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Sri Lanka should learn from J Crew’s exit

03.08.2012

The recent decision by US retailer J Crew to pull future orders from its Sri Lankan supplier Mirrai PVT Ltd. after the manufacturer refused to correct serious violations is sending a message to the industry that codes of conduct can be more than paper tigers.

IndustriALL Global Union has written to the Ceylon Employers’ Federation criticizing its knee-jerk reaction of blaming the union for the loss of orders and urging the industry to instead tackle the real issues in order to build a viable and sustainable export industry.

“In a letter addressed to its supplier, the retailer has made it perfectly clear that its reason for leaving the factory is not the allegations brought by the union, nor even the existence of violations, but rather Mirrai’s refusal to partner with J Crew in order to remedy those violations,” says Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union in his letter.

Late last year, when Mirrai cracked down on workers who were trying to organize, IndustriALL affiliate FTZGSEU tried to resolve the problem through dialogue. When the company refused to even meet, the union sought the intervention of the labour authorities, but still no progress was made. So the union then took the next logical step and asked the buyer, J Crew, to intervene to ensure respect for its code of conduct.

J Crew investigated and confirmed the allegations, while also confirming something it already suspected: that Mirrai did not have in place the necessary management systems expected of a company operating in global markets.

“This came as no great surprise to us,” says Raina. “Analysis shows that disregard for working conditions and industrial relations are usually a symptom of a weak management unable to realise a company’s full potential. Decent work, on the other hand, usually goes hand in hand with good performance.” 

Over several months J Crew sought the company’s cooperation in implementing an action plan to remedy the violations and deficiencies that had been identified. However, when the company indicated in actions and in writing that it had no intention of making the necessary improvements, the retailer had no option but to cease future production at the factory.

J Crew has indicated it will make every reasonable effort to exit Mirrai in a responsible and ethical manner that minimizes disruption to workers.

“Rather than lashing out at the union for the loss of orders, the Ceylon Employers’ Federation would do better to encourage Mirrai to make improvements in order to try to safeguard its business and the jobs of the workers it employs,” concludes Raina.