Labour Rights Situation and the New Regime of Codes of Conducts

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Socio-economic Structure of Pakistan and the Workers State of Affairs:

Total population of Pakistan is about one hundred sixty million out of which approximately 41.16 % is labour force.

The country has been facing various difficulties since its birth. At the early years of its independence, she neither had enough industries to accommodate its labour force nor had enough reserves to start new business projects or to spend on social sector. After 60 years due to lack of efficient management, its structural adjustment program still is affecting the social sector development programs particularly education, adult literacy, and health. Although there are some other factors that cannot be neglected.

Pakistan's rural areas of Sindh and Punjab are famous for their crops and in its urban areas most of the factories and Zones are located. Its major exports are Cotton, Textile goods, Rice, Leather items, Handicrafts with trading partners EU, U.S.A, Hong Kong, Japan and China.

However, economically, her main power point lies in textile sector that makes 67% of its exports, and 47 % labour force is working over there. Therefore, the succeeding governments either military or civilian have always emphasized for the uplift of this sector. In this regard they have introduced various initiatives such as establishing export processing zones in Karachi, Faisalabad, and Lahore etc. but, all of them have caused the growth of informal sectors where the labours are the main victims.

The growth of informal sector is unfortunately affecting working conditions including decline in wages, tough working hours and bad health and safety masseurs. There is no provision of social security in the informal sector, and consequently economic conditions of the workers are going down. This phenomenon is worsening working relationship between employee and the employer.

Pakistan's first industrial relation ordinance was introduced in 1969. It promoted collective bargaining, right of unionization and fixed wages for workers. Trade unions got involved in the process of collective bargaining and laid their voices for their rights.

The military government of Ayoub Khan, and the civilian government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhuto settled up new industries in steel and textile sector and introduced new fertilizers and machineries in agricultural sector. After the war of 1973 funding from international donors (WB, IMF) got increased with numbers of reasons. Besides, new programs for institutional changes and structural adjustments were also suggested by the donors.

Government endorsed that it would involve people in planning and implantation process, but it didn't. This gap between intentions and actions still is existed and needs to be bridged. For, institutional change and capacity building for Poverty Reduction Program and their successful implementation would not be perfect without involving the people and their representatives.

All of these factors have pushed the country's economy from bad to worse. Unemployment rate is high and the impoverishment of the people is going on. Citizens are feeling insecurity regarding their future, and any one who could have been productive for the country, has already left it and is settled out side.  

Statistic shows that the rate of population is growing by 2.8 million per year and the labour force is increasing by 2.6 million per year out of that 1.05 get jobs. There is no plan for those who are new to labour market and have the potential to face the market. Although even those who has job, his or her condition is not better than the jobless one, because no national or international labour standard is being observed by the employers.

The ministry of labour in Pakistan has been failed to fulfill its responsibility in order to impose labour laws in garment industry. Investors or traders have their own working conditions and codes of conducts for workers. They don't care about national laws and the core labour standards of ILO.

In June 2004 workers of United Towel established "Mehnat Kash Union of United Towel Exporters". According to Asmattullah - member of Pakistan Textile Workers Union / President of Mehnat Kash Union of United Towel- that the union applied for its registration on September11, 2004, but their application was rejected by the registrar of Trade Union Sindh on October7, 2004.

The Union submitted an appeal to labour court # 5 against the decision. They also wrote e-mails and letters to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other workers friendly movements, but no one responded to them. The struggle for freedom of association still is in progress. "There are so many cases, which are pending in courts, and the workers don't have resources to compete with owners and fight for their rights" said Asmattullah.

History of Codes of Conducts:

Codes of conduct for multinational corporations do not have any set of definitions. It is important to know that there is a difference between Corporate Codes of Conducts and Codes of Conduct for Multinational Corporations.

Corporate Codes of Conduct are an individual company's policy statements that describe its own decent standards while Codes of Conduct for Multinationals are externally created. Neither these codes of the companies' are own making, nor they are agreements between companies and the individuals, which create the codes.

In some cases, though, multinationals are involved in the drafting process. However, corporate codes of conduct have important implications, when considering their implementation in corporate practice.

In Early 1990s the United Nations, Organization of Economic Corporation and Development (OECD), European Commission (EU), International Labour Organization (ILO) and ICFTU initiated public debates about codes of conducts and attempted to analyze them. OECD analyzed 246 codes of conducts out of which 37 were related to textile and clothing sector.

Also, 67 of codes had their origin from United State.  And 100 out the 246 had approached collective bargaining and freedom of association.

The definition of codes shows that they are "voluntary." Therefore, it is questionable that how companies can be responsible in decent manner to ensure their commitment? Also how NGOs and Trade Unions which are working for labour rights can build their pressure to prove it legally.

In the early 1990s, the Dutch "Clean Cloth Campaign" (CCC) and the predecessors of the Anti Sweatshop Movement in the U.S.A informed the public about inhumane labour practices in plants of third world suppliers to C & A and Levi's.

