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China

Impacts of COVID-19 on China's garment sector

Background information on garment sector

China is the world’s biggest exporter of textiles and garments, employing over 15 million people – the majority of whom are women and also migrant workers - and generating US$119 billion in revenue. The minimum wage varies by region, between 1120 RMB (US$161) and 2480 RMB (US$357) per month, falling far short of the estimated living wage of 5410 RMB (US$778) per month. Some garment workers are also eligible for bonuses and allowances for food, attendance and seniority.

China is the largest supplier of apparel to the United States, and also a major supplier to the European Union. Two thirds of China’s total garment production is used to meet domestic demand. Brands sourcing from China on our tracker can be viewed below.

The 2020 ITUC Global Rights Index – which rates countries on a scale from 1 (best) to 5+ (worst) on the degree of respect for workers' rights – rates China as 5, indicating workers have no guarantee of internationally recognised labour rights.

Impacts of pandemic

Job losses

Millions of workers in manufacturing industries – many of whom have worked in the garment industry for over 20 years – are losing their jobs as the COVID-19 crisis and the US-China trade war cause the closure of factories in China's export-oriented manufacturing industry. According to China’s customs office, between January and May 2020, apparel exports fell 22.8% in comparison to the previous year. Media report that China’s 290 million migrant workers have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Wages & social protections

According to a survey by China Labour Action, fewer than 30% of employees across several sectors – including garment manufacturing – received normal wage payment during the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. As production has gradually resumed, 32% of respondents reported their workload had increased in comparison to pre-pandemic, while at the same time 34% responded their wages had decreased.

So far, the government has not introduced any financial relief programs for workers impacted by the pandemic and costs are carried by employers. According to Chinese labour law, employers must pay workers’ wages in accordance with their employment contracts, including for periods in which there is a work stoppage or production has been suspended for reasons not attributable to the fault of the employee. However, labour groups report employers often seek to undermine the country’s labour laws and local government officials fail to implement it effectively.

Labour and human rights violations

In China, we have tracked reports of the following rights violations of garment workers during the COVID-19 pandemic:

This is not a comprehensive list of violations and cases, full coverage of the impacts of COVID-19 on China’s garment sector and related industrial disputes can be viewed here. Actions taken by fashion brands sourcing from China in response to the pandemic can be viewed below.

Demands from local unions & civil society groups

Asia Floor Wage Alliance, WIEGO, HomeNet South Asia and HomeNet South East Asia are calling on brands to make a one-time Supply Chain Relief Contribution equal to 60 days of wages lost for all garment workers in their supply chains – including time-rated, piece-rated, subcontracted and home workers – during the COVID-19 crisis, as a requirement of responsible business practice.

Click below to find out more information directly from local unions and labour groups:

China Labour Bulletin

Clean Clothes Campaign East Asia

Labour Action China

You can view a list of campaigns and demands by international civil society organisations demands here.

[This is a live tracker we update on an ongoing basis. If you have additional information on these issues please contact us at [email protected] with the subject line ‘COVID-19 Action Tracker’]