Clothing shippers join ICTSI Port of Toamasina dispute

International fashion brand leaders call on Madagascar to respect international labour standards and reinstate workers.

Several major clothing shippers including Levi’s, Esprit, Next and Marks and Spencer have joined a campaign to help end the alleged exploitation of dockworkers at Madagascar’s Port of Toamasina, which is operated by a subsidiary of the international container terminal operator ICTSI.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said the concerns among such major shippers about alleged exploitation within their supply chains meant the government of Madagascar was coming under increasing international pressure to resolve the dispute. ITF has been campaigning since February to get 43 dockworkers reinstated, claiming they were sacked for being members of a union.

Paddy Crumlin, president of the ITF and chair of its dockers’ section, today welcomed news that Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) member brands Marks and Spencer, Skins Ltd, Next Plc, and Men’s Warehouse UK had joined

Levi’s and Esprit “in demonstrating leadership and recognising that the transport workers, who move their clothing from the factory to stores around the world, deserve to be treated fairly”.

Crumlin continued: “ITF challenged global brands sourcing from Madagascar to step up and support the rights of dockworkers at the Port of Toamasina, and the response has been positive. We’ve seen concrete steps to support these workers, with brands writing directly to the Government of Madagascar calling on them to enforce international labour standards, reinstate 43 unfairly dismissed dockworkers and allow SYGMMA to represent workers at the port.”

Local union leader Lucien Razafindraibe will today deliver a joint letter from international fashion brands to the Madagascan Labour Minister in the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo.

Category Leader of Apparel and Textiles at ETI, Martin Buttle, said: “Not only were we concerned for the dock workers themselves, we were also concerned that action against legitimate union activity would deter investor confidence in Madagascar as a future sourcing market. In the letter to the government, we confirmed that our members wanted to continue sourcing from Madagascar but equally had to consider obligations to comply with international standards.

“With the full support of our members, we therefore asked that the government of Madagascar take steps to enforce its labour laws, ensure that the 43 dock workers were reinstated and allow the union to organise at the port.”

The ITF said the 43 workers at Toamasina port sacked for being members of a union worked for MICTSL (Madagascar International Container Terminal Services Ltd. – a subsidiary of Philippine container terminal operator ICTSI) and SMMC (MDG government-owned company who provides casual labour to MICTSL.

ICTSI has told Lloyd’s Loading List that the ITF statements appeared to relate to SMMC, insisting that “the ICTSI labour at our Toamasina facility is unionised and we have a Collective Bargain Agreement in place duly signed by Union Representatives and the Ministry of Labour”. But the company did not respond when asked to confirm whether SMMC provided casual labour to MICTSL and whether that made ICTSI at least indirectly responsible for the workers and their working conditions.

Crumlin added: “The success of the public campaigning and private engagement shows quite clearly that for transport companies, like ICTSI, labour rights abuses may be part of their business model, but for fashion brands labour rights violations in their supply chains represent such a significant risk to the value of their brand that they are prepared to use their market influence to advocate for these workers.”

The garment industry is the largest employer of workers in the formal economy in Madagascar, employing 30% of the formal workforce. As a result, this intervention from leading brands cannot be ignored by the government of Madagascar, the ITF claimed.

“ITF is looking to the government of Madagascar to show leadership, and step in to defend these workers’ basic human rights against ICTSI’s aggressive campaign to drive down their wages and conditions. These workers have waited long enough,” Crumlin said.

By: Will Waters
Source: Llyod's Loading List