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* Brandix responds to Human Rights Watch article on Garment Workers
Wed, Jul 21, 2021, 10:46 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

July 21, Colombo: Sri Lanka’s leading garment manufacturer, Brandix has responded to an article by the Human Rights Watch titled ‘Sri Lanka: Protect Garment Workers’ Rights During Pandemic’, which urged the Sri Lankan government, factory owners, and the international clothes brands sourcing from Sri Lanka to protect the safety and employment rights of garment workers

In the article, the Human Rights Watch stated that “Following the major outbreak at a Brandix factory in October, trade unions filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka alleging that soldiers “rounded up” 98 workers in the middle of the night and arbitrarily detained them in an unsanitary quarantine facility.”

Brandix has sent the following response to HRW to clarify the statements made in the article:

We are writing to you on behalf of Brandix to clarify our stance on the article published on Human Rights Watch titled ‘Sri Lanka: Protect Garment Workers’ Rights During Pandemic’. We would like the opportunity to provide clarity for the statements made in the article, and believe that you will incorporate below accordingly, to provide an accurate and balanced view to your readers.

On the article on the HRW website, dated July 12, “Sri Lanka: Protect Garment Workers’ Rights During Pandemic”, paragraph 13 states – “Following the major outbreak at a Brandix factory in October, trade unions filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka alleging that soldiers “rounded up” 98 workers in the middle of the night and arbitrarily detained them in an unsanitary quarantine facility.”

We would like to clarify that this does not refer to Brandix employees. While the pandemic posed many challenges for us, particularly as a labour-intensive industry, our employees’ health and wellbeing remained our priority. On the 3rd of October 2020, a team member at our manufacturing facility in Minuwangoda, Gampaha tested positive for COVID-19. During this time, the country was in a state of near normalcy, with no restrictions on public gatherings or public transport. On 30th September, upon being detected with fever and a chest pain, the team member was accompanied by us and admitted to a Government hospital, where she was subsequently discharged two days later, on 2nd October to return home. At the time of departure, a random PCR was carried out on her by the hospital and on 3rd October, the team member was declared COVID positive. Following this identification, a mass scale PCR testing was conducted on the entire workforce at the Minuwangoda facility where a large number of team members were found COVID positive. On 4th October, the facility was taken over by the COVID Task Force and remained under the supervision of health officials thereafter, with our affected team members being transferred to hospitals and quarantine centres under its direction. During this period, we immediately engaged in extensive measures to ensure the wellbeing of our employees, their families and communities, which included facilitating a 24/7 call centre for connectivity as well as another call centre to address concerns during employees’ home quarantine period; distribution of essential packs to affected team members and their families; handling of transportation logistics of our team members and their close contacts across hospitals and quarantine centres island-wide; and addressing mental health concerns through counselling, to name a few. We are happy to note that all affected team members and their families returned home safely.

COVID Health Committees

It had been agreed at a Government COVID Task Force meeting held in November 2020 to have Bipartite Health Committees at factories, which was then formalized with the issue of “Operational Guidelines on Preparedness & Response for COVID 19 Outbreak for Apparel Industry”. Brandix is compliant and has had these committees in place for over 3 years across all its factories as dedicated Occupational Health & Safety Committees that meet once a month. The committees have a 40:60 split between Management and factory Associates and includes a medical nurse, representatives of service providers and representatives from each department. With the onset of COVID-19, the OHS Committees also focused on COVID-19 related matters in consultation with all stakeholders and formally included it into the agenda in October 2020, prior to the Government guidelines issued in November 2020. All Brandix factories are continuing to operate under strict health guidelines in complete accordance with the local health authorities. Some of the current protocols implemented across all our facilities are:

  • Random PCR tests are conducted weekly as a proactive measure for early detection of individuals who may be affected with COVID. This allows our employees to receive early treatment and minimize transmission of infection within the factory and employee communities, especially from those that are asymptomatic. Additionally, first contacts of those who test positive are also quarantined with paid leave.
  • Pregnant employees, employees with pre-existing chronic conditions, and those who choose not to attend work due to other COVID related concerns are all advised to stay home, with full salaries paid for the duration of their home stay. This period of absence is also treated as company leave and is not deducted from the employee’s entitled leave.
  • Daily self-screening and temperature checks prior to our employees getting on our fleet of buses dedicated for staff transport. The next health screens are conducted at the entrance to the factory, at midday and before they exit the factories.
  • Frequent handwashing and hand sanitisation as well as wearing of masks during work times are strictly followed.
  • All our factories operate at approx. 70% capacity (a lower percentage than allowed by the authorities) to ensure social distancing within the factory floor.

In order to secure the safety and wellbeing of our workforce as well as sustain the business, a strong vaccination drive is critical. The vaccinating of apparel workers has commenced accordingly, and we are grateful for the efforts in this regard by the relevant authorities.

AG’s Investigation into the COVID Outbreak at Brandix in October 2020

On 6th July 2021, the Minuwangoda Magistrate’s Court concluded the case on the investigations into the spread of COVID-19 at the Brandix Minuwangoda facility in October 2020. In summary, the proceedings confirmed that there has been no deliberate negligence or oversight which caused danger to human life and that the investigation has covered the full extent of the AG’s letter and there has been no evidentiary basis that reveals any need for action. It was also further advised that it is not necessary to proceed with any further inquiries. The company welcomes the conclusion of the case and reiterate our position that all protocols were followed at all our facilities as required by health authorities and will continue to do so in the face of the continuing pandemic.

 

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