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My first trip for FWF was to Lithuania, a country with a long tradition of textile production. I spent a week in Vilnius and Kaunas visiting local organisations and factories. Of course I did not miss the opportunity to admire the beautiful architecture of the Old Town. It was said that Vilnius was built after a dream of the grand Duke Gediminas.
Although very proud of their history, of which the garment industry is an important part, not many young Lithuanians are now working in the garment industry. Most workers are at the age of 40-50 and will retire over the next ten to twenty years.
The industry may face major labour shortage in the coming years according to Linas Lasiauskas, president of Lithuania Apparel and Textile Industry Association (LATIA). LATIA is working actively with the textile workers branch of Solidarumas, a trade union confederation to promote CSR in their member companies. Both parties believe that better working conditions will improve the quality of products and attract more young people to the industry.
Currently, seven FWF affiliates are sourcing from twenty factories in Lithuania, at least three of which are unionised and members of the Lithuania Trade Union of Light Industry. In Kaunas, home to 40% of the textile industry, I visited two factories that supply FWF affiliates. The factories had most of its basic facilities in order and way better than many factories I used to visit in Asia. But wages, although higher than the legal minimum (800 Lt per month), are low, considering the cost of living. All underscored that wages are by far the biggest problem, though undocumented and unpaid overtime also rates highly. For our affiliates and other companies sourcing from Lithuania, it is a challenge to monitor subcontractors, where labour conditions are generally worse and unionisation is low.
I am working on a stakeholders consultation report, which will be available soon on our website. If you are interested in more stories, do come back to check!