UN labour chief urges textile industry actors to smooth rough edges of change

25 October 2005

The phasing out of international textile and garment quotas has created tremendous uncertainty among millions of people in the industry, including many who lost their jobs as a result, the head of the United Nations labour agency said in Geneva, calling on governments, workers and employers to come up with new ways to ease the impact.

"This sector symbolizes the potentials and problems of global production systems," Juan Somavia, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), told the Tripartite Meeting on Promoting Fair Globalization in Textiles and Clothing on Monday. "We need to address the transformation of the textiles and clothing sector in a socially responsible way," he added.

Since the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing terminated at the beginning of year while the international system of import/export quotas under the Multifibre Agreement was phased out, the $350 million textile and clothing industry employing 40 million workers has shifted to accommodate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), creating huge uncertainty among producing countries, workers and enterprises worldwide, according to the ILO.

"The goal is to craft strategies and policy responses on how best to adapt to the changing environment so that …we can combine competitiveness, decent work, and fair rules of the game," Mr. Somavia said of the shift.

He noted that recent global agreements, including the Outcome Document adopted by the 2005 World Summit, have reaffirmed the need for attention to decent work and fair globalization. The challenge now, he added, is translating the broad vision into a practical approach.

Now that quotas have been lifted, ILO said more work is flowing to large, low-cost producer countries, and markets drying up in smaller nations that benefited previously from the restrictions. In response, Mr. Somavia called for efforts to "upgrade the skills and employability of workers and managers entering and leaving the industry."

"If we have the vision and the will, the end of the quota system can herald the beginning of a commonly agreed, new people-centred approach to promoting fair globalization in the textile and clothing industry," Mr. Somavia said.

The ILO three-day tripartite meeting and will review strategies that have been put in place for promoting fair globalization in the worldwide textiles and clothing sector.


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