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Tunisian textile industry has grown tremendously over the period of two decades. To a great extent, Tunisia’s ability to get a good trade association agreement with the European Union has played a part in this growth. Tunisia now is one of the top 15 textile manufacturing companies in the world.
Textile industry in Tunisia shows two areas of concern. The first area of concern is the gender rights and pay parity issue because the Tunisian textile industry has employed a great number of women for the reason of obtaining cheap labour in order to offset costs and compete with European manufacturers. The other area of concern is the fact that the Tunisian textile companies are mostly small scale industries that still employ older production processes that are resource consuming as well as releasing a lot of pollutants in the environment.
Some of the recommendations made in this study are: pay parity in textile industry as between men and women; increased regulatory mechanism for testing pollutants; upgraded waste management treatment plants and recycling of waste water; Investment in research and development for evolving more environment friendly and sustainable manufacturing processes and environmental management systems. These reforms are required in order to make the textile manufacturing process more sustainable.
Key words: Tunisia, Textiles, Labour rights, Female Labour, Environment
In textile industry, there are two prominent sub-sectors, textiles and wearing apparel (Luken & Rompaey, 2007, p. 218). There is no historical data for textile industry’s two sub-sectors in Tunisia before 1995. However, the data available for 1995 and 2000, shows that Tunisia’s textile industry grew by almost 40 percent between 1995 and 2000 (Luken & Rompaey, 2007, p. 218).
Tunisia happens to be one of the top 15 textile supplier nation in the world. Tunisia’s proximity to the European nations is an important factor in the growth of its textile industry ( International Business Publications USA, 2013, p. 90). In 1997, Tunisia entered into a major agreement of association with the European Union (EU), allowing it duty free access into the European markets ( International Business Publications USA, 2013, p. 90).
The ability of Tunisia to tap into the European textile market is tremendous because it allows it to sell its domestically manufactured products in the European market. Earlier, Tunisia had to import expensive manufactured products from the French or other industrialised nations. In return, Tunisia sold its agricultural produce to the same countries. So the result was that Tunisia sold a lesser price agricultural commodities, which were then used as raw material to make industrialised produce, which Tunisia imported at a much higher price (Alexander, 2016, p. 109).
The Tunisian textile industry has been a particular beneficiary of the free trade agreements between Tunisia and EU (Alexander, 2016, p. 120). However, it is also a fact that Tunisia was able to expand its textile industry by taking advantage of its inexpensive labour (Ross, 2012, p. 128). More women labour force was employed in the textile industries of Tunisia and as compared to men, women labour worked for lesser wages, making labour even more inexpensive (Ross, 2012, p. 128). Textile firms were able to compete with the European manufacturers by deliberately employing cost saving manoeuvres such as employing unmarried women and paying them lower wages (Ross, 2012, p. 128). Therefore, in the context of textile industries an important area of sustainability concern is labour rights, particularly female labour rights, as the industry employs more women than men
Another area of concern is the environmental impact of textile industry or the processes employed by the textile industry.
The Tunisian textile industry is mostly consisting of small scale industries. As some of the processes involved in the textile sector are actually polluting, the Tunisian government has taken initiatives to ensure that these industries are situated away from residential areas and big cities (Luken & Rompaey, 2007, p. 219). The majority of small scale textile industries of Tunisia are known to use outdated machinery and production technology. Moreover, the dyeing, bleaching, printing processes, use of chemicals and the release of chemical affluent in the environment was also common (Luken & Rompaey, 2007). In 2000, a World Bank report specified that about 35 percent of the industrial manufacturing pollutant in Tunisia came from the textile industry (Luken & Rompaey, 2007, p. 224). In recent times, there is an increase in use of machinery that would use and waste less water and minimise chemical use.
A plus point of the Tunisian textile industry is the employment of a large female labour force, which has led to unionisation and collective bargaining by women, which have led to a gender based movement for better rights for women in the work force (Ross, 2012). Right to maternity leave, minimum work age, rights against sexual harassment, etc. have all been achieved in Tunisia, due to the gender rights movement led by female unions.
The following recommendations are made in order to make the Tunisian textile industry more sustainable with respect to the two points of concern that are discussed in the section before this. The first area of concern is the gender based labour rights. The second area of concern is the environment sustainability of the industry.
Tunisia has seen a good growth in its textile industry and it needs to keep the momentum of the industry going. In order to do so, Tunisia will have to create conditions in which sustainability of the textile industry is paramount. This sustainability has to be seen from the perspective of the environment as well as the labour force, which is the backbone of the industry.
Environmental sustainability can be ensured by implementing regulatory mechanisms that are used for testing pollution levels as well as regulating the industry. Water management, water treatment, environmental management plans, are all useful in this area. At the same time, gender parity in work place is essential in light of Tunisia’s large women force at work.
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