Live-blog: How the Coronavirus affects garment workers in supply chains

This blog aims to collect daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers' rights in supply chains around the world. It will be updated as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network. Information is posted as it comes in from the network and cannot always be double-checked.

12 August 2020

Global: Media report that, according to Remake, $18 billion in wages are still outstanding due to cancelled orders and delayed payments by global brands. "Many are asking for discounts and pushing payment terms out, resulting in factories being unable to make payroll and leaving workers starving on the streets", Ayesha Barenblat, from Remake, said. Since the beginning of the outbreak, 19 fashion companies have promised to pay suppliers for all orders that have been cancelled or paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, which Remake estimates amounts to $22 billion being paid to suppliers. 

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to a study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), nearly 70% of surveyed migrant workers who returned to Bangladesh between February and June have remained unemployed. According to the report, returnee migrant workers experienced reintegration challenges such as difficulties in securing employment, lack of income, accumulating debt and health-related issues. The study further found that:

  • 64% of international migrant workers they struggled to access information and health services in the countries where they were working;
  • 55% of the respondents who had returned from abroad had accumulated unpaid debt;
  • Almost 75% of respondents reported that they want to re-migrate.

Media report that countless families who have lived in urban cities for years are leaving to their rural homes after losing their jobs and income in urban areas amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Workers explained that they are now unable to afford to live in Dhaka as they have lost their jobs or a substantial portion of their income, while expenses are going up. "I tried my best to stay back in Dhaka but I could not find any alternative livelihood", one worker explained. 

Cambodia: Media report that garment workers from the Timeless Fashion Clothing factory in Phnom Penh's are demanding unpaid wages and benefits. On Tuesday night, around 150 workers prevented a company truck from leaving the premise, as they feared that it carried equipment which would be sold by management before workers are paid. Workers have demanded to be paid $100 and benefits on 15 August if the factory suspends operations or shuts down. Following negotiations with workers' representative, the company promised to pay, although no specific date has been set. Meanwhile, media report that Ith Samheng, Minister of Labour, has urged Kandal provincial authorities, following continuing protests in the region, to resolve all issues regarding garment workers. In response, the governor said that provincial authorities are currently mediating a dispute between over a thousand factory workers and the Dignity Knitter garment factory over outstanding wages, with the company having been closed for seven months. In May, the governor reported that, of the 164 factories located in the province, 44 have suspended operations, affecting around 18,991 garment workers.

Media report that the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) launched a programme which seeks to support migrant workers who were forced to return to the Cambodia amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The programme aims to support migrant workers in accessing COVID-19 information, essential healthcare services such as mental health support and anti-gender-based violence measures. The article further reports that, so far, over 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers have returned from Thailand following the Thai government’s decision to close the country's borders.

Media report that Cambodia's garment and textile sector will see the partial loss of a preferential zero-tax trade deal provided by the European Union (EU) from today, as the EU noted that the government failed to make political reforms in order to avoid penalties. 

China: Labour Action China (LAC), a labour rights NGO based in Hong Kong, has summarised two researches regarding workers' based in Guangdong and Henan conditions amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The reports show that less than 30% of workers received their normal wage payment during the delayed work resumption period, that women workers suffered more from wage arrears and that many workers lost their jobs due to factory closures caused by bankruptcy. Overall, the studies show that workers are being paid less and are working more. 

Ethiopia: Decent Work Check has published a survey report on the impact of COVID-19 in Ethiopia's garment factories. The organisation surveyed 50 factories which account for over 30,000 workers. The report found that:

  • Most surveyed factories provided workers with PPE, implemented health and safety measures and said that they had procedures in place in case workers were found to be infected with COVID-19. The most reported procedure (45 out of 50 factories) was to report the case to the authorities;
  • Over 50% of factories said that the coronavirus pandemic has affected staffing levels at the factory;
  • Operating hours have been reduced by around 10 hours per week;
  • 90% of surveyed factories reported that the coronavirus pandemic has affected their business for the worse, regarding both supply and demand;
  • Most surveyed factories expect to suspend operations or shut down in the near future.

India: Media report that the Tirupur garment industry, one of the country's main textile hubs, is currently working at 30% of its production capacity, as a result of the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, according to the CCC's report, garment workers in Tirupur did not receive any wages during the month of April and lost around $115 million of regular wages.

Indonesia: Decent Work Check has published a survey report on the impact of COVID-19 in Indonesia's garment factories. The organisation surveyed 133 factories which account for over 280,000 workers and found that:

  • Most surveyed factories provided workers with PPE and implemented health and safety measures;
  • Only 50% of factories had procedures in place in case workers were found to be infected with COVID-19; 
  • Over 70% of factories reported that the coronavirus pandemic has affected staffing numbers;
  • Operating hours have been reduced by around 15.5 hours per week;
  • Only 25% of surveyed factories said that they paid wages in full for workers who are dismissed or sent home amidst the pandemic;
  • 90% of surveyed factories reported that the coronavirus pandemic has affected their business for the worse, regarding both supply and demand;
  • Some of the surveyed factories expect to suspend operations or shut down in the near future.

Myanmar: Media report that the intervention of unions has led to the reinstatement of 168 garment workers who had been laid off by two companies, Kamcaine Manufacturing and the Futeli garment factory, during the COVID-19 lockdown in March and April. As per an agreement reached between the union and Kamcaine Manufacturing, 57 workers who were union members, including seven local union leaders, will be reinstated at their previous positions with full pay and benefits. The Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) also secured the reinstatement with full compensation for 111 workers of the Futeli garment factory. According to the same post, since February, 44 garment factories have shut down in Myanmar, resulting in approximately 22,000 workers losing their jobs.

Media report that small businesses in Myanmar, particularly those in the manufacturing and tourism sectors, have been severely hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and are struggling to stay afloat. According to a survey conducted by the Asia Foundation, nearly one third of companies in Myanmar have temporarily closed and the vast majority are operating at low capacity.

North Macedonia: Media report that hundreds of companies in North Macedonia received state subsidies in order to pay their workers the minimum monthly wage during the coronavirus pandemic but failed to do so. They now risk being prosecuted for failing to pay, or only partially paying, minimum wages to their workers after receiving government subsidies for that purpose. According to findings, up to 55,000 workers - half the total number of workers supposed to benefit from the subsidies - might have been victims of this abuse. Unions and activists are demanding thorough investigations and allocations of responsibility. As a result, the government has published the names of some of the companies under suspicion and said thorough checks designed to reveal the full scope of the wrongdoing are under way.

Thailand/Cambodia: Media report that Thai authorities prevented over 400 migrant workers coming from Cambodia from crossing the border between February and early August. Most migrants attempted to cross the border in order to work in Thailand, as there are no jobs in Cambodia available to them. Khun Tharo, from the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central), explained that Cambodian migrant workers are still risking migration through small corridors, despite tight patrols by Thai and Cambodian authorities. He further states that some migrants were aware of the consequences of Covid-19 but decided to take the risk of travelling to Thailand for financial reasons. “The government should find a way to open the border to a certain extent so that people along it can resume their businesses for a living. In addition, it should create more jobs in the country, such as in factories or industrial parks in the provinces, as well as continue to disseminate information on safe migration", Tharo said. 

Petitions and relief efforts

Labour behind the Label focusing on UK brands.