These companies initially tried to deflate public pressure by talking to the protesting group and adopting internal conduct codes without making material concessions with other companies. In many cases, the companies involved denied labour rights violations, criticized the information policy of the NGOs and threatened to take legal action.

Also, some companies have terminated business relations with suppliers in the third world, thereby increasing the social misery of the workers by causing them to lose their jobs." (Ingeborg Wick, PR Ploy (2003, FES), P: 25

Codes of conducts are voluntary initiatives taken by multinational corporations, NGOs and Consumers & Civil Society Organizations. The first codification of labour rights succeeded when International Labour Organization was formed which adopted the first international convention on labour rights. 184 conventions rectified for the protection of labour rights through out the world. Due to lack of attention and sanctions, countries which rectified ILO conventions, were not fully applied in its applications and thus created more difficulties for labour movement. A growing vacuum created more difficulties for trade union movement to fight against globalization.

 How Can Codes Promote Collective Bargaining?

The content of the code is important in two ways. First, a code of labour practice should always contain open provisions respecting the right of workers to either form or join trade unions and to bargain collectively.

Some suppliers have used their obligation to a company's code as a reason not to continue collective agreements negotiated with a local trade union, and some others have used codes as a pretext not to recognize trade unions.

Trade unions should regard explicit recognition of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining as a central provision of any code of labour practice, and where these provisions are missing, efforts should be made for their insertion. 

The right to join or form trade unions and to bargain collectively is one of the basic rights of workers that is achievable in democratic process; although, Trade Union experiences indicate, even in authoritarian systems, the workers can create space for unionization and collective bargaining.

Trade Unions can play a major role in promotion of collective bargaining and freedom of association by negotiating with multinational companies and protesting against those codes, which exclude freedom of association and collective bargaining or core labour standards of ILO. So, it is the responsibility of trade unions to take part at the time of adoption of any codes.

It is also to be noted that Codes are not only to be made, but to be implemented. However, the question arises that how they should be implemented? Obviously, force and negotiations are the only two options in this regard.

Presently, International Trade Union organizations or confederations are focusing on these issues. The local and national trade unions also should be responsible as well as conscious to take part in the process of international monitoring and verification of codes of conducts.

Strategies for Trade Unions:

Trade unions should be responsible for monitoring and verification of codes of conducts. For this purpose, an independent monitoring body should be formed and take part in the process of verification codes of conducts.

Trade unions should get information regarding the supplier, sub suppliers, contractors or sub contractors of the company to check whether these codes are being applied on all supply chain including the company which is labeling goods for.

Trade Unions are supposed to provide workers with information and explanations of the codes and give their full explanation in order to make them understood for every one.

The real test can be implemented by Trade Union that whether the company applying correct labour practices or not? There fore, when a team comes for monitoring, it is the duty of trade union activists to provide all related information or facts about codes of conducts. In addition, this is a process, which continues frequently, and trade unions should be in contact with the personnel of monitoring company or the brand. 

Trade Unions should be regularly consulted as part of the codes implementation process and of course, as part of the industrial relations process. There may be cases where trade unions enter into agreements with a company to assist this process i-e:   by providing interpreters or interviewers.

Indeed, this may provide the trade union with access to unorganized workers, but trade unions should not enter into agreements with companies whereby they assume the responsibility for "monitoring" workplaces if they are not legally recognized as the representatives of the workers concerned.

Targeted programme for capacity building of state agencies and elected representatives should be implemented and community base activist and civil society organizations should be enhanced and their levels of commitment and competence for implementing reduction programme should be promoted.

State, civil society, and community institutions will have to be appropriately strengthened to deliver services based on comparative advantages of each Addressing Social Exclusion, Feminizing Poverty and putting in place Pluralistic Institutional Structures. More pluralistic structures for participatory assessment, planning and decision making are needed which can tackle these social exclusion, feminizing poverty and other allied problems to make the development process more inclusive.

As there is little provision of social security in the informal sector, economic conditions of workers are deteriorated. The cuts in government spending under structural adjustment program adversely affected the social sector development programs including education, adult literacy, and health.

Pakistan Labour Market Activity of the Population (10+) (1990-99)


Population (Million)

Crude Activity Rate (%)


Labour Force (Million)

Employed Labour Force (Million)

Unemployed Labour Force (Million)


Unemployment Rate (%)


















































The above chart shows the labour market activities of the population of Pakistan from 1990 to 1999. According to this chart

Textile and garment manufacturing sector of Pakistan unites the key to whether the country shall succeed in regaining the lost ground in a competitive event for development in emerging Asia. China has 2000 EPZs where they have the lowest wage employees of the world and a big seaport with a large number of containers to provide immediate shipment to the exporters.

Bangladesh has the same view on labour rights. In Bangladesh EPZs we found labour who are getting same wages as chinies workers are getting in China. If Pakistan continues the existing standards pace of manufacturing growth and the same wage stander, it will not be able to emerge China and Bangladesh.  It might achieve its target increasing export, but will not produce high quality products with high labour standard.

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