Romania: social compliance to the rescue?

This week, international verification coordinator Margreet Vrieling visited Romania. Here’s some of her thoughts on the country’s garment industry.

Will social compliance be an asset for Romanian factories to keep the industry strong?

In former years, low labour costs were a competitive factor for the textile and garment industry in Romania, stimulating the growth of the so-called ‘lohn system’ in the sector: the buying company provides the raw materials and the factory in Romania will only offer the cutting, sewing and packaging.

Nowadays this lohn system is on its return, in favour of more integrated processing within the Romanian companies. In addition, own brands are increasing and developments towards innovative materials are stimulated. These are some of the responses to the crises which was seriously impacting the country.  As the garment sector is important to the Romanian economy, social partners agreed in the first half of this year to a social pact. The result will be evaluated this autumn. Strengthening the sector is obviously the common objective of partners, employers and unions. That was made clear in all my meetings with Romanian stakeholders this week.

For a country with a communist history, it is not surprising that trade unions do not have a good image. Still it is striking that there is so little knowledge and awareness and thus willingness to participate in consultation at the work place and to organise workers. On paper, worker representatives might exist, but that does not say anything at all about the involvement or consultation of workers in company policy for labour conditions.

Workers are the best in place to judge on their labour conditions, and are there for the right persons to ask for suggestions to improve the labour conditions.  Furthermore they are completely aware of the fact that the company they work for needs to be competitive, in order to safeguard the jobs. The search is for the balance between competitiveness and good conditions in the factories…For a country which competitiveness for European buyers nowadays is based on the factor ‘time’, even more then labour cost, this is a challenge. If more buyers express the importance of social compliance this will certainly stimulate improvements towards more social compliance.

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