Esprit, a major international garment manufacturer using the Port of Toamasina (Tamatave) in Madagascar, has been called up to join with Levi Straus & Co and help end a on-going labor dispute involving Madagascan dockworkers.
43 workers were sacked for fighting for better wages and against dangerous conditions by joining a union. They faced intimidation and retaliation from management – who gave them two options: leave the union or lose their jobs.
The workers refused and were sacked, contravening their basic human right to freedom of association. The Supreme Court of Madagascar ruled that the workers should be re-instated, but the Government has refused so far to enforce the decision, and none of the workers have been reinstated. Most are struggling to survive.
The ICTSI-operated Port of Toamasina is the main gateway for $360 million worth of textile products exported to Europe, $100 million to South Africa, and $60 million to the U.S. Major international brands source clothing in Madagascar including Esprit, Eddie Bauera, Camaieu and Levi Strauss.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and local Madagascan union SYGMMA have called for an end to what they say is double standards in the clothing industry supply chain. The unions have actions planned at Esprit stores in Australia, the U.S, Indonesia and Europe.
The Government of Madagascar also faces an International Labour Organisation (ILO) complaint over the dispute. Paddy Crumlin, ITF President and Dockers’ Section Chair, said the union is seeking ILO intervention in the worsening dispute.
Levi Strauss has raised its concerns with the Madagascan government and has agreed to work with the ITF to help resolve the issue.
“Levi Strauss has demonstrated industry leadership and responded positively to the ITF when we briefed them on the situation in Madagascar,” said Crumlin. “They have recognized the “hidden workforce” that forms part of their supply chain and been prepared to take concrete steps to support these workers.
“The ITF is challenging Esprit, who use the port, to step up and support a just resolution to this dispute. International brands need to recognize that workers who move their products to market deserve to be treated fairly. Levi understood its’ customers expect an ethical supply chain - that includes dockworkers – Esprit must do the same,” said Crumlin.
The ITF notes that ICTSI, the terminal operator at Port of Toasmina, generated a profit margin exceeding 40 percent for 2013 and 2014, with average earnings per TEU approaching $60. By comparison, dockers at Port of Toamasina earn about $0.02 per container.
The average wage for the dockers is $40 per month, with a maximum of about $10 per day if container volumes are high. One of the 43 men said he had joined the union, because he had not received a wage increase in 27 years.
Madagascar is among the world's poorest nations, with a GDP per capita of about $460 – about half the level in Bangladesh – and its economy relies on the relatively high wages paid in the garment industry.
The SYGMMA has launched a report on the issue which is available here.