Oxfam Australia focusing on Australian brands.

Public Eye petition in German and French.

Abiti Puliti petition in Italian.

Traidcraft focusing on UK brands.

Remake focusing on global brands.

Garment worker Covid relief collects relief efforts.

Donate to the CCC relief fund in EUR:

Donate to the CCC relief fund in USD:

Resources

Demands, recommendations, proposals

CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.

Global union and employer joint call to action.

WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.

ILO's COVID-19 business resilience guides for suppliers.

The Circle has created a guide for suppliers in the garment industry on 'force majeure'.

Information trackers

WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre maintains a continually updated live-resource of articles on the influence of COVID19 on supply chains and is tracking brand responses to the crisis in dealing with their orders.

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre's created a COVID-19 Action Tracker, monitoring industry responses, government actions and workers’ demands.

International Labor Rights Forum created a resource for global solidarity during COVID19.

Labour Start collects materials coming in from trade unions around the world.

The International Trade Union Confederation collects trade union news on the COVID-19 crisis.

The Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD maintains a website with partner responses.

Retail dive tracks retailers’ response to COVID19.

The US Chamber of Commerce maintains a corporate aid tracker.

Foot Wear News tracks fashion philanthropy.

ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.

Omega research foundation tracks excessive use of force by law enforcement during the pandemic.

HRDN resource on business, human rights, digital rights and privacy.

Background and position papers

WRC's white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?"

WRC and Penn State University on cancelled orders in Bangladesh "Abandoned?"

OECD's paper on COVID-19 and responsible business conduct.

ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"

ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.

AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.

Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

11 August 2020

Asia: Reuters has published an article on how, according to the CCC's report, garment workers supplying global fashion brands have been underpaid or not paid at all during the coronavirus crisis, with lost wages potentially amounting to nearly $6 billion. The Foundation interviewed, Shorifa Begum, a Bangladeshi garment worker, who explained that she was sacked by text message in May after fellow workers protested over unpaid wages. Begum, whose husband is too ill to work, said her former boss owed her 60,000 taka ($708), mostly in unpaid overtime - a sum equivalent to more than a third of her annual income. "I've been living on loans since May. I owe money for rice and lentils to many shops and I don't know when I can pay them back", she said. In desperation, Begum has joined another factory which pays 6000 taka a month, less than half what she used to be paid after overtime. "It obviously won't be enough, but I need to survive", she made clear. 

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to the CCC's report, garment workers in Bangladesh lost wages worth around $501 million (about Tk 4,250 crore) between March and May 2020. The report estimated that 1.47 lakh RMG workers in Bangladesh did not receive any wages in March as 150 factories closed at least temporarily during that month. 

Media report that the continuation of the pandemic beyond four months will force the majority of small businesses - a sector which employs over 50 million people - in Bangladesh to close down. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the hardest hit sector is likely to be the Small Business Sector, which contributes to over 20% percent of Bangladesh's GDP Growth and accounts for 35-40% of employment.

Cambodia: Asia Times has published an article on how Cambodia can mitigate the impact of the EBA withdrawal, which is set to take place tomorrow. The partial withdrawal will impact the livelihoods of almost a million garment workers and a few million Cambodians who depend on those who work in the garment and footwear industries – the sector most affected by the EBA suspension. The article argues that Cambodia must provide more space and freedom for its citizens to voice their concerns on matters relevant to them, as recent crackdowns on activists and those with opposition views are worrisome. "In the face of the EBA withdrawal and the enormous impact of Covid-19, Cambodia must do more, not less", the article reads. 

Ethiopia: Media report that the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) nonprofit will be carrying out an ongoing study on female garment workers in Ethiopia's largest industrial park in the city of Hawassa. The research aims to interview around 5000 garment workers on a bi-weekly basis for the duration of six months in order to document how their lives are changing during the coronavirus pandemic.

India: Media report that workers took to the streets on Sunday to protest against government policies which they claim benefit the corporate sector in detriment of workers. The protest was coordinated by Left-affiliates All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and a motley group of around 200 organisations that are a part of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). "Denial of employment and wage reduction have to be unitedly combated. The MSMEs themselves are reporting that 30% to 35% units may not be in a position to start their activities. The unemployment rate is high and job losses continue. Malnutrition will increase, hunger deaths will become a daily reality, and there is real threat of depression resulting in suicides amongst workers, say eminent scientists and medical experts. All these issues are enraging workers", the organisations said in a statement. Workers and unions protested for the suspension of labour laws for a period of time by some states such as Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh to be revoked, as the changes will lead to exploitation of workers and are against the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Media report that one of the worst-hit sectors in India amidst the coronavirus pandemic is the textile sector, particularly garment exports. As demand for garments fell sharply amidst the pandemic, the ready-made garments industry suffered heavy losses. 

Indonesia: Media report that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting textile and garment exporters in Indonesia, which has affected many people, as the sector is a large source of employment in the country. In May 2020, Indonesia's textile and textile product exports dropped by a massive 52% compared to the same month last year. The substantial slump in both export and domestic markets may induce factory closures and put millions of people out of work, sending millions of people into poverty. The article explains that, in the particular case of the coronavirus pandemic, the sector has been affected by both supply and demand. In response, manufacturers have urged the government to remove existing raw material import restrictions and fight the push from interest groups to implement new ones. 

Pakistan: Media report that the textiles sector in Pakistan has been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic due to the decrease in demand for products and order cancellations. Many factories had to stop production because they lacked the financial means to pay workers their wages, even for work already done. The situation emanating from this scenario is that millions of workers, most of whom are women in the informal sector, are without income and job security. Most of these workers do not have access to social security and work on 'piece rate', which means that they are paid according to the quantity of the products they produce. Right now, in Pakistan, a large number of informal sector women workers have lost their jobs and the few who still have some work are getting reduced wages. 

South Africa: Media report that informal women workers in South Africa have been disproportionately affected by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, as recent data suggests that, under the strict lockdown conditions imposed in April, two-thirds of the 3 million people who lost their jobs were women. 

Thailand: Media report that 400 migrant workers in Thailand have been left high and dry as the Cortina Eiger company, a garment company, extended its shutdown for two more moths. Around 400 workers protested in front of the factory when the announcement was made. 

United Kingdom: The Labour Abuse Authority reports that, following concerns around allegations of unsafe working conditions and exploitation of workers that arose during Leicester's recent localised lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, more garment factories across Leicester have been visited by enforcement agencies in order to ensure workers are being treated correctly and businesses are following regulations. According to inspectors, all the factories visited as part of this latest activity were compliant with the regulations and there was evidence of good practice by the businesses in taking proactive steps to protect their workers from COVID-19. 

10 August 2020

Global: Vogue reports that Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade are among brands linked to nine factories that have targeted more than 4,870 union members with unfair dismissals. H&M, Primark, Zara, Levi's, Mango and  Bestseller are also named in the BHRRC's report. With the exception of Michael Kors, Tapestry and Tory Burch, all brands have responded to the allegations, acknowledging their link to one or more of the suppliers and varying levels of engagement with unions, suppliers and workers. 

