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Impacts of COVID-19 on India's garment sector

Background information on garment sector

India’s textile and clothing industry is one of the world’s biggest for manufacturing and export and employs over 105 million people. In 2019, apparel exports were reportedly worth US$38.70 billion.

The largest market for India’s garment exports is the United States. The European Union, United Arab Emirates and Canada are also all major export destinations. Brands sourcing from India on our tracker can be viewed below.

In August 2019, the government introduced the Code on Wages Act, enabling all workers in India to receive minimum wages for the first time. Minimum wages differ regionally and vary between skillsets. The estimated living wage for a garment worker in India is US$291 (29,323 INR) per month.

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 India as 5 and among the world’s ten worst countries for workers.

Impacts of pandemic:

Job losses

An estimated 10 million people employed in India’s garment sector are at risk of job losses as a result of order cancellations and reduced order volumes by buyers. The Apparel Export Promotion Corporation (AEPC) reports 83% of exporters reported that buyers had wholly or partially cancelled orders, and for 72% of those orders had not taken financial responsibility for materials already purchased. Meanwhile, almost 50% indicated that buyers are asking for discounts on goods already shipped.

Wages & social protections

According to a survey by the AEPC, 88% of exporters felt “challenged” in paying wages to workers during the nationwide lockdown, which labour groups say can be understood as being a euphemism for not paying wages to workers.

Clean Clothes campaign estimates that in the months of March, April and May garment workers in India lost a total of approximately 57% of their normal wages, equivalent to US$178 million (despite government initiatives detailed below).

On 26 March, the central government announced a relief package of 1.7 trillion rupees (US$22.5 billion) to provide free food and cash transfers to poor and vulnerable populations. India’s millions of domestic migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, many of whom have lost jobs and been trapped far from home during the lockdown.

A survey by the Alternative Law Forum and Garments Mahila Karmikara Munnade on the situation garment workers in Karnataka are facing in the aftermath of the lockdown & labour law reforms reveals that workers received no wages in April and that only a few received half their wages in May. The survey further revealed that: 55% of respondents said they received no support from the State during the lockdown; and 96% of respondents said they received no food, rations, advance payment of wages or loans from their employers.

Labour and human rights violations

In India, 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 India’s garment sector and related industrial disputes can be viewed here. Actions taken by fashion brands sourcing from India 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.

Trade unions have staged protests condemning the central government’s recent amendments to India’s labour laws, which threaten workers’ rights and have been made without consulting trade unions. Trade unions are calling on the government to:

  • Withdraw its move to increase working hours to 12 hours;
  • Stop encouraging outsourcing methods to recruit people;
  • Decrease the PF percentage from 12% to 10%;
  • Provide free rations for six months to workers who lost their jobs;
  • Provide Rs 7500 in cash relief for three months to workers who lost their jobs;
  • Provide COVID-19 insurance for frontline workers.

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

Cividep India

Society for Labour and Development

Garment Labour Union (GLU)

Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU)

Garment Mahila Karmikara Munnade

Garments and Textile Workers Union (GATWU)

The Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU KGWU)

Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCLU)

New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)

Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)

Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)

Foundation for Educational Innovations in Asia (FEDINA)

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’]