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BERLIN – 49 retailers which purchase from India have written to the country’s Prime Minister expressing “serious concern” at the slacking of the country’s labour laws in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Adidas, Primark, Hugo Boss, Next and C&A are among the signatories, many of which are part of the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. Their letter requests that Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintain international labour standards as laid down by the ILO.

Adjustments to labour laws in India are, it is argued, intended to increase the competitiveness of garment factories again after the long lockdown due to COVID-19. However, the retailers claim these adjustments could result in the labour law no longer corresponding to what is set down in ILO conventions.

The letter states: “The amendment or suspension of key labour laws in India in response to the pandemic would leave us seriously concerned about respect for worker rights in our supply chains.

“We are concerned that the amendments to state labour laws countermand Convention 144 in as much as they were made without formal consultation with employers and workers. Other ILO conventions could also be violated by the proposed amendments, including Convention 001, related to hours of work; Convention 081, related to labour inspections; and Conventions 87 and 98, regarding freedom of association and collective bargaining.

“In light of this, it was heartening to see the Government’s affirmative response to the concerns raised about this by the ILO. Such concerns are becoming increasingly acute, however, as workers now return to their places of employment.

“In short, the proposed changes would seriously jeopardize the safety, security, and well-being of workers in India. In this vein, we respectfully request you to: (1) ensure that the restrictions on labour laws promoted by the state governments are not implemented; (2) encourage those governments to consult with affected stakeholders, including trade unions, before proposing additional changes to state labour laws; and (3) ensure that all eight fundamental ILO Conventions are implemented in India.”

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