Liaqat Javed, director of Backwards Rehabilitation and Improvement Commission Pakistan (BRIC). Foto: Swedwatch

Important steps have been taken to improve working conditions in the manufacturing of surgical instruments in Pakistan. But worker awareness and education is still needed in order to enact real change, says expert Liaqat Javed in an interview with Swedwatch.

More than 150 million surgical instruments are produced in Pakistan every year and the global market value amounted to € 277 million in 2013-2014. Many of the instruments reach hospitals in Sweden through Swedish suppliers.

The director of Backwards Rehabilitation and Improvement Commission Pakistan (BRIC), Liaqat Javed, recently visited Sweden to share his experience from workers’ rights in Pakistan. Swedwatch and BRIC have together been investigating working conditions in the surgical manufacturing industry since 2006. The studies show that things have improved, thanks to social criteria in public procurement.

Liaqat points out that when BRIC first started looking into the industry, child labour was wide spread, workers earned below minimum wage, and unions were actively repressed. Today, the conditions have improved to some extent.

- The producers we have worked with for several years have effectively managed to prevent child labour at their factories. But when we visit smaller workshops, it does not take long before we spot small children, he says.

The exporting factories claim that they do not use these vendors and have a strict no child labour policy. However factories often outsource their production to sub-suppliers who in turn outsource to the vendors. It is difficult to have full control over the entire supply chain, Liaqat explains.

- But the children are obviously producing instruments for someone. If not for the exporting factories, then who is it for? He asks himself.

In order to effectively deal with the issue two important steps need to be taken, according to Liaqat. First, children need to have access to affordable schools and education. Second, the employers need to pay the workers a decent wage so that they can afford sending their children to school - instead of sending them to work.

Moreover, awareness is a crucial factor in strengthening workers’ rights - both amongst management and employees. The management needs to understand that their concern stretches beyond the workers and the factory floor, to the families as well. The wages affect not only the employee but also the lives of their entire family. In addition workers themselves require increased awareness of their rights. Younger generations, now entering the industry, are not aware of the role of unions and therefore do not see the need for one.

- Only when workers themselves are aware of their rights, will they form unions and stand up for their rights, says Liaqat.

When asked what buyers in Sweden and the EU can do in order to contribute to a positive change, Liaqat points out that buyers need to understand that change comes slowly. Demands are important but you need to work together with the manufacturers in Pakistan, not pull out as soon as problems arise. Furthermore, an organisation focusing on educating and increased awareness amongst workers is needed.

Swedwatch will continue to pursue the incorporation of social criteria in public procurement and will follow up on the development of the surgical manufacturing industry. For more information on the procurement of surgical instruments and the developments in Pakistan see the Swedwatch report from February 2015 “Healthier Procurement – Improvements to working conditions for surgical instruments manufacture in Pakistan.

  • Focus Areas: Public procurement
  • Industry: Manufacturing
  • Publication: Article
  • Region: Asia

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