In many ways, ministries in Pakistan are akin to a person who never wakes up on time and then complains about getting fired from his job. Alarm clocks, repeated warnings from the boss, horrible experiences – nothing prompts him to change old habits. He sleeps on and on, only to wake hours late in sheer panic. Commerce and textile ministries are currently faced with a dilemma similar to that of Mr Sleepy Sleeperson’s.

Walt Disney Company is all set to drop Pakistan from the Permitted Sourcing Countries list after the country’s failure to satisfy the given criteria. The US-based company had previously warned Pakistan of consequences if it failed to improve its World Governance Index (WGI) score or apply for the Better Work Programme (BWP) of International Labour Organisation (ILO). Of course, the government failed on both accounts. Now, as the shadow of the axe hangs over relevant industries and thousands of workers they employ, pleas are being made for reconsideration. In other words, they’re asking companies to ignore the criteria and violate rules in order to accommodate them. It may come as a surprise to ministry officials, but not everyone shares their enthusiasm for bending rules, especially when everyone around is watching closely.

Once Walt Disney’s decision comes into effect, other big companies will likely follow suit. There is (always) a case to be made for the ‘heartless Americans’, but this is a direct result of ministry negligence. Perhaps the only good thing that can come out of this unpleasant development is the initiation of necessary reform.

It is no secret that the working conditions in the country are far below the minimum standard as defined by ILO and other organisations. Instead of asking others to take a step down for us, it is better to make a genuine effort and climb up. Child labour is rampant and still rising despite clear directions prohibiting it. Working conditions remain unsatisfactory in terms of safety standards as well as wages against services rendered. And even if we take the human element out of the equation (which we shouldn’t), and approach the matter from a strictly business point of view, it is in our interest to change the status quo for the better. For a government which considers economy to be its forte, it is unfortunate that so little attention has been given to such an important aspect of trade.