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Impacts of COVID-19 on Pakistan's garment sector

Background information on garment sector

The garment industry is the second largest employer in Pakistan and according to some estimates, employs 15 million people, approximately 38% of the manufacturing labour force. The country’s minimum wage varies by region and by gender - male garment workers receive between 10,000 PKR to 11,000 PKR per month, while women garment workers receive 7,500 PKR per month. However, these figures fall far short of the estimated living wage of 47,627 PKR (US$286) per month.

The garment industry accounts for 8.5% of Pakistan’s GDP and almost 70% of the country’s exports. While most factories in Pakistan cater to the domestic market, approximately 20% of Pakistan’s factories produce ready-made garments for the United States and European markets. Brands sourcing from Pakistan on our tracker can be viewed below.

Garment factories in Pakistan are notoriously unsafe. In 2012, the deadliest factory fire in the history of apparel manufacturing broke out at Ali Enterprises, killing over 250 people. Not a single buyer voluntarily came forward to take responsibility and offer aid to the families of those killed or the surviving injured workers.

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 Pakistan as 5, indicating workers have no guarantee of internationally recognised labour rights.

Impacts of pandemic

Job losses

As of the end of March it was estimated that half a million garment and textile workers had already lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts estimate that between 12.3 million and 18.5 million people in various sectors in Pakistan may lose their jobs as the economic impacts continue to be felt. According to Pakistan Workers’ Federation, as of 28 March, at least half a million textile and garment industry workers had been dismissed in Punjab province alone. Reports suggest it has been easy for factories to implement forced dismissals during the pandemic as 85% of workers lack contracts.

Wages & social protections

Clean Clothes campaign estimates that in the months of March, April and May garment workers in Pakistan lost a total of approximately 47% of their normal wages, equivalent to US$321 million (despite government initiatives detailed below).

During the nationwide lockdown the government instructed employers not to lay off workers, however only the provincial order in Sindh in March legally prohibited employers from laying off workers. Both the Sindh and Punjab provincial governments ordered employers to pay workers’ salaries in full during the closures, however factory owners argued in court that they could not pay their workers.

The federal government announced monthly financial assistance of 3,000 PKR (US$20) for workers who lose their jobs, which was later expanded to 12,000 PKR (US$75). According to Human Rights Watch this is likely to be inadequate. Further, many garment factories in Pakistan rely on home-based women workers, who are not legally recognised as workers and therefore are not entitled to basic worker protections.

Labour and human rights violations

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

HomeNet Pakistan

Home Based Women Workers’ Federation

Pakistan National Textile, Leather, Garments and General Workers' Federation

Pakistan Textile Workers' Federation

Pakistan Textile, Garments and Leather Workers' Federation

Labour Education Foundation (LEF)

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER)

National Trade Union Federation (NTUF)

All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (APFUTU)

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’]