Asia: The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) has published a report today on how millions of garment workers around the world have not received their regular wages, or have not been paid at all, for months since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The report "Un(der)paid in the pandemic" analyses nonpayment of wages to garment workers during the months of March, April and May resulting from order cancellations by apparel brands, unpaid leave, and state-sanctioned wage cuts during the pandemic. Based on a review of news reports and information from worker organisations, with the support of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the CCC estimates that, across South and Southeast Asia, garment workers have received 38% less than their regular income. In some regions in India, this number rises above 50%. Extrapolating these findings to the global garment industry, a conservative guess of wages lost by garment workers worldwide, excluding China, for the months of March, April, and May would amount to between 3.19 and 5.79 billion USD. Reporting on these findings, the Financial Times reports that millions of garment workers in Asia have been deprived of $6bn in wages after the world's biggest fashion brands cancelled or delayed orders and withheld payments amidst the pandemic. H&M and Gap declined to comment on allegations that workers in their supply chain have had wages slashed and Arcadia (Topshop) did not respond to a request for comment.

Bangladesh: Media report that, although garment factories are starting to receive orders from buyers, shrinking prices are causing a slow recovery. According to manufacturers, almost all buyers are placing orders, but the prices are very low - between 5 to 15% lower than the price offered in normal times. In some cases, the offered price is lower than the production cost. In July, most garment manufacturers in Bangladesh were booked for about 75-80% of their capacity. For August and September, known as the lean period, they have orders for about 50-60% of their production capacity. From September onwards, factories seem to have orders for about 50% of their capacity, but are hopeful that the situation will improve with time. Meanwhile, media report that cotton imports are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year, as garment exports have started to go up again. Imports crashed from February onwards as most garment factories were shut down after the government declared a two-month 'general holiday' on 26 March. As a result, most spinning and weaving mills were also shuttered during the March-June period. According to the BTMA, as most garment factories in Bangladesh are now running at 75% of their total production capacity, work orders are coming back.

Media report that, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the coronavirus pandemic has triggered huge job losses, especially for women, in the garment sector in Bangladesh. The organisation made clear that this was not unique to Bangladesh, as garment workers in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam have also been severely affected. "The global garment and textile industry, which employs a large number of women, has been heavily impacted by a large number of order cancellations and the temporary closure of retail shops resulting in many factory shutdowns in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Viet Nam", the report reads. 

Media report that, following the BHRRC's report on union-busting, the BGMEA has reiterated that the case of Windy Group factories, studied in the report, is no union-busting case, as it was the result of "lack of business". "As per our knowledge, there is no case of union-busting in Bangladesh. Particularly, the case of Windy Group factories was a lack of business", Md Rezwan Selim, director at the BGMEA, said. However, as Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, made clear in the report: "[t]argeting three factories out of eight of Windy Group and retrenching 3000 workers of these three factories is purposeful and similar to destruction of union". 

Cambodia: Media report that the National Trade Unions Coalition (NTUC) sent a letter to the Minister of Labour requesting to hold a meeting this Wednesday in order to raise the plight of workers during the pandemic. NTUC council chamber leader and Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union president, Ath Thorn, said that the letter contained a detailed account of the difficulties currently faced by garment workers and a nine-point recommendation on how to ease such burdens. Among the recommendations is a request for a higher minimum wage for workers in the garment, footwear, construction and service sectors.

Globe has published the first of a five-part series, "Cambodia in Quarantine", that will investigate the impact of the global pandemic on the four pillars of Cambodia's economy – garments, construction, tourism and agriculture. According to official figures, 130,000 workers in Cambodia's garment and footwear industry have lost their jobs due to the global economic downturn amidst the coronavirus pandemic. According to unions, however, estimate that around 200,000 workers have lost their jobs in the industry.  "The sociopolitical effects of the loss of income and export wealth is already rippling out into Cambodian society", Globe wrote. Laid-off garment workers are struggling to find new jobs and, according to workers, it is almost impossible to find a job within the sector, as it has been severely affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Media report that at least seven people have been arrested in Phnom Penh over protests to demand the release of union leader Rong Chhun, who was charged over statements about the Cambodia-Vietnam border. Three have been charged with "incitement" and sent to pretrial detention at Prey Sar prison. 

India: Media report that tailors in West Bengal have seen "no sign of revival", as they continue to struggle to stay afloat. "We are passing through the worst phase in our 17 years old enterprise (...) and we have no clue when we will see the first signs of revival", one worker explained. The most affected enterprises have been MSME (micro, small & medium enterprise). In some cases, production has as low as 70%. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) estimates that close to 100,000 people engaged in the Sri Lanka garment industry will be unemployed as a result of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The apparel industry fears job losses will be far worse than expected, as order books beyond August are bleak. Manufacturers reiterated that everything is uncertain. "The situation is unknown now. We are 100% dependent on the US and EU markets. If these two markets get affected again then we are in real trouble", JAAF's Chief said. 

9 August 2020

Global: Oh So Ethical and No Sweat will be mobilising on social media, on Tuesday, 11 August, from 4-8PM (GMT), to demand that Peacocks pay up and stop silencing calls for justice, as the brand has spent the past few months refusing to pay garment workers their wages and blocking/deleting those who criticise their actions.

Ethiopia: Media report that researchers and academics have published a paper on the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of women in the garment industry in Ethiopia. Their research, based on the answers of 5000 workers, found that:

  • 56% of respondents are still working and 24% are on paid leave. Of those working, 42% are working the same number of hours;
  • Of those who are not currently working, almost no one has been able to find another job;
  • 81% of laid-off workers would like to return to their jobs;
  • Overall levels of food insecurity are high with 40 to 60 percent of respondents saying they have worried they do not have enough food in the last seven days. Rates are higher for those who have not returned to rural areas;
  • Workers are well informed about COVID-19 and false beliefs or myths appear to be extremely uncommon. 

Nepal: Media report that thousands of migrant workers have returned to Nepal since mid-March and many are currently facing starvation, as the government remains unclear on how to provide help. "My family was already struggling while I stayed in a quarantine facility on return to Nepal for three weeks. My wife and I have spent many nights hungry to keep our children fed. There is no one we can seek help from", Raje BK, a migrant worker who returned from India, explained. 

Turkey: Media report that the Turkish textile and garment industry has urged the government for financial support, such as tax exemptions and debt delays. According to the Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters Association (ITKIB), the industry witnessed a 16.5% year-on-year (YoY) contraction in exports between January and July. The sector recorded an upward trend in July, however, posting a 25% increase in exports due to the gradual reopening of economies. 

8 August 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to an estimate by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), around 1.4 million Bangladeshis have lost their jobs. In an attempt to revert these figures, the government has announced stimulus packages of Tk1.03 trillion for different sectors, including garment and agriculture, in order to keep up the high economic growth and create more jobs. 

Media report that, according to a survey, Bangladeshi firms are reporting low "business confidence" for the period of July-September 2020, although the level of confidence has increased compared to that of the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey was conducted by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling and the Asia Foundation, surveying 303 micro, small, medium and large sector firms from 15-23 July. 

