last week, Human Rights Watch released an explosive report documenting the numerous violations of labor practices it had found in Pakistan’s garment factories. Incorporating testimony from over 140 people—workers, union leaders, government representatives, labor rights advocates—the global watchdog found abuses ranging from salaries below minimum age, to forced overtime, insufficient breaks, and a blatant disregard for regulations requiring paid maternity leave.
The sweatshop conditions are largely the result of a lack of accountability that allows factory owners to capitalize on high poverty rates, forcing laborers to bear the inhumane working conditions or risk destitution. “There are 300 to 400 workers in the factory crammed in a small space. The factory is filthy, and cleaning is done rarely. There is no clean drinking water in the factory,” said one worker at a Lahore factory.
Women workers face even greater challenges as laws concerning maternity leave are completely absent. “Pregnant women are ‘left’ [a euphemism for termination] and now whenever a woman worker becomes pregnant, she leaves the job herself to avoid the indignity of being fired,” notes HRW.
Labor activists and union leaders who have attempted to halt the atrocities are shunned, according to testimony, with any worker seen even talking to a union representative immediately dismissed from service without cause.
It is high time, as recommended by the rights body, that Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments step in to revise relevant labor laws and ensure they are in line with international labor standards. More importantly, implementation must be prioritized via regular and thorough inspections to ensure the labor force is protected.
P.M. Khan has repeatedly pledged to establish a welfare state in Pakistan. Ensuring the rights of impoverished laborers would be a fine first step in achieving this lofty goal.
From our Jan. 26 – Feb. 9, 2019 issue