“If the European Union consumers knew the extremely abusive working conditions of the women who produce the clothes they buy from Sri Lanka, they would be ashamed,” said Lola Sánchez Caldentey, Member of European Parliament (MEP). These comments came in the wake of her recent visit to Sri Lanka, with fellow MEP Anne-Marie Mineur, to evaluate labour rights in the country’s garment industry, which accounts for about half of Sri Lanka’s total exports.
Sri Lanka’s labour rights regime is under scrutiny as the EU will decide next month whether the country is entitled to preferential trade access to the EU under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) regime. Poor human rights records had led to the suspension of the country from GSP+ since 2010.
During the visit, the Sri Lankan Government committed to labour rights improvements, such as allowing trade union access to export processing zones, a revision of the labour law and of the union threshold and ensuring that the benefits of the preferential trade status would be shared with the workers.
Considering that EU is Sri Lanka’s second-largest trading partner, it is worth noting that this decision has far-reaching consequences. “The European Union should not grant a special trade status to Sri Lanka if the money coming from the advantages of this status would remain only in the pockets of a few businessmen. We are willing to give preferences to Sri Lanka, but only if we are sure that the benefit will go to the workers,” mentioned Caldentey.
The MEPs expressed serious concern over the implementation of legislation that was to address human rights violations during the visit.