Army threatening unions on TV. ..

Despite the well-documented breaches of COVID protocols at the factory, Brandix has denied wrongdoing in causing or worsening the outbreak....

Brandix has also denied unions access to its worksites and told workers that there will be no unionization at their factories. 

“If unions had been granted access to Brandix factories, we would have monitored Brandix compliance with COVID-19 requirements — and the Brandix outbreak may never have happened,” said Ashila Niroshine Mapalagama of Stand Up Workers Union. 

“When garment workers spoke out after the Brandix outbreak, we amplified their voices so those responsible could be held accountable. Our rights to freedom of speech and association should be respected,” said Chandra Devanarayana of Revolutionary Existence for Human Development (RED).