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CSOs call on govt's, brands & suppliers to urgently mitigate health & economic impacts on 60 million garment workers bearing brunt of COVID-19 crisis

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, millions of garment workers in fashion supply chains have borne the brunt of the impacts of the crisis. Garment factories in producing countries have reduced or ceased altogether operations as a result of raw materials shortages from China, and major brands and retailers postponing or cancelling orders as clothing stores in developed market economies have been shut by lockdowns. As a result, millions of factory workers have been laid off or temporarily suspended, often without legally-mandated pay or severance. In some countries where factories remain in operation, workers are forced to continue work in factories where employers are unwilling to ensure adequate precautions, leaving workers, their families and communities at risk of infection.

Statements made by civil society organisations and trade unions, calling on brands, governments and suppliers to urgently mitigate the health and economic impacts of the crisis on garment workers, can be found below.

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6 April 2020

Pakistan: Human Rights Watch calls on authorities to address the economic consequences of COVID-19 for vulnerable workers

Author: Human Rights Watch

“Pakistan: Workers Face Health, Economic Risks”, 01 April 2020

Pakistani authorities should take urgent steps to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 on its most vulnerable workers, Human Rights Watch said today. [The outbreak] will have enormous economic consequences for garment and textile workers, domestic workers, home-based workers, and other workers in low-income households.

The Pakistan government should adopt measures protecting workers affected by COVID-19 from suffering loss of income that would push them further into poverty and deter them from self-isolating to contain the spread of the virus.

… Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch [said] “The economically marginalized are among the most vulnerable groups affected by COVID-19, and the government should urgently find ways to protect them.”

… All factories not producing essential items have been closed. Experts estimate that between 12.3 million and 18.5 million people in various sectors may lose their jobs…

Among the factories ordered to shut down are textile and garment factories that employ Pakistan’s largest industrial workforce. …

A lack of written labor contracts, inadequate legal protections, and poor enforcement of labor laws and regulations could heighten the problems during this crisis …The use of verbal contracts means that most do not have paid sick leave, social security, or health insurance, leaving them particularly vulnerable during … the pandemic.

These economic shutdowns have a disproportionate effect on women workers, especially home-based workers and domestic workers…

The government should, to the maximum extent of its available resources, provide low-wage workers with assistance to help offset the intense economic hardship and food insecurity from this situation...

Read the full post here

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2 April 2020

South Asia: HomeNet Charter of Demands calls for interventions to protect home based workers from fall out of COVID-19 crisis

Author: HomeNet South Asia

“COVID-19: Impact on Home-Based Workers in South Asia, Charter of Demands by HomeNet South Asia”, 31 March 2020

South Asia, while not one of the first regions to be hit by the virus, has seen a steady climb in cases…Leading international organisations and health experts have recognised that South Asia is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic due to the large swathes of population that live in constricted spaces and the lack of widespread and competent medical facilities…

Apart from the health epidemic, nations, from the South Asian region, are also staring at an economic epidemic … [i]t is, again, the most vulnerable that face the most economic uncertainty. Without the backing of social security nets, informal workers are at the risk of slipping into a vicious cycle of poverty without access to income, food supplies, water and sanitation, efficient healthcare and reliable and feasible financial support.

Within the category of informal workers, home-based workers (HBWs) are some of the most vulnerable … It is estimated that South Asia is home to over 50 million home-based workers, a majority of whom are women.

Short-Term, Immediate Interventions

  1. Income support – including cash transfers and cash handouts …equal to the monthly minimum wage of the country/ state … for at least three months …
  2. Free rations … to all home-based workers for at least three months …
  3. Door-to-door delivery of services, when needed, including rations, soaps, basic medicines and other protective gear.
  4. Installation of mobile washbasins with water and soap in all low-income communities.
  5. Training and counselling services offered at local clinics, schools and other community spaces to combat the virus.
  6. Access to free-of-cost tests and healthcare facilities at public hospitals.
  7. Disseminate reliable information on emergency numbers and nearby health points to communities …
  8. Access to dedicated emergency services in case of domestic violence or other legal emergencies.

Long-Term Sustained Intervention

  1. Recognition of home-based workers, through policies and laws, will be key in protecting them during adverse situations like the coronavirus pandemic.
  2. Setting up of a Recovery Fund for informal workers including women home-based workers.
  3. Promote local economies through no interest loans and tax exemptions that are extended to home-based workers’ cooperatives and producer companies.
  4. Ensure employers (brands and large corporations) recognise home-based workers as part of their supply chains and that they extend minimum wages and social protection to home-based workers.
  5. Improve access to housing, basic services, public health facilities and childcare for home-based workers

Download the full document here

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27 March 2020

Worker Rights Consortium paper calls for brand accountability & intl. response to mitigate impacts of COVID-19 crisis on garment workers

Author: Worker Rights Consortium

"WORKER RIGHTS CONSORTIUM WHITE PAPER: WHO WILL BAIL OUT THE WORKERS THAT MAKE OUR CLOTHES?" March 2020

The economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic are colossal... The world’s wealthy countries are poised to spend trillions of dollars to shore up the income of their workers and to rescue their corporations... [But] who is going to rescue the workers who toil in the global supply chains of many of those corporations? These workers... are among the hardest hit by the economic catastrophe of Covid-19...This paper focuses on the apparel sector, as it will be among the most severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis...

