The global environment after the expiry of the quota system in textiles and clothing (T&C) trade poses formidable challenges to human development in Pakistan. Increased quality and price competition in the post-ATC scenario provides an opportunity for some segments of the T&C sector – but a threat to the most labour-intensive ones. As quality and quantity of employment were largely ignored factors in the preparations for the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing’s (ATC’s) abolition in Pakistan, potential job and wage losses are feared, in garment manufacturing in particular. Unskilled and female workers are most vulnerable.
Challenges also provide the opportunity for change. The following recommendations are put forward in this policy brief:
Skills improvement in both skilled and unskilled occupations in the T&C sector should be undertaken by government and industry. This would reduce the vulnerability of these occupations to adverse effects of structural change, and at the same time enhance the competitiveness of the T&C sector.
Likewise, the implementation of core labour standards at the national, regional and global levels would protect, if not improve, working conditions for millions of workers and provide a more level playing field for competition in the post-quota era.
Mitigation measures should be implemented as soon as possible for vulnerable workers who have - or might - become victims of structural change in the T&C industry.
In these efforts, a focus on women workers in skill development and mitigation measures is required. As unskilled workers, women face more precarious working conditions and fewer job alternatives. Very few highly qualified and skilled women enter managerial positions, and this lack is another factor in depriving the country of development opportunities.
Awareness should be raised amongst cultivators and pickers about the health hazards associated with pesticide application. Incentives to reduce cotton contamination should be provided to cotton growers in a manner that can be passed on to female pickers. Such measures would improve working conditions and product value-addition at the same time.
Broadened and strengthened collaboration between workers, employers, and the Government is necessary to reach these objectives.
Overall, social development in Pakistan needs to be emphasised. Investment in, for example, health and education, benefits human development directly, but is also a pre-requisite for more competitive and sustainable industrial development.