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Bringing shipping into shopping - Esprit, Levi Strauss called to aid dock workers

By Simone Preuss

30 May 2017

After garment workers as the immediate people who make our clothes, it is time to extend our thoughts to the whole supply chain and all those who work on making sure the desired garments reach the shops. Dock workers, for example. They work tirelessly to ensure that clothes get from Point A to Point B, yet few waste any thoughts about them.

A case in point is the Port of Toamasina (Tamatave) in Madagascar, which is operated by global port operator International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI). The port is the main gateway for textile products worth 360 million US dollars exported to Europe, worth 100 million US dollars to South Africa and worth 60 million US dollars to the USA. Major international brands like Esprit, Eddie Bauer, Camaieu and Levi Strauss source their garments in Madagascar.

A new report by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and local Madagascan union SYGMMA wants to change how little attention is paid to this part of the supply chain - shipping and handling - which nevertheless accounts for about 20 percent in costs per garment, much more than the roughly 5 percent spent on manufacturing (see a comparison for a pair of jeans here).

After garment workers, dock workers feel the heat

The report is titled “Esprit: End the double standards in your supply chain” and specifically targets a major international garment manufacturer that is using the Port of Toamasina. It is pressuring fashion label Esprit to join forces with denim brand Levi Straus & Co and help end the exploitation of Madagascan dockworkers.

The background is one that only seems too familiar: Workers get exploited through long hours, little pay and dangerous working conditions; workers try to change something about their situation by taking action with the support of local unions; workers get fired.

This is exactly what happened in Madagascar: After joining their union to fight for better wages and against dangerous working conditions, the workers faced intimidation and retaliation from the management who gave them two options: leave the union or lose your jobs. The workers refused and were sacked as promised, which is a violation of their right to freedom of association. Since then, none of the 43 workers have been reinstated and most are struggling to survive.

Reason enough for the ITF to reach out to the brands themselves. “Levi Strauss has demonstrated industry leadership and responded positively to the ITF when we briefed them on the situation in Madagascar. They have recognised the 'hidden workforce' that forms part of their supply chain and been prepared to take concrete steps to support these workers,” reported Paddy Crumlin, ITF president and dockers’ section chair, about a worsening dispute with the Madagascan Government and port operator ICTSI.

“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,” explained Crumlin in an ITF press release published yesterday. The ITF is an international union federation representing around 700 transport unions and more than 4.5 million transport workers from 150 countries.

The Government of Madagascar now faces an International Labour Organisation (ILO) complaint over the dispute. More information including the full report can be found via the website justicefordockworkers.org.

Images: via Justice for Dock Workers website