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Friday, 9 May 2008


A public relations exercise by Swaziland’s textile factory owners may have backfired badly.

Journalists from Swazi media houses were given a tour of some of the factories in the kingdom that were at the centre of controversy in March this year (2008) when workers striking over poor pay and conditions were brutally attacked by police.

The idea was to show that the textile factories were responsible employers and had an important role to play in the Swazi economy.

The tour was organised by the Swaziland Textile Employers Association (STEA) with the Taiwanese embassy in Swaziland. (Companies based in Taiwan own most of the textile factories in Swaziland.)

The Swazi Observer played ball with the STEA and in its newspaper yesterday (8 May 2008) gave a simple account of the work going on in four of the major textile factories in Swaziland. Readers learned how many people were employed and such like. All good public relations stuff on behalf of the owners.

The Times of Swaziland took a different tack and managed to paint a pretty poor picture of the owners. A report (8 May 2008) headlined HIV/AIDS killing workers said that investors in the textile industry were complaining that too many workers were taking time off work because they were sick.

The Times reported, ‘It is said that those who are sick would spend more time visiting the health centres and clinics to seek medical attention than being at work.’

The Times managed to find someone to condemn the textile owners and complain that they were making unsubstantiated allegations against the workers. There are no official statistics available on which textile workers go sick and for what reason. Also, STEA members did not have HIV AIDS programmes to help workers. The conclusion reached was that ‘STEA were only interested in making money and do not care about Swazis.’

It didn’t get better for STEA when the Times also reported that factory bosses were searching workers as they left work to make sure they were not stealing. One factory owner described this behaviour as dehumanising.

The Observer has promised readers more reports from the textiles tour in its edition today (9 May 2008). The Times made no such promise. For which I am sure the STEA will be extremely grateful.

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