EU's Review of Pakistan's GSP+ Status

While the final decision awaits, EU signals are optimistic for continuing Pakistan's GSP+ status, according to EU Trade Chief MEP Sajjad Karim. He said the EU Commission Report submitted on 19th January 2018 demonstrated the progress being made by Pakistan within the criteria set by the trade scheme, albeit with areas of improvement still needed.

Key findings of the report are reproduced below:


  • Pakistan conducted its 56th national census in 2017, revealing an estimated 58% growth in population since the last census in 1996. It should allow the Government to better target socio-economic policies for the different population groups.
  • 2013 elections: Pakistan is still a fragile democracy. PM Nawaz Sharif had to step down as the result of a Supreme Court Ruling related to corruption charges revealed in the ‘Panama Papers’.
  • The substantial engagement of Pakistan in fighting terrorism has led to a considerable loss of lives and of budgetary resources that otherwise could have been used for socio-economic development. The fight against terrorism has also overshadowed other critical issues, among which the protection and promotion of human rights. Legislation to protect citizens from violence and ensure the security of state institutions must not compromise the respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.


UN Human Rights Conventions

  • Pakistan has ratified all [7] Conventions.
  • The country underwent its 3rd Universal Periodic Review on 13 Nov 2017, where 117 delegations took the floor raising concerns related to, inter alia, the death penalty, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression and issues of discrimination and violence against women and minorities. Pakistan received 289 recommendations to which it should respond by March 2018.
  • While the last two years have seen the adoption of a number of new laws, strategies and action plans, implementation remains an issue of concern. For reasons of lack of political priority, weak capacity, resulting in legal safeguards not always being translated into tangible improvements on the ground.
  • Following the granting of GSP+, the Government established a system of Treaty Implementation Cells (TICs) at federal and provincial levels, tasked with coordinating the implementation of treaty obligations between different line ministries and departments and between the federal and provincial levels. They provide a useful forum for discussion and coordination which did not exist before, however the TICs are still developing their responsibilities and capacities.
  • Monitoring of human rights in Pakistan remains a challenge due to lack of reliable, nation-wide data related to human rights. Some NGOs collect figured, but this information is somewhat sporadic and mainly based on media monitoring.

- Future Actions and Priorities

  • A greater focus on human rights issues during the reporting period has been noted. The framework for human rights is being strengthened with a pro-active Ministry for Human Rights and engagement by Parliament, provinces, different coordination mechanisms and oversight bodies. A national Human Rights Institute is being established to focus on human rights research and training. The Law Reforms Committee continues to work on overhauling legislation and according to the Government an overall framework for human rights is being developed as part of its participation in Open Government Partnership.
  • National policies on empowerment of women, on violence against women and on domestic workers are being established.

ILO Labor Rights Conventions

  • Pakistan has maintained ratification of the eight ILO fundamental conventions relevant for GSP+ and has complied with all its reporting obligations.
  • The labor force in Pakistan is estimated at 61 million people out of whom 57 million people are employed. The Government estimates that 73% of the workforce is employed in the informal sector, primarily in agriculture and homebased work. The government carried out a new labor force survey in 2017, the results of which are not available yet.
  • Occupational Safety and Health continues to be an issue in Pakistan. Serious incidents, such as factory fires and building collapses, do occur. The working environments generally remain unhealthy and unsafe.
  • The Labor inspection system remains inadequate. The Government has developed a framework for revitalization and restructuring of the inspection system and is working with ILO and donors to implement improvements, including through recruitment of inspectors, capacity building and digitization. However, so far this has not translated into substantial improvements and further steps could include a new legislative framework, a separation of the inspection system from the provincial labor departments and establishing tripartite oversight mechanisms.
  • Since 2016, the EU funded project International Labor and Environmental Standards Application in Pakistan’s SMEs (ILES) promotes sustainable and inclusive growth in Pakistan by supporting the economic integration of Pakistan into the regional economy by improving compliance with labor and environmental standards and increased competitiveness. In particular, the project will assist SMEs in the textile and leather sector to institutionalize the implementation of and compliance with ILES legislation through their active engagement.

Elimination of Discrimination under Conventions 100 and 111

  • Pakistan’s Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, sex, residence and place of birth.
  • However, discrimination against women in the workplace continues to be a major concern. The wage gap is significant and some estimate that women receive on average less than 60% of the salary of men for equal work. The labor market participation of women (24%) is significantly lower than men (81%). The 2017 Labor Force Survey is expected to provide updated information on this gap. Women are also discriminated against when it comes to promotions, often face sexual harassment, and have difficulty receiving maternity benefits and lack basic facilities in the workplace.
  • There are reports that provinces are taking some action, including by sensitizing labor inspectors and actively enforcing anti-discrimination provisions, but the scope and intensity is unclear. There are also quotas for women in certain public positions, but they are sometimes unfilled, ostensibly due to lack of qualified candidates. The low number of complaints, including to the Ombudsman, is sometimes pointed out, but it is more likely a reflection of a lack of empowerment, rather than an absence of problems.

- Future actions and priorities

  • Pakistan continues to be confronted with a number of pressing issues with regard to protection of labor rights. Some provinces, namely Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have been more active in terms of building a legislative framework and its implementation. Labor force and child labor surveys are underway, which are an important step for reliable overview of the labor situation in the country. The number of labor inspectors is planned to increase. The federal and provincial authorities are taking some initiatives to improve anti-discrimination legislation, but stronger action will be needed.