Brands can—and should—take a more equitable approach to sharing the financial burden of the crisis, rather than sloughing all costs onto suppliers and, in turn, workers. Canceling orders already in production or completed and waiting to be shipped, without even making an effort to determine whether suppliers have the wherewithal to survive the damage, is not a responsible approach. Nor is ignoring contractual terms that obligate brands to pay for goods produced. While brands face their own very serious financial challenges, resource allocation is a matter of priorities...

Download the full document here

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26 March 2020

USA: Garment Worker Center calls on fashion brands to contribute to COVID-19 emergency relief fund for LA garment workers

Author: Garment Worker Center

"COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for LA Garment Workers", 20 March 2020

... A needs assessment with 100 of our members and revealed specific impacts on their income and well-being.

  1. Threatened job security
    1. Reduced work hours or closed factories because of delays in garment imports...
    2. Lack of information or warning as to impending factory closures
  2. Food insecurity due to loss of income
  3. Inability to pay rent, utilities,  and other bills due to loss of income...
  4. Where garment factories remain open... workers report dirty conditions... failure to implement social distancing and sanitizing practices, and bathrooms without soap or hand sanitizer...
  5. Hospitals and other medical facilities are sending PPE... orders into LA’s garment district.
    1. Garment workers are providing essential labor to curb the pandemic, yet have little to no health protection and assurance of fair wages!

Garment workers are often not eligible for unemployment benefits and the underground nature of the industry... makes applying for paid family leave or disability insurance uniquely challenging...

This is why Garment Worker Center is launching the Garment Worker COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

We urge our supporters to give what they can, and leaders of the fashion industry to contribute generously to give back to those who made their clothes. Please donate. 

For a detailed statement for our call to action, please visit: https://tinyurl.com/gwccovid19

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24 March 2020

60 million garment workers bear brunt of COVID-19 crisis; AFWA demands govt's, apparel brands & suppliers take urgent action

Author: Asia Floor Wage Alliance

"AFWA Statement on Garment Workers' Demands in the face of COVID-19 Crisis", 23 March 2020

... [G]arment workers in global supply chains getting exposed to greater and more profound risks, bearing the brunt of this crisis. Apparel brands are seen cancelling or postponing orders and deferring payments to suppliers... This has forced many suppliers to lay off or suspend workers in garment factories, without any social protection, or paid leave, pushing an already precarious group of workers to greater economic vulnerabilities... [Other] workers are still forced to continue work in factories... [without] adequate precautions... at risk of infection...

There needs to be concrete steps from governments, brands and suppliers to address these large income losses for the 60 million (1) garment workers. Without this, there is a severe risk of a vicious downward cycle of demand shocks, which could lead to a prolonged economic recession...

Governments in garment-producing countries should... Ensure strict and compulsory implementation of measures to protect workers in the workplace... Provide universal healthcare access to both workers and their families, and... set up coronavirus testing facility and temporary hospitals in all industrial zones... [and] implement... social protection measures... for all categories of workers... negatively impacted by the... effects of COVID-19...

[T]he apparel brands and their suppliers who have been profiting from the labour of garment workers [must]...  prevent workplace exposures to COVID-19... support... workers employment and income [and]... create a COVID-19 Workers’ Fund to financially support workers...

Download the full document here

Article
23 March 2020

IndustriALL outlines interventions needed for garment workers during COVID-19 crisis

Author: IndustriALL

"COVID-19 - an existential crisis for the garment industry", 23 March 2020

... While garment retailers are shutting up shop in affected countries, garment workers are expected to pay the price...

Not only are major brands and retailers cancelling future orders, they are refusing to take responsibility for garments that have already been produced, using emergency provisions in contracts to stop shipments and avoid paying for the goods they ordered. This leaves factories holding the goods, unable to sell them to the customer that ordered them, and in many cases unable to pay the wages of the workers who made them.

Measures announced by companies to protect the wages of retail and other direct workers are to be welcomed, but the security and wellbeing of the workers in their supply chains, who have made the products on which their business is built, must not be ignored.

There are three critical stages for which interventions are needed, and many countries have already reached stages 1 and 2:

1. Payment of wages to workers now for orders that have been filled, but will not be paid for by the brand customers

2. Payment to workers during periods of factory closures, either from lack of orders or from government measures against COVID-19

3. Support for restarting production...

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Item
17 March 2020

Labour groups call on brands to take urgent steps to minimise impact of COVID-19 on garment workers' health & livelihoods

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign, Worker Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network

"Brands must urgently take steps to minimise impact of the coronavirus on garment workers' health and livelihoods", 17 March 2020

... Due to COVID-19, many factories... are closing because of a shortage of raw materials from China [and]...  brands continu[ing] to reduce orders... Garment worker... wages barely cover... their basic needs, let alone... emergencies or periods without work... [F]actory closures... are hitting low-paid garment workers hard – especially migrant workers... [F]actories are closing or at risk of closure... in... Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Albania, and Central American countries...

We are calling on brands to publicly commit to proper due diligence with regards to... COVID-19. Specifically... brands must:

  • Ensure... supplier factories follow government requirements or recommendations regarding the suspension of large gatherings and close factories as necessary... while maintaining all workers' contracts and payment of their full regular wages;
  • Ensure that workers... sent home because of a lack of work are compensated at their full regular wage;     
  • Ensure that workers... can take sick leave without negative repercussions and are compensated at their full regular wage...
  • Ensure that, when factories reopen, deadlines for orders are reassessed to prevent... mandatory overtime to make up for delays;
  • Ensure that measures to fight the virus do not unduly restrict workers’ freedom of movement or their freedom to organise...

Read the full post here