Garment exporters in Pakistan are worried by the implementation of SA 8000, the International Standard for social accountability and manufacturing ethics, which could soon start to affect manufacturing (director-e News, Thursday 24 July).
The increasing demand for social compliance requirements from foreign buyers could create problems for the country’s exporters in winning orders from the US and European markets in the near future, exporters said in Karachi.
Garment exporter Imran Shaukat said: “Buyers have started to ask about social compliance requirements, and the implementation of labour laws before placing orders. Foreign buyers, especially the Europeans, are forcing local exporters to implement workers’ social requirements.
“This has already started affecting the local garment industry”, he added
Majyd Aziz, another garment exporter and former chairman of SITE Association of Industry, said: “Fair compensation, reasonable working hours, safe and healthy environment and prohibition of child labour are the main themes of SA 8000 standard.
Code of conduct
“Many companies choose to define their own values through a ‘Code of Conduct for Suppliers’, or the SA 8000 Standard document”, Mr Aziz said. “Under the SA 8000 standard, social auditors also conduct human rights audit in the factories”.
The SA 8000 Standard was implemented in Pakistan a year ago, but only now have buyers started asking about the implementation of the Standard.
Another exporter, who asked not to be named, said: “Due to these requirements, small exporters will not be able to export their products to the international market and will, therefore, sub-contract garments to the large exporters.
“Most of the small readymade garments manufacturing units are set up in low cost areas, where implementation of international labour laws is not possible”, he added.
“Only 10 to 15 percent of the garment factories are established in industrial areas, where laws can properly be implemented”, he said. “Foreign buyers are also conducting social audits of the country’s garment industries through their approved auditors, and this situation is having a negative affect on these buyers, who already have doubts about the Pakistani garment industry.
“There are very few garment factories that are fully implementing the labour laws”, he added.
Ancient labour laws
“Pakistan has ancient labour laws, dating back to 1935, which are not applicable in the 21st century”, said Masood Naqi, former chairman, Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
“For the first time the government has realised the situation and announced in current fiscal trade policy to establish ‘garment cities’ in Karachi and Lahore, where all the factories would be ISO 9000, ISO 14000 and SA 8000 certified”, he added.
But Mr Aziz maintained that it is not possible to implement ancient labour laws in the local factories. “Lack of education and non-availability of skilled labour are the main hurdles to compliance with the social requirements set by the foreign buyers”, he claimed.
And Mr Naqi said: “Currently this issue is not affecting country’s garment exports, but this could create problems for local industries in near future. Local exporters have to implement international labour laws and there is no way to avoid this issue”.
The only reason that the Pakistani exporters are still competing in the international market is the high quality of their products, said Mr Aziz. “Pakistan is producing the best quality readymade garments and foreign buyers want to buy Pakistani garment because of their high quality”, he commented.