Cambodia: The Los Angeles Times published an article on how garment workers in Cambodia are being severely affected by an ever-growing debt crisis amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Khun Tharo, program manager for the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, explained that the unpaid debt looms over Cambodians who face the prospect of many more months without salaries, health insurance or unemployment benefits. "It was easy to fall into poverty even before COVID - now the situation is much worse", he said. "We’re seeing workers sleeping outside of factories. Many have no choice but to sell their homes or take on even more loans from informal lenders just to get by, not [to] mention any health or family emergency." Indeed, the pandemic has plunged more Cambodians, even those with access to banks, into a downward spiral of debt. Cambodia's political leaders have shown little sympathy. After opposition leader Sam Rainsy called on Cambodians to refuse to pay their debts to the banks, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged banks to seize the property of those who fail to pay. The article further reports that, although the government has promised subsidies to laid-off garment workers, many workers have not received any assistance and find themselves in a very dire situation, as they struggle to find new jobs. "The only way out of this is to get a new job, whatever job I can find,” she said. “We can’t go on living like this", Sambath, a garment worker who was laid-off from her factory in Phnom Penh, said. 

Meanwhile, media report that Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged factory workers to grow a variety of vegetables to earn extra income to support their families amidst the coronavirus pandemic. "With the outbreak of COVID-19, some workers turned to vegetable growing at homeland to cope with family's demand and to supply the market which has improved their living standard", he wrote on Facebook. 

China: Media report that many of the tens of thousands of companies across China that changed their production to mask-making at the start of the coronavirus pandemic are now struggling to survive as they face stricter quality control measures and falling domestic demand. More than 73,000 companies registered as mask makers in the first half of the year, including over 36,000 new companies in April alone. The influx of new companies, however, led to a 'dilution in quality and a surge in scams', as firms from car makers to diaper producers converted production lines to masks. As a result, some of the companies that piled into the industry are now backing out. According to the China Labour Bulletin, which tracks worker unrest in the mainland, there have been a number of protests in recent months due to some mask factories closing abruptly and leaving staff unpaid.

Morocco: Solidarity Center reports garment workers from the Miroglio Maroc factory are standing strong against union-busting, as 14 co-workers were fired for speaking out against the lack of sufficient safety gear and other protective measures at the workplace amidst the coronavirus pandemic. At this factory, 3 workers recently tested positive for COVID-19. In response, 14 now-fired workers alerted authorities to the unsafe working conditions at the plant, with around 250 workers. The employer says that he fired the workers, eight of whom are union members, for "defamation". The Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) pointed out, however, that the owner also fired workers who took part in forming the factory union in April. Meanwhile, the employer is refusing to pay the fired workers for May and June and demanded they sign a statement saying they will not strike, a move prohibited by the country's labour law. In addition, union representatives have said that the general manager has sexually harassed women garment workers who requested safety and health protections. 

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that the San Yuan factory garment workers, who produce for Bershka, have won a union agreement with all their demands, after unified actions day after day inside the factory (no strike). 

Media report that Myanmar’s garment workers have received over MMMK4 billion ($2.9 billion) in payments through the EU funded Myan Ku ‘Quick Assistance Fund’, which was launched in April to support garment workers across Myanmar who lost their jobs amidst the coronavirus pandemic. In total, 26,578 workers from about 230 factories in the garment, textile and footwear industries have been enrolled and supported since the programme started.

United Kingdom: Media report that ASOS is asking UK-manufactured brands stocked on its platform to sign up to additional commitments to ensure their garments are ethically produced. Brands will have to

  • Sign the Transparency Pledge, which means having to regularly and publicly disclose a list of manufacturing sites in their supply chain; 
  • Map all parts of their UK garment manufacturing supply chain;
  • Identify risks within their supply base and strategies to mitigate this risk;
  • Join the Fast Forward auditing programme and committing to tackle any issues identified through this process.

United States: CGTN has filmed and published a video on the situation garment workers in the LA garment industry producing PPE are facing amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Factories have become hotbeds for coronavirus spreading among hundreds of garment workers, many of whom are undocumented and underpaid. Workers explained that the factories have not provided them with masks, although they produce them, and that social distancing measures are impossible to maintain. As a result, workers are risking their lives, as many have already contracted the coronavirus. 

7 August 2020

Asia: The Guardian reports on how, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRCC)'s report, the coronavirus pandemic has led to "brutal crackdown" on garment workers' rights. According to activists, some of Europe's biggest retailers, such as Primark, Zara and H&M, are failing to stop COVID-19 being used as a pretext for union busting. "Workers face a brutal crackdown when exercising their most fundamental rights, and brands aren’t stepping up enough to ensure workers in their supply chains are protected", Thulsi Narayanasamy, senior labour rights lead at BHRRC, made clear.

Bangladesh: Media report that the police violently attacked garment workers who were protesting unpaid wages and allowances, injuring 12 workers. This took place in Dhaka, on the 25th of July, when thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers from Viyellatex and Shofi Tex blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway to demand wages for July, festival allowances and a 12-day festival holiday. Police violently attacked the protesters using batons, gunshots, teargas and sound grenades.

Media report that orders for apparel items from international retailers are coming back. "My factories are fully booked until the end of September and my customers have also booked 60 per cent of my capacity from October towards the end of December", Mostafa Sobhan Rubel, managing director of Dragon Sweaters, said, adding that they have been able to completely reinstate more than 90 per cent of the cancelled orders. Although some factories are running at above 50% capacity, the BGMEA made clear that many are still struggling. "It's too early to make a positive remark on the inflow of new orders since many factories are still struggling to survive due to financial hardships", Arshad Jamal Dipu, vice-president of the BGMEA, said. 

Cambodia: Media report that the Justice Ministry has warned that it would act against activists who defy a ban on holding protests to demand the release of union leader Rong Chhun, who, as previously reported, was arrested over statements about the Cambodia-Vietnam border demarcation. According to the Ministry, those who continue to protest and demand the release of Chhun could face legal action from authorities. Meanwhile, another article reports that yesterday's protests were met with violence from the authorities, as guards were seen pushing, dragging and kicking protesters. Ny Sokha, from human rights group Adhoc, made clear that authorities were violating protesters' constitutionally-guaranteed rights by using violence against a crowd that was peacefully protesting. 

India: Media report that the Telangana cabinet announced that it will form a special welfare scheme for migrant workers in light of the problems they faced during the lockdown period. The main goal of this policy is to create employment. 

According to reports from the CCC network and Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), 134 more children have been rescued from a spinning mill in Tiruppur, India. Following an inspection in which authorities rescued 40 minors, sources shared that there were more children in the spinning mill. Based on this information, a new inspection that took place yesterday night rescued 134 children - including 119 girls between the ages of 13 and 18. Inside the mill, no one was wearing masks or following social distancing measures. "The purchasing practices of brands, which forces suppliers to find cheaper sources of labour, has led to continued employment of child labour", the AFWA wrote in their post. 

Indonesia: Media report that the World Bank criticised Indonesia's planned reforms to make environmental and labour rules more business friendly, warning that they could have adverse effects, especially amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The planned exemptions of minimum wage and reforms to phase out severance pay “could weaken the protection of workers and increase income equality”, especially during heightened unemployment due to the coronavirus crisis, the Bank wrote in the report. According to the article, green activists and labour groups have raised similar concerns. In a joint statement, labour unions complained that their views had not been incorporated in the parliamentary debate and accused lawmakers of siding with companies.

