Free trade zone workers in Sri Lanka protest against GSP+ status in 2016.

The fact finding mission participants in Sri Lanka

The mission met with workers and trade union leaders in Sri Lanka

The mission had several concerns about labour rights in Sri Lanka

MEPs demand respect for labour rights in Sri Lanka

19.04.2017

A fact finding mission to Sri Lanka, including Members of the European Parliament, has concluded that workers must have the right to organize and bargain collectively if the country is to be granted preferential trading conditions by the European Union. 

“We are willing to give preferences to Sri Lanka, but only if we are sure that the benefit also goes to the workers,” said MEP Lola Sánchez Caldentey in a statement following the mission.

Participants in the mission, which took place between 10 and 12 April, were invited by the IndustriALL Sri Lanka Council to assess the country’s progress in human and labour rights compliance in relation to the re-application by the Government of Sri Lanka for the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences Plus status (GSP+).

The status offers trade incentives to developing countries that implement core international conventions on human and labour rights, sustainable development and good governance.

However, after more than ten meetings in Sri Lanka, Sánchez Caldentey said:

“If the European Union consumers knew the abusive conditions under which the women make the cloth that they buy, they would be ashamed.”

MEP Anne-Marie Mineur added: “The government must ensure that these workers can organize themselves through trade unions, because otherwise they will keep on being exploited.”

The European Union is due to assess Sri Lanka’s application for GSP+ status over the next month.

The delegation, which also included representatives from trade union 3F of Denmark, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) and Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), met workers and trade union leaders who have been subject to harassment, illegal dismissal, sexual harassment and labour rights violations in the Free Trade Zones of Sri Lanka.

The delegates expressed their concerns about the extensive use of manpower agencies for co-working arrangements, which have undermined freedom of association and collective bargaining in Sri Lanka. They were also worried that the judiciary has been increasingly interfering in labour disputes and collective bargaining to the detriment of trade unions.

In response to the fact finding mission’s statement, IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, Jenny Holdcroft, said:

“It is good that EU Parliamentarians have been to Sri Lanka to see for themselves the conditions for workers. We hope that this will encourage the EU to put proper protections in place to ensure that the benefits of trade are passed on to Sri Lankan workers.  Full respect for the rights to freedom of association and to bargain collectively is essential.”