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Impacts of COVID-19 on the Philippines' garment sector

Background info on garment sector

The garment and textiles industry employs approximately 550,000 people in the Philippines. The Philippines has daily minimum wages that vary from region to region – the equivalent of between PHP 6283 (US$127) and PHP 11635 (US$236) per month. However, this still falls short of the estimated living wage of PHP 28,996 (US$588) per month. The country’s average minimum wage rate is among the highest in ASEAN.

To incentivise foreign investment, the Philippines has 12 Special Economic Zones or free port areas and a further 300 proclaimed economic zones spread throughout the country – many of which are designated for manufacturing. The United States represents the largest market for Philippines textile and footwear exports. Brands sourcing from the Philippines 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 the Philippines as 5 and among the world’s ten worst countries for workers.

Impacts of pandemic

Job losses

More than 20,000 workers in the Philippines’ textile, garment and leather goods sector have been laid-off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the absence of an industry recovery plan unions fear this number is set to rise over the next six months. The Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines reports that over 30% of workers at their member companies have been retrenched due to factory closures as a result of order cancellations and subsequent financial pressures.

Wages & social protections

On March 17, the Department of Labor and Employment issued Department Order No. 209 to implement CAMP – a program to assist workers with financial support of PHP 5,000 (US$101) and employment facilitation through training, job matching and referral. However, labour groups say the program – which has since been closed – prioritised small and medium enterprises meaning tens of thousands of workers did not qualify for assistance. The social security system is also now extending calamity loans to its members. Labour groups are calling on employers to pay wage subsidies of PHP10,000 per month (approx. USD203) to some 200,000 workers affected by the closure of special economic zones during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Labour and human rights violations

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

Unions in the Philippines are calling on the government and employers to come up with immediate measures to prevent more job losses and preserve workers’ income; and for income support and assistance for affected workers to be extended.

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

Partido Manggagawa

SENTRO (Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa)

Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino

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’]