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Labour Rights in Southeast Asia

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The success of any industry should be credited not only to the businessmen that run it, but also to the labourers that carry out the tasks required by those businessmen. Often, as a global community, we disregard the rights of those labourers and remain content with that decision despite their suffering. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, led by our King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, believes that workers, regardless of their social standing or their job occupation, deserve the safest environment they could get in their line of work.

On 23rd July 2013 large cracks appeared in the structure of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The workers were sent home for the day and did not want to return. However, they were forced to return to work the next day. (Mirdha and Rahman) At around 9 am the generators were started due to a power cut and a sudden jerk shook the building – a sensation some likened to an earthquake. Within minutes the eight-storey building had collapsed. It has been determined that the final death toll was 1142. (Siddiqui) This incident is the deadliest structural failure and garment factory accident in history. (Manik and Yardley)

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Worker abuse in the garment industry is not a new issue. However, after the Rana Plaza collapse, it was taken more seriously and resulted in the formation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety which contains remedies pertaining mainly to inspections. (2018 Accord on Fire and Building Safety ) But reports have found that these guidelines are not enough to ensure well conducted and meaningful inspections in garment factories.

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not have a prominent garment manufacturing industry, we imported $1.23 billion of textile and textile articles in the third quarter of 2017. (Merchandise Exports and Imports of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – 2017 Third Quarter) Our primary industry is the oil industry and according to an article in Forbes magazine, approximately 70 million barrels of oil are utilized to produce polyester fibre, a very common fibre used in the garment industry. (Conca) In this way, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an influence on the garment manufacturing industry and hence feels a certain responsibility towards it.

A large part of the problem in the industry relates to third party social audits. A lot of the certificates presented to third parties are fake or contain altered versions of facts. Additionally, audits have not decreased deadly accidents or improved working conditions by a significant amount. This is because the so called ‘independent’ auditors, are hired and paid by either the manufacturer or the buyer. This creates a clear conflict of interest as no auditing company wants to lose clients due to bad reports. Hence even the auditor may present a more positive image of working conditions than those that actually exist. There have even been cases where disregarding the limitations already mentioned, auditors are unable to recognize abusive working conditions. This could be due to falsified reports or the fact that when factory owners are notified of visits, they are able to manipulate conditions temporarily. (Terwindt and Saage-maass)

As a sovereign state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has established an extensive Labour Law that concerns the safety of employees in the workplace. Articles 23 to 38 in our Labour Law relate to workplace inspections. Labour inspectors are appointed by the Ministry of Labour and supervise the enforcement of all aspects of the Labour Law as well as record violations. They are “completely impartial”, do not have any “direct interest in the establishments inspected by them” and have to “pass a special examination after a training period of not less than three months”. (Labour and Workmen Law) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recommends that countries with large garment manufacturing sectors adopt policies similar to this. Having government employed auditors may ensure that they don’t have any connection to the manufacturer or buyer. This reduces the pressure on them to constantly give positive reports. Longer, secret audits should also be conducted so that inspectors are able to accurately gauge the working conditions of the factory. Doing so will prevent the manipulation of the situation by factory owners.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also recommends the creation of a uniform safety code. This will be a document that all garment factories will have to compulsorily adhere to, removing any discrepancies between such standards worldwide. Having a uniform code will also make it easier to educate workers about their rights as the number of variables controlling them would have reduced.

A study by the organization Sisters for Change in Bangalore, Karnataka, found that “of the respondent workers who were pregnant while working at a garment factory, 43% were not given maternity leave; 48% were no allowed to take time off work when ill with pregnancy related symptoms and 27% were not paid maternity leave.” (Eliminating Violence Against Women at Work) According to article 164 of the Labour Law in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, “workwoman shall be entitled to take as maternity leave the four weeks immediately preceding the expected date of delivery and six weeks following that date.” (Labour and Workmen Law) The law also allows for periods of rest that the women are entitled to post delivery in order to feed their child. It also outlines that all women on maternity leave are supposed to get at least half of their regular pay. (Labour and workmen law) We recommend that these regulations, or at least similar ones, are adopted by the countries that have a large garment manufacturing sector, so that the women working in the industry are not punished for something as natural as pregnancy.

Aside from these issues, women workers in the garment industry also face a lot of sexual abuse. They are verbally and physically threatened when they refuse to work overtime or take sick leave. Managers have even pressured women to have sexual intercourse with them. When confronted, they refused to accept the allegations and instead made the accusers work much harder than other workers. (Kashyap) The Sisters for Change study also found that 1 in 14 women garment workers have experiences physical violence in the workplace, and 1 in 7 have been coerced into a sexual act. The perpetrators of these crimes are often floor managers or supervisors and zero charges have been brought against them. (Eliminating Violence Against Women at Work) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been taking steps towards eliminating sexual harassment from the state completely and has hence introduced laws against sexual harassment. (Nugali) We hope that this committee too, outlines not only laws but also methods of enforcement in order to make the garment industry a safe place for women where they no longer have to be afraid of sexual harassment.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia understands that often without incentive or punishment, such policies can be difficult to enforce. Therefore, we propose that as a global community, we increase tariffs for countries that do not comply with the regulations decided upon by this committee.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia firmly believes that the safety of its citizens is not something a government can compromise on and urges all the countries in this committee to help create guidelines that work towards safeguarding the very people who put their trust in us.


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