Global apparel brands pledge to improve conditions for workers

Updated 29 January 2016
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Global apparel brands pledge to improve conditions for workers

MUMBAI: Clothing companies H&M, Inditex, C&A and PVH have committed to improving the lives of workers in India’s southern city of Bengaluru, after a report said employees lived in appalling conditions and were denied decent wages and freedom of movement.
Gap Inc., which also sources apparel from Bengaluru, did not respond to the report by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), according to a statement by the Dutch non-governmental group. A draft of the report, Unfree and Unfair, was presented to the companies last November.
The conditions of garment workers in South Asia have come under sharp scrutiny following the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, in which 1,135 workers were killed, many of them employed by suppliers to Western retailers.
The ICN report said hostels run by the Bengaluru factories lacked basic amenities such as beds and clean water, and that workers earned between 95 euros ($104) and 115 euros per month, just above the official minimum wage of 93 euros to 103 euros.
Bengaluru, a hub for apparel exporters, is also known as India’s Silicon Valley for its numerous information technology companies, and draws migrants seeking better economic prospects from its home Karnataka state, as well as from neighboring Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and the country’s north and east.
There are an estimated 1,200 garment factories in and around Bengaluru, making apparel for large global brands.
Many of the workers are women from poor backgrounds who do not know the local language and are unaware of their rights, making them more vulnerable to exploitation, according to the report based on interviews with 110 migrant workers at four garment factories in the city.
“Global companies have a responsibility to ensure better conditions for the workers, as they are directly benefiting from their labor,” Raphel Jose, vice president of supply-chain sustainability at the Center for Responsible Business in Bengaluru, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“This is an area where the brands can come together and collaborate with a local agency and pressurise the industry to improve conditions.”
Dutch clothing retailer C&A, Swedish retailer H&M and Spain’s Inditex, which owns the Zara and Massimo Dutti brands, will work together and liaise with local trade unions to provide training and address workers’ grievances, ICN said.
Inditex will evaluate the state of workers at its suppliers and factories across India, while PVH Corp., which owns brands including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, is developing new guidelines for its suppliers, ICN said.
“If the brands commit to these issues and their plan of action, we expect that considerable progress can be made in addressing the working and living conditions of young migrant garment workers in Bangalore,” ICN said in the statement.


DR Congo’s mining industry hobbled by poor infrastructure

Updated 27 min 57 sec ago
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DR Congo’s mining industry hobbled by poor infrastructure

  • DR Congo is Africa’s largest copper producer, and while it is the world’s leading source of cobalt, miners can only export concentrated forms of cobalt at 60-70 percent of the market price because of the energy problem.
  • A massive hydropower project on the River Congo, Inga 3, has the potential to power the entire country and even the continent, but it has been frequently delayed.

LUBUMBASHI: Feasting on a global demand for cobalt and copper, the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo is flourishing — but two clouds loom over its sunny outlook.

First is the lack of power, which is holding back the development of the minerals processing sector and crimping the country’s ability to reap higher profits from the boom.

DR Congo is Africa’s largest copper producer, and while it is the world’s leading source of cobalt, miners can only export concentrated forms of cobalt at 60-70 percent of the market price because of the energy problem.

“We have an estimated potential of 100,000 MW/year but only produce 3,000 MW/year,” said Michael Shengo, chief of staff for the provincial mining minister for Haut-Katanga earlier this week, as he opened DRC Mining Week, an annual conference in the southeastern town of Lubumbashi.

A massive hydropower project on the River Congo, Inga 3, has the potential to power the entire country and even the continent, but it has been frequently delayed.

Now the project looks to be back on track, thanks to a joint bid by Spanish and Chinese companies: China Three Gorges Corp. and Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA.

Bruno Kapandji, director of the Agency for the Development and Promotion of the Grand Inga Project, announced the project’s relaunch in front of miners and investors at the conference.

“Our objective is to start the Inga project this year. It could take five to seven years, maybe up to 11 years,” said Kapandji.

Another challenge for the mining industry, which represents 20 to 25 percent of the country’s GDP, is a new fiscal law to raise taxes.

Seven mining companies, known locally as “the G7,” have argued the new code violates terms of the previous version, which provided a 10-year stability clause after any fiscal change. Some of the companies could be preparing for legal action as a result.

One of its most vocal members, Mark Bristow, CEO of gold mining company Randgold Resources, had a warning for other industries operating in the country. “Attracting investment and developing a mining industry is about trust,” he said, “and I see the government is making guarantees to other industries (solar, electricity), and what do they think when they see our guarantees are being taken away?“

Discussing and signing deals is one thing, but implementing and developing them remains an immense challenge.

The World Bank has ranked DR Congo 182nd country out of 190 for doing business, and the French credit insurer Coface rates it at the same level as Libya, Venezuela, Afghanistan and Syria, due to the political uncertainties, corruption and poor governance.

There are glimmers of hope in other sectors in the troubled country, currently in the grips of an Ebola epidemic and a bloody internal conflict.

In the capital Kinshasa, French sports retailer Decathlon has just opened its first store — a gamble in a city of 10 million where many are struggling to pay for essentials such as food and shelter.

Richard Kalinda, a Franco-Congolese, who once said his dream was opening a shop in his home country, said: “I have to reach 0.1 percent of the population. We are marketing for the middle class, people who have a regular income.”

However, Kalinda added they will have to adapt their prices to the country’s average salary.

At the 5th edition of the “French week” organized by the Franco-Congolese Chamber of Commerce, the theme set the tone for those looking to invest in the country: “Securing business, a challenge and a necessity.”

For the chamber of commerce, opening and bringing international capital in DR Congo requires being very well informed.

“Companies often have to confront administrative and procedural challenges that could be called fiscal harassment,” said the French ambassador to DR Congo, Alain Remy in an interview with Mining and Business magazine.

Debt-ridden Gecamines, the state-mining company, announced this week it struck a recapitalization deal with its Anglo-Swiss partner Glencore who agreed on a $150 million payment.

Gecamines had started legal proceedings to dissolve the Kamoto Copper Mine, but Glencore has
reportedly agreed to write off the $5.6 billion debt to safeguard the joint venture.

“We are entering a period for the mining industry that will be profitable for all,” said Yuma, “but only if relations
between foreign investors and the DRC are more equitable. The new code will make that possible, and I call on everyone to conform to it.”