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The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has called on clothing maker Levi Strauss to pressure the Madagascar government into enforcing labour laws and get 43 port workers, dismissed for unionising, reinstated.
A report by the ITF and local labour union Syndicat General Maritime de Madagascar (SYGMMA) suggests dockers employed on a temporary basis frequently carry out tasks without safety equipment, are paid insufficiently and are prevented from engaging in union activities.
ITF president Paddy Crumlin said the union was seeking the intervention of “industry leader” Levi in the widening dispute with the Malagasy government and port operator International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI) over “poor and hazardous” working conditions.
“Levi’s is an industry leader in developing policies to improve workers’ rights in its factories, but the same rights need to be extended to its global supply chains,” said Mr Crumlin.
“Levi’s policies have seen improvements in working conditions for the garment workers, but transport workers that deliver its jeans and other apparel to stores across the globe are being exploited, and are working in dangerous conditions.”
A Levi Strauss spokesperson told The Loadstar the company produced only a small amount of its total global volume in Madagascar, and which only represented a marginal part of the cargo that passes through the port of Toamasina.
“Protecting the rights of workers throughout our supply chain is incredibly important to Levi Strauss & Co. We have a long, industry-leading history of ensuring workers are treated fairly,” added the spokesperson. “We are closely monitoring the situation in Madagascar.”
In 2012, three workers at the port of Toamasina were forced to resign by state-run Societe de Manutention des Merchandises Conventionelles (SMMC) after being appointed to represent SYGMMA members at the port.
Their dismissal resulted in major protests and a strike. After industrial action, a further 36 members of staff were sacked by SMMC.
One worker said: “I joined the union to protect my rights. I have the right to be free, to join the union and have the same conditions as the permanent workers. I have worked on the docks since 1990 with no wage increase.”
Another said: “I joined the union because I worked for the company for 20 years without a contract; and I worked for 20 years without a pay increase.”
The country’s Arbitration Board of the Court of First Instance ruled that SMMC’s failure to recognise the union amounted to “an unconstitutional act” contravening freedom of association. In 2014, this ruling was upheld by the National Chamber of Enforcement Agents.
Despite the verdicts, the SMMC has yet to reinstate any of the 43 workers and continues not to recognise SYGMMA.
While the report names ICTSI as an offending party, research by The Loadstar suggests the workers are in fact employed by SMMC.
Levi Strauss operates a code of conduct throughout its supply chains which calls on temporary workers to be employed on the same wages, benefits and other conditions of employment as permanent employees after nine months – or earlier should local laws dictate.
The ITF claims each of the four elements in Levi’s supply chain codes of conduct are being overlooked by SMMC: the upholding of legal judgements; rules regarding temporary workers; safety provisions; and freedom of association, which allows workers to unionise.
“These terms of engagement already apply to “every factory, subcontractor, licensee, agent or affiliate that manufactures or finishes products for Levi Strauss and Co,” said the ITF.
“It is time that the workers responsible for ensuring that Levi’s jeans make it onto ships to be transported to stores around the globe are afforded the same protection as workers who manufacture or finish their products.”