Myanmar: The Guardian interviewed Soe Min Thu, a member of Amber Stone factory's union, who was attacked by men who, he believes, were hired by factory management to send a warning. "We do not like you much in the factory, we’ve been watching you", he recalled them saying. "If you keep working with the union … then next time you’ll die." He was left with his arm in a cast and gashes on his head and leg. Soe Min Thu reported his attackers to the police, but says he doubts they will be caught. Workers from this factory also told the Guardian that factory supervisors were abusive in their language, particularly to female workers, and that lax fire safety at the factory.

OCHA Myanmar (The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Myanmar) reports that around 142,000 migrant workers have, so far, returned to Myanmar. Most are returning from Thailand and have humanitarian needs, especially during the quarantine period. 

Media report that garment workers' rights campaigners have praised Inditex (Zara), but criticised Bestseller, after a trade union claimed victory following a two month dispute with a supplier in Myanmar. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) says Inditex was instrumental in persuading the Huabo Times factory to reinstate 26 union members, including four union leaders, and 81 co-workers sympathetic to the union, but that there was a lack of transparency concerning Bestseller's involvement in resolving the case. 

SMART Textile & Garments reports that the EU Myan Ku Fund has disbursed over 45,000 payments during the first three months, which amounts to €2.5 million in support of laid-off garment workers. According to the EU-funded project, most workers are women, including hundreds of pregnant workers and thousands of internal migrants from conflict affected regions. SMART further reports that the EU Myan Ku Fund cash transfer programme has been extended until 30 November. In this sense, cash transfers will continue to be provided to garment, textile and footwear industry workers who have lost their jobs until this date. 

Spain: IndustriALL reports that Inditex, the company that owns Zara and other high street brands, and IndustriALL Global Union, have signed an agreement to cooperate on a recovery plan for the global garment industry amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The organisations pledged to do this in a joint declaration signed on 4 August. "The COVID-19 pandemic caused a crisis in the textile and garment industry that led unions to experience mass job losses, unsafe working conditions and attacks on workers' rights. Many of our members saw their livelihoods collapse entirely. The manufacturing suppliers need stability and predictability so that employment and income can be preserved. That’s what this commitment entails. We are working together to help the industry to develop the resilience to recover from the crisis, saving jobs and preserving the rights and income of workers", Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary, said. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that hundreds of migrant workers from Sri Lanka are still stranded in the Middle East, where at least 44 have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Thousands of migrant workers have lost their jobs and have no feasible way of returning to Sri Lanka, particularly as those who wish to return must face the barrier of paying for a mandatory PCR test, which many do not have the funds to afford. According to the article, around 1700 migrant workers from Sri Lanka are still stranded abroad.

Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) reports that the Ceylon Mercantile Industrial and General Workers’ Union (CMU) has written to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment with regard to the over 500 Sri Lankan migrant workers who have lost their jobs at two garment factories (Vega Textile Co., Ltd. and Camel Textile International Corporation) and have been stranded in Jordan, with no income, since April. The Union urged the Bureau to advice the Sri Lankan Embassy to actively provide adequate support for the workers while they remain stranded in Jordan.

6 August 2020

Global: Media report that, according to a new study by UN Women, women workers have been disproportionately affected by the slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The study also found that the hardest-hit sectors are the retail, garment and tourism sectors, where female workers are overrepresented. "The COVID crisis has demonstrated once more how women and girls bear the brunt when our societies and economies come under pressure", Hilde Hardeman, head of service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) European Commission, said. 

Bangladesh: Media report that recent surveys indicate that over 1 million garment workers in Bangladesh have already been dismissed or furloughed due to order cancellations and refusals to pay in full for current orders. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), orders received by Bangladesh's garment factories declined by over 45% over the first quarter of 2020, with an 81% contraction in April alone.

Media report that it is encouraging to see that there has been a 44% increase in export earnings in the month of July, particularly because this increase in export earnings was not primarily driven by the garment industry, but by the better performance of agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, jute and jute goods, and the home textile sectors. "This diversification of our export basket has been the need of the hour for Bangladesh for a long time", the article reads. The article further reiterates that  leather and frozen fish sectors are still struggling. 

In an op-ed in the Daily Star, Bangladeshi factory owner Mostafiz Uddin describes the issue of waste amidst the coronavirus pandemic, referring to the mountains of clothing that are currently piled up at ports, in warehouses and on factory floors, which may never be sold. Uddin reports that George, the clothing arm of UK retailer Asda, has cancelled a lot of school uniforms, and that this will be hard or even impossible to resell. "Bangladesh as a garment hub depends on people purchasing things they often do not need. We may not have worried about this in the past, but this is an issue our leaders surely ought to consider moving forwards", he wrote. 

Cambodia: Media report that the Phnom Penh police violently cracked down on a group of around 20 peaceful protesters yesterday, who were demanding Rong Chhun's release in front of the court where he was charged, leaving at least two young women badly injured. 

China: Media report that China's 290 million migrant workers have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, as they had already been under pressure from the US-China trade war. Garment workers who have worked in the industry for over 20 years are losing their jobs as the coronavirus crisis and the US-China trade war cause the closure of factories in China's export-oriented manufacturing industry. Due to the current situation, workers express that "It will be very difficult to find another stable factory to work for many nearby factories are closing down or laying off workers." The article further stresses that factory closures also affect the local community, such as the small restaurants, hotels and numerous shops who rely on workers for their own income. 

Guatemala: Media report that the KP Textil factory, a garment factory supplying Gap, American Eagle and Amazon, was at the centre of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Guatemala, where over 200 workers tested positive and at least one worker died. This case exposes the dire working conditions inside the country's maquila system of free trade zones. At the time of the outbreak, the factory was making masks for export to the US. In statements to the Guardian, Gap, American Eagle and Amazon said their suppliers had been issued with detailed guidance on COVID-19 and reiterated that they are committed to rigorous labour standards. American Eagle and Amazon expressed sympathy for the death of the garment worker and Amazon said that it had launched an investigation. "It has become a butchers’ shop for the poor maquiladora people", Luis Armando López, general secretary of the Central Guatemalan Workers Confederation (CGTG), said, as he referred to how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled within factory walls. Most maquilas have not followed health measures imposed by the government and workers have had to buy their own masks and hand sanitiser.

India: Media report that, according to a study by India Spend, 34% of surveyed migrant garment workers in Karnataka said that they felt financially constrained when buying basic amenities since the COVID-19 lockdown. The study also found that:

  • Before COVID-19, 89% of the workers sent home, on average, 41% of their salaries. During lockdown, only 8% of workers sent money home;
  • Workers faced greater stress, as 46% reported being more worried about future employment post-lockdown and 41% were worried about greater health risks once factories reopened.

Indonesia: CNV Internationaal reports that garment and footwear trade unions federations and employers' associations in Indonesia have signed an agreement that commits to protect workers' health and safety amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that Mango has denied that it is supplied by Dihuali factory in Yangon, which fired 700 union members in a clear union-busting move. In response, workers sent images from inside the factory that show Mango labels. "Looks pretty clearly to be Mango (...) Fashion brands do a lot to disown their workers", the union organiser wrote. 

