Live-blog: How the Coronavirus influences garment workers in supply chains
7 April 2020
Global: Brands and retailers that are refusing to pay for existing orders continue to justify this decision with the difficulties they are in, as well as a decision to prioritise saving jobs in their home countries, reports Der Spiegel. Vogue Business reports that even as some brands and retailers now publicly agree to take existing orders, they still try to bargain, and fears exist that despite commitments brands will not pay suppliers or will take a very long time doing so, as none are public about their timelines. Vogue reached out to C&A, Bestseller, Gap, Inditex, H&M and Target asking for a timeline regarding the commitments they have made, but most did not respond.
Bangladesh: Daily Star reports that factory owner associations BGMEA and the BKMEA are recommending closure of all factories until 14 April, but according to Mahmud Naser Jony, additional superintendent of police of Dhaka Industrial Police-1, 130 factories are still operating in Dhaka's Savar and Ashulia areas. He stated that worker unrest was reported at the Ha-Meem group, demanding closure of factories and salary. The article also reports that according to the BGMEA as of Sunday, $3.04 billion worth of garment export orders were cancelled by international retailers.
Media also continue to report, now including video and images, on the chaotic situation in Bangladesh on Sunday, when many workers returning to work and claiming their March wages were surprised by a prolonged closure of factories.
Media report that Bangladesh Bank has instructed workers and employees of export-oriented industries and factories to open up mobile banking accounts within the next 14 days, as the stimulus package announced by the government as well as salaries and allowances will be sent to these accounts. Read more.
Cambodia: After employer organization GMAC told the government that it would not be able to pay 40% of workers' wages, the Prime Minister of Cambodia has announced that suspended garment workers will only receive $70 per month, instead of the $120 that were promised and already considered too low to ensure essential goods and services. The government will pay $40 and the other $30 will be covered by factory management. Asia Floor Wage Alliance makes clear that 'this decision is going to have a huge impact on garment workers' lives'.
Malaysia: According to information from the CCC network more than 100 Cambodian workers, students and Khmer Islam informal sellers were refused on a flight to Cambodia after Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen announced they would not be accepted. He encouraged around 150 Cambodian workers, students and Khmer Islam vendors to remain in Malaysia. They are now stuck in Kuala Lumpur airport. Most workers' work permits are about to expire and it is hard for them to stay in Malaysia. Read more here.
Malaysia’s Social Security Organization (SOCSO) has clarified that COