30 days of the Absence of Law – 30 days of Betrayal – 30 Days of Struggle

7 July 2020: The struggle of 600+ women workers at the multinational global retail giant H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) supplier the ECC 2 unit of Gokaldas Exports Limited (GE) in Srirangapatna, Karnataka continues into its thirtieth day. Of the 1200 women, who were laid off by GE without any notice on 6 June 2020, many have been threatened and intimidated into turning in their resignations. But the brave and resolute 600+ still stand their ground against continuing threats and intimidation by GE management, their own fear of losing their only livelihood, and the complete apathy of H&M, the only retailer sourcing from this unit for the last six years.

GE, one of the largest garment exporters of the country, laid off 1200 workers illegally on 6 June claiming they had no orders, from obviously H&M – the sole sourcing TNC from this unit – and hence could not provide work. GE has not even paid the workers their full wages for the lockdown in violation of the 29 March Ministry of Home Affairs order. The government took no action against this violation. The workers and their entire families have had to survive on partially paid half wages of Rs 338 (USD 4.64) per day for the entire period of lockdown. This is lower than the MNREGA wage in Karnataka and lower than the cheapest piece of clothing that H&M sells. On 6 June, GE announced an entirely illegal layoff at the factory.  The dispute is before the Karnataka Labour Department and it has been a month and the state government has taken no action against GE for its illegal actions.

GE has also been sending their managers to the factory to intimidate workers and aggravate their already soaring anxiety. They are defaming the union, our affiliate the Garment and Textile Workers Union, claiming that the union is delaying the resolution of the dispute by filing complaints which will eventually end up in court. GE is playing with the lack of trust workers have in the judiciary as a method of building coercive pressure on workers to resign. The management is also scaring workers with the possibility of another corona virus lockdown in which they will neither get work nor wage and therefore will not be able to survive. The abject poverty and destitution of the workers is being used by GE to extract resignations from workers. Yet 600+ workers still brave on.

H&M – Stop Redwashing your Union busting 

H&M states in its Sustainability statement titled Fair and Equal states: ‘As a large global company, we have responsibilities for all 1.6 million textile workers employed by our suppliers and therefore committing to ‘responsible purchasing practices’.

These words have been thin in being translated into action.  Of GE’s 20 factories, H&M sources from 6, ECC2 is the only one where a majority of the workers are unionised and has been so for over several years now. Targeting this factory alone amounts to a fundamental violation to right to freedom of association. In the Global Framework Agreement (GFA) H&M has with IndustriALL Global Union, they are committed to the right of workers to freedom of association and therefore to negotiate with the union. Despite this H&M has made no effort to find a solution.

Moreover, H&M in its own Code of Conduct commits to “implement them (Sustainability Commitment) in our operations as well as aim to realize them throughout our supply chain.” These sustainability commitments include:

“All work performed (in the supply chain) must be on the basis of recognized employment relationship established through national law and practice.” – GE is in violation of this by declaring an illegal layoff without following due process of national law. H&M has taken no action against GE for this.

All wages shall be paid on a regular basis and in full (in the supply chain)…” – GE is in violation of this when they paid only 50% of wages for lockdown period violating a central government order. H&M has not just taken no action against GE for this but has also not financially contributed to ensure payment of wages in this unprecedented condition despite their global commitment on covid relief.

The lay-off, illegal as it may be, makes workers eligible to half a month’s wage for the month of June, due today – 7 July. There is no sign of this being paid. This is a third degree pressure on workers to give up their fight.

A month in the life of a USD 200 million employer (GE) or in the life of USD 25 billion TNC (H&M) is certainly different from the life of a worker who earns a meager USD 4.64 in a day to feed her entire family. Their respective capacities to hold out are infinitely skewed. The 600+ workers uncertain about their future, about their next meal for their aging parents, for their little children holding out for a month are not seeking charity.

We are seeking Justice. We are seeking our Jobs. We are seeking Our Wages that the Prime Minister promised us. We are seeking our Rights.

  • Government of India, Government of Karnataka: Declare the layoff at ECC 2 illegal and Initiate prosecution against Gokaldas for non-payment of full wages for lockdown period
  • Gokaldas Exports: Reopen ECC 2 and Reinstate all 1200 workers and pay full lockdown wages and full wages for period of illegal layoff
  • H&M:  Honour your GFA commitments to IndustriALL, Stand up to your CoC: ensure Reopening of ECC 2 by Gokaldas Export, ensure Payment of full lockdown wages and full wages for period of illegal layoff

Gautam Mody
General Secretary