According to reports from the CCC network, the union at the Huabo Times factory in Myanmar has signed an agreement with factory management after more than two months of fighting against union discrimination. The signed agreement means that the 26 dismissed union members will be reinstated and union demands will be met and sets a clear precedent for the success of worker organising. The union members, supported by the CCC and CCC member organisations Let’s Help Each Other and Solidarity Center, reached out to the main buyers: Inditex (Zara), Bestseller and Primark. Inditex played a key role in the negotiations between the union, factory management and brands, and were supported by Spanish union CCOO. While Inditex took a leading role in negotiations, the other brands were less forthcoming, and there was a lack of transparency concerning Bestseller's involvement in resolving the case. The resolution of the Huabo Times case, with local union involvement at its centre, represents another important step towards establishing a robust labour movement in Myanmar.

Huabo Times Myanmar

Saudi Arabia: Media report that undocumented migrant workers in detention centre are living in insanitary conditions which have sparked COVID-19 fears. Detainees are held in a crowded series of bunk bed-filled halls, which each hold around 80 people. "We are packed as animals. We sleep on metal beds with no mattress, no proper sanitation. We drink water from the toilet. If you have money you can buy clean water. If don’t have any, you just take dirty water from the toilet", one of the migrants explained. According to workers, some are developing COVID-19 symptoms. "There are sick people, fever, vomiting and coughing, and nobody taking care of them. It is possible they have COVID-19", another migrant worker said. Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian government's Centre for International Communication (CIC) did not respond to a request from the Guardian for comment.

Singapore: Media report that there has been a spate of suicides and attempted suicides involving migrant workers in Singapore, which has heightened concerns over the mental health of thousands of low-paid workers who have been confined to their dormitories due to COVID-19. Some dormitories have remained under quarantine since April and even migrants who have been declared virus-free have had their movements restricted and face uncertainty over the jobs on which their families back home depend. Yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Manpower announced that it was monitoring recent suicides and attempted suicides involving migrant workers in dormitories and working with its partners to enhance mental health support programmes for them.

Thailand: Media report that migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos will be allowed to enter Thailand to work under disease control regulations. Thai authorities have coordinated their efforts to enforce regulations such as mandatory 14-day quarantine, health certificate verification and contact tracing procedure. Meanwhile, media also report that the Thai cabinet has allowed over half a million migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, with proper travel documents, to continue working in the country until the end of May 2022. These guidelines aim to ensure the country maintains the labour force needed to strengthen the economy, but also reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections associated to migration. 

5 August 2020

Asia: The Business and Human Rights Research Centre (BHRRC) has published a report on how thousands of garment workers making clothes for some of the world's biggest fashion brands are being fired for being part of a union. The reports looks at nine cases in garment factories in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar supplying nine global fashion brands: H&M, Primark, Zara (Inditex), Levi Strauss & Co., MANGO, BESTSELLER, Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade (Tapestry) and concludes that these nine factories have sacked nearly 5000 workers. The dismissals have been linked to union-busting, as factory management used COVID-19 to cover the dismissal of union members. Six brands said that they are investigating or in dialogue with suppliers. However, months later, most cases remain unresolved. Three brands (Michael Kors, Kate Spade and Tory Burch) have not responded to the allegations. The BHRRC's press release makes clear that these nine cases are simply "the tip of the iceberg", reiterating that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has reported a global crackdown on trade unions, with at least 53 countries restricting human and labour rights during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bangladesh: Media report that Bangladesh's exports in July reached the highest-ever earnings in a single month in the country's history due to an increased shipment of garment products as global buyers started reinstating their orders. Experts and exporters observed that it was a good sign as the country's export earnings rebounded amidst the pandemic but expressed uncertainty regarding if the trend would sustain or not. Meanwhile, exports earnings from leather and leather goods and leather footwear decreased by over 15% and 17%, respectively, compared to the same period last year. 

Media report that over 5 million poor and vulnerable families have, so far, received the government's assistance, send in order to help households overcome their livelihood related difficulties, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, around 2 million vulnerable families have bought rice at a reduced price through the Open Market Sale (OMS), in an effort to mitigate their crisis caused by the pandemic.

India: Media report that 135 garment workers, most of whom are women, from the Himmatsingka Linens garment factory located in the special economic zone of Hassan, in Karnataka, have tested positive for COVID-19. Most of these workers were made to stay inside a building within the factory premises, where they lacked access to treatment and beds; at least 30 workers had to sleep on the floor "in biting cold". A video highlighting the conditions inside the factory went viral, which made the authorities intervene and take workers to a COVID-19 care centre. The garment factory has about 2500 workers and most of the workers who contracted the disease are from North Karnataka.

Media report that unions have warned and protested against the fact that changes to the labour laws will put most workers out of legal protection, as the amendments tilt the balance in favour of the factories. The sweeping changes brought to Factories Act, Industrial Disputes Act, and Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, unions fear, will put over 70% of factories in the State of Karnataka outside the purview of the labour laws. "The factories were already circumventing the law by reducing the permanent workforce and increase contract labour, and changes to the Industrial Disputes Act will only push workers into penury", M.D. Harigovind, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress, Bengaluru, said. Unions have announced that "Save India", a massive protest organised by workers has will take place on 10 August to protest dilution of labour laws.

Indonesia: Media report that Better Work Indonesia developed an online stress management training to create positive working and living environment for garment workers and manufacturers during the coronavirus pandemic. As the garment industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors in the country, Better Work warns that job insecurity and loss of income could lead to mental health issues and that fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can be overwhelming and cause workplace stress. In this sense, Better Work created an online training mechanism, which aims to help participants prevent stress, understand how people's mind and body react to both negative and positive environment and manage our own well-being and that of others at work. 

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that the union president of the Rui-Ning garment factory has been reinstated after workers fought a 4-month battle against union-busting. "With persistent union actions inside the factory and strong international solidarity, they’ve won justice", the union organiser wrote on a social media post. 

Netherlands: SOMO reports that the Complaints and Disputes Committee of the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textiles has announced that it will take up the complaint filed by SOMO, Action Labor Rights and the Clean Clothes Campaign against C&A last month regarding the mismanagement of complaints from workers at the Roo Hsing factory in Myanmar. "Now that the complaint is under consideration, the organisations hope that C&A will take its responsibility and address the management of Roo Hsing in order to guarantee trade union freedom and reinstate both the unfairly dismissed employees and those who were forced to leave", SOMO wrote. 

Pakistan: IndustriALL reports that APFUTU, in Pakistan, expressed solidarity with the 1200 workers who were sacked by union-busting at H&M supplier Gokaldas Exports.

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union has called on Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak, to make arrangements to bring back workers from the Indo Jordan Clothing Company and VEGA Factory, who have been stranded in Jordan since March.  Workers are waiting for the Sri Lankan Government to make arrangements to bring them back to Sri Lanka and for the Sri Lankan Embassy in Jordan to intervene and get their wages and other dues, which they are entitled to. According to the union, the Sri Lankan embassy in Jordan has failed to take any fruitful action regarding these cases. As a result, workers are stranded without jobs or income and their situation is getting aggravated day by day. The union urged the Lieutenant to draw immediate attention to the tragic situation these Sri Lankan migrant workers are undergoing and requested that urgent arrangements to bring them back to Sri Lanka without prejudice to their rights to pursue their entitlements be made.

United States: Media report that US textile and apparel sales could shrink by more than 50% amidst the coronavirus pandemic, unless trade improves sharply during the holidays. According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), sales were down by almost 84% in April, 62% in May and 24% in June.

