By Dilshani Samaraweera
Sri Lankan garment factories are certifying themselves as ethical manufacturers. Last week, the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the private sector industry representative body, announced that 67 garment factories have already been certified by the international certification firm SGS. Others are queuing up for certificates.
The certification is based on the local apparel industry’s ‘Garments Without Guilt’ (GWG) standards, for ethical manufacturing. The industry says these standards have been industry norms for a long time but were not made use of, until now.
“With the Garments Without Guilt campaign we are highlighting something we have had for a long time in our industry. So there was really nothing special that we had to do to get this certification. There were never any problems like the use of child labour, where Sri Lankan garment factories were concerned,” said Chairman of JAAF, Ajith Dias, at a ceremony to hand out GWG certificates to factories last Sunday.
The certification is part of the overall campaign to build international awareness about good manufacturing practices and good labour standards in Sri Lanka, compared to many other garment producing countries. The GWG certificate assures potential buyers that a factory complies by the ethical manufacturing standards set by the local industry. This includes not using child labour, not resorting to forced labour, non-discrimination and not resorting to sweatshop practices. Much of these standards are already set by Sri Lanka’s labour laws that also govern the operations of garment factories.
Garment factories say standards in Sri Lankan factories are better than in many other countries in the region.
“My Indian counterpart says that the Indian government has told the industry to get its act together because there are many complaints of non-compliance. But the Indian industry says it will take them a minimum of five years to come to our standards and more to the point, it would be an enormous cost,” said Dias. The JAAF says Sri Lanka’s good manufacturing standards are an advantage in international markets, especially in western countries, where consumers are increasingly demanding ethical production of goods. So the JAAF is planning to increase promotions of its GWG campaign this year.
“In this second phase of the campaign our objective is to engage with identified audiences world wide and increase visibility. We want to make sure the message gets through to all key customers. Ultimately, we want consumers to say, ‘I would rather buy a product from Sri Lanka than from anywhere else’,” said chairman of the JAAF image building sub-committee, Kumar Mirchandani.
Sri Lankan garment exports to the EU increased by 22% last year. A majority of Chinese garments and textiles exported to the EU will be removed from quota restriction this year. This is expected to increase competition from this year, in EU markets. Sri Lankan exports to the US showed a 3.5% decline last year. Garment factories say that domestic production costs have also increased over the last year.
The garment industry is hoping that ethical manufacturing would help Sri Lankan garments bypass lower-cost competition and retain international market share. (The Sunday Times on line)