4 August 2020

Bangladesh: According to reports from the CCC network, the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) expressed solidarity with GATWU members in India, as 1200 workers were illegally dismissed by H&M supplier Gokaldas Exports on 3 June.

BIGUF solidarity

Cambodia: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined 141 Cambodian civil society groups and several opposition parties, including the dissolved CNRP, in condemning the arrest of Rong Chhun, president of the independent Cambodian Confederation of Unions and called on Cambodian authorities to release the trade union leader and rights activist immediately. Rong Chhun was arrested at his home on the eventing of 31 July without an arrest warrant, alleging he was committing an in flagrante delicto (caught in the act) offense. Meanwhile, media report that Chhun's arrest sparked protests outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday, which continued Sunday and Monday. The police prevented a group of around 20 people from protesting outside the court on Monday, after which the group decided to walk to the Justice Ministry. Chin Malin, Justice Ministry spokesperson, defended the arrest by saying that the it wasn't warranted because he had been caught in the act of committing the crime, referring to the unionist’s statements as an "obvious crime." According to another article, Ouk Chhayavy, president of Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association, who attended Saturday’s protests, urged international stakeholders to intervene over Chhun’s arrest. Relating this case to the withdrawal of the EBA agreement, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for HRW, said that "The European Union should certainly make Rong Chhun’s arrest and ongoing plight an issue that Cambodia must address as part of their response to the EBA, as Rong Chhun is one of the most prominent labor leaders in the country and what happens to him affects the labor movement as a whole."

Media report that, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Cambodia could lose more than 15% of its international remittances amidst the coronavirus pandemic because hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly from Thailand, have returned home. In its report, the ADB further estimated that the economic recession caused by COVID-19 threatens the job security and wellbeing of more than 91 million international migrants from Asia and the Pacific. According to the ADB, total remittances to Asia are expected to drop between $31.4 billion (baseline scenario) and $54.3 billion (worst-case scenario) in 2020.

China: The China Labour Bulletin reports that China's workers are paying the price for growing global demand for face masks. Once the coronavirus outbreak was determined to be brought under control, the demand for face masks in China dropped off dramatically, which lead to mass layoffs and wage arrears. However, as the pandemic continues to spread across the globe, international demand for face masks and other PPE continues to grow, which has led to lucrative contracts for large-scale Chinese manufacturers. As factories switch production to face masks and other PPE, however, workers are made to work in intense working environments for which they lack training, which has led to employee exhaustion and a spate of accidents, including frequent conflicts between workers and security guards. In mask-producing factories, workers only have one day off and are working from 8AM to 8PM everyday with only one hour for lunch. They must wear dust-proof overalls which inside the factory. It is clear that, "after three months of continuous work, everyone is feeling really bad", the article reads. 

Ghana: Media report that the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, announced that garment factories in Ghana have produced around 15 million face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which have been used by frontline workers in the country and have created jobs for thousands of people.

India: Based on clinical interview, academics found that the exodus of migrant workers in India amidst the coronavirus pandemic has created emotional concerns because migrants, in the absence of public transport, walked or cycled for hundreds of miles - during which many suffered abuse at the hands of police who were ordered to stop all movement and some have even died from exhaustion or trauma. 

Media report that the Central government has started to map the skills of migrant workers in 30 districts of UP and Bihar in order to provide them with employment in areas near their hometowns and also helping the industry, especially the MSME sector, amidst labour shortage. 

Nepal: Media report that Nepali migrant workers have started going back to India due to lack of food and employment at home. "It’s easier to fight the virus than hunger. So I am going to work in India as a migrant worker", one migrant worker expressed. Dinesh Thakhulla, an official at the Citizen Help Desk at Trinagar border in Dhangadhi reported that, "[i]n recent times, more than 100 migrant workers are returning to India for work and more than 200 Nepali migrant workers are coming back to Nepal a day."

Sri Lanka: Media report that garment workers from the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) are being denied their right to vote in tomorrow's General Elections as the FTZ authorities told workers that they could depart to their respective hometowns in order to vote, but would have to be back on time for their Thursday shift or face a pay cut on daily wages. This timeframe makes it impossible for workers to cast their votes, particularly amidst the coronavirus pandemic, as there is lack of public transport. "Nearly 300 – 400 employees work at per garment factory in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone. We faced this same issue during the last Presidential election in November 2019. Many faced a pay cut of up to Rs. 4000. No alternative solution has been provided. Most of us live in distant areas where there is a lack of transport preventing us from returning to work on time. We cannot afford to face a pay cut. We do not have the necessary funds to travel back and forth to cast our ballots", one of the workers explained. According to the article, the Election Commission has failed to address the issue or provide an alternative solution. According to workers, this inadequate timeframe to vote has been intentionally provided by management as an attempt to downsize their workforce amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

United Kingdom: Media report that shares in fast fashion retailer Boohoo lost a third of their value after reports showed that workers in its UK supply chain were paid £3.50 an hour. A Financial Times reporter found that 20 "sustainable funds" were amongst those who had put money into Boohoo, including products from Legal and General Investment Management and Man Group. Aberdeen Standard Investments' employment opportunities fund, which invests in companies with “good employment opportunities and practices”, had Boohoo as its biggest holding as recently as May. Many dumped the stock after the allegations, but it makes it clear that "sustainable funds must work harder to vet their investments."

Asda is refusing to accept up to 20% of orders that suppliers have already shipped and demanding 40-70% percent price reductions on orders completed but not yet shipped while Walmart, Asda's owner, is making massive profits under lockdown. 

Vietnam: Media report that, with the second wave of COVID-19, Vietnam's textile and footwear industries, still reeling from the impact of the first, are likely to see things worsen, as even the country's biggest garment and footwear companies keep reporting major losses. TNG Investment and Trading JSC., which manufactures clothing and footwear for various domestic and international brands, reported first half revenues and net profit were down 10% and 29%, respectively; and the Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group (Vinatex) reported a 15% decrease in revenues and 25% decrease in profits despite partially switching to manufacturing face masks and protective clothing and retaining all its workers. Meanwhile, the article also reports that the International Textile Manufacturers Federation said if the coronavirus pandemic lasts until the end of 2020, the global textile and garment trade would likely decrease by 15-20% this year.

3 August 2020

Global: Media report that, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, apparel continues to be the worst hit segment in retail amidst the coronavirus pandemic, as store closures have severely affected seasonal spending. Furthermore, the rising unemployment and threat of a global recession has been predicted to exacerbate the contraction of the consumers' expenditure on apparel. GlobalData forecasts that COVID-19 will wipe $395.6B from global clothing and footwear sales in 2020, a 19.5% decline compared to 2019.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that there are 164 millions migrant workers across the world and that they have been "very impacted" by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Cambodia: According to reports from the CCC network, civil society groups have released a statement condemning the arrest of Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) and called on the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to immediately drop all charges against the union leader. 

Media report that the government of Cambodia announced that it will continue to provide out-of-work allowances to garment, footwear and hospitality workers for the next two months, as these are the the "hardest-hit sectors", which have not yet fully recovered. Far Saly, president of the National Trade Unions Coalition, explained that garment workers' livelihoods are still badly affected by the pandemic. "So far, COVID-19 still continues to affect workers’ livings. We do not know how long the government will continue to give out-of-work allowances to suspended workers", Saly said. According to the Labour Ministry, it paid over 8000 suspended workers last month. As announced in April, the government will provide $40 in allowances per month to each worker and another $30 is to be paid by factory owners.

Media report that Cambodia's Footwear Association reports that it doesn't expect the second half of 2020 to turn out better than the first, as none of its member factories report an increase in orders and most estimate a 40-60% drop in orders compared to last year. 

India: According to reports from the CCC network, five out of the 40 child workers who were rescued from a private spinning mill near Avinashi, in Tiruppur, have been tested for COVID-19, as they showed symptoms. In the mill, 40 children aged between 15 and 18 years old, were brought from four different districts without e-passes and were made to work against their will. Action will be initiated against the spinning mill, an investigation on the case will be opened and efforts to send the 40 children back to their hometowns are underway. 

Media report that, according to a study that surveyed 4835 households, nearly two-thirds of migrant workers, who had left home due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, have either returned to cities or wish to do so in absence of employment in rural areas. The study found that:

  • 29% of migrant workers who had left for villages, are now back in cities;
  • 45% of migrant workers want to return.
  • More than one-fourth of the migrant workers are still searching for work in villages;
  • 43% of households still reported reduction in meals, while 55% said they have reduced the meal items.

Media report that the Tiruppur Exporters' Association (TEA) requested the Prime Minister and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to extend the moratorium on loan repayment for another six months, as the Tiruppur garment sector is not in a financial position to repay loans and interests. In the first quarter, the Tiruppur's garment exports suffered a decrease of over 60%.

Thailand: Media report that Thailand has announced that it will ease travel restrictions for migrant workers. Non-Thai nationals with a certificate of permanent residency, non-Thai nationals with work permits and migrant workers whose employers have been allowed to bring in workers will be allowed to enter Thailand starting tomorrow. In terms of COVID-19 measures, migrants must have a health certificate showing they are COVID-19 negative and a health insurance policy. Upon arriving, migrant will be quarantined 14 days at state venues or alternative quarantine locations.

Vietnam: Media report that, according to the Ministry of Labour, the number of workers forced to take unpaid leave or lower working hours could be up to 5 million in the third quarter of this year, as up to 70% of businesses in Vietnam report being affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In the worst-case scenario, the number of workers losing their jobs could increase by 60,000-70,000 per month. Workers in the manufacturing sector are amongst the most affected. In response, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs has proposed that the government ease conditions for businesses to access soft bank loans so that they can pay workers' wages.

United States: Media report that L.A. County's tracing system has repeatedly failed to detect coronavirus outbreaks at workplaces. According to experts, the County’s programme has been throttled time and again by slow turnaround times for test results from labs, language barriers, uncooperative employers, as well patients who provide inaccurate or incomplete information. Many of those getting sick are low-wage workers who fear financial repercussions if they stop working and are too afraid of retaliation to report unsafe work conditions. 

2 August 2020

Global: Forbes explores how worker's 'value' depends on location, explaining that brands care (and act) when the exploitation is on their doorstep, but not when it is further afield in Asia. The article compares two different cases - one in Bangladesh and the other in the UK. It concludes that the proximity of the factory to Boohoo operations in Manchester and UK retailers was "too close for comfort". Despite both news stories being shared in the UK media, the lack of action in the case of the Bangladeshi workers suggests a "lack of empathy and interest in their plight", the article reads. 

Cambodia: Media report that Cambodia's Footwear Association has reiterated its call to the EU urging for the EBA withdrawal to be postponed, as 80,000 jobs at risk. According to the Association, up to 40,000 employees in the footwear manufacturing sector have already been impacted as a direct impact from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which shows no signs of respite. A further 40,000 workers in the industry are at risk of losing their job. "Based on existing order volumes for the second half of 2020, even before August 12 EbA partial withdrawal takes effect, 70% of member factories are preparing for further reductions in employment or a complete suspension of production", the Association made clear.

India: Media report that migrant workers are returning from rural areas to the industrial sites, as they have been unable to find work back home and need to pay for essential services. The article states that an estimated 12 lakh migrant workers from UP, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh left Surat during lockdown in trains and private buses. Now, after two months, some of those migrant workers have started returning to Surat.

1 August 2020

Global: Media report that order cancellations by brands and retailers amount to an estimated $40 billion in refused payments owed to factories. Factories have responded to this by cutting wages or laying-off workers. The impact of order cancellations has left millions of workers without jobs and wages, in countries with minimal social safety nets. 

Media report that the findings of two surveys, pre and post-COVID, by the US-based NGO Better Buying, revealed that high-pressure cost negotiations by apparel buyers have the greatest impact on textile suppliers' business profitability, which then overflows onto workers and the environment. Apparel buyers are "demanding level prices be maintained from year to year with no consideration for inflation" and follow a much maligned "take it or leave it" approach, insisting that if a target cost is not met, they cannot "win the order".

Cambodia: According to reports from the media and CATU Cambodia, Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Union Confederation (CUC), was arrested last night for alleged incitement over long-running border demarcation issues with Vietnam, after he issued a statement on border issues. The Court said that Chhun was arrested for "Incitement to commit felony", punishable under article 495 of the Criminal Codes by imprisonment from six months to two years and a fine from 1 million to 4 million Riels if found guilty. Chhun was sent Phnom Penh municipality court this morning. This is the latest crackdown against opposition voices in the country. 

India: Media report that, according to the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), the garment industry in India had a "disastrous first quarter" (until 30 June), as 74% of factories reported a 90% drop in sals. The second quarter projections are not looking any better, as 95% of factories expect operating at less than 50% of capacity. "All these findings reflect an extremely grim future for the garment industry, and survival of many of the smaller players looks extremely doubtful", Rakesh Biyanisaid, president of the CMAI, said. Based on findings, the CMAI estimates that 25-30% of garment factories in the country are likely to shut down amidst the coronavirus pandemic, and that over 25% of jobs would be cut. The industry employed around 12 million workers pre-COVID. 

Malaysia: Media report that the government of Malaysia has announced that migrant workers will only be allowed in three sectors: construction, plantation and agriculture, in an effort to reduce the country's dependence on migrant labour and reduce the pandemic's impact on local employment. Another article reports that this measure will affect migrant workers from other Asian countries, particularly Nepal, a majority of whom work in manufacturing and services.

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that 700 workers from the Dihuali Garment Factory in Yangon, which makes clothes for Mango, have been locked out and dismissed by factory management after going on strike to demand union recognition and COVID-19 safety measures. 

Media report that millions of vulnerable families in Myanmar have received the first cash handouts under the COVID-19 relief scheme. Relief has been distributed in the form of cash handouts totalling K40,000 to alleviate the impact of COVID-19, but some appear to be falling through the cracks, as it has not reached all the families in need. Some families that did not receive the food handout in April had expected to receive a cash transfer but administrators administrators said that the cash transfers were going to the same families that received the package of five basic commodities in April and that they were unable to add names to the list. 

United Kingdom: Media report that Boohoo has vowed to "act decisively" when the results of its third-party supply chain investigation are published. The article further states that the results of the investigation will be published four months ahead of originally predicted, with an update set to be provided alongside the firm's half-year results on 30 September.  

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published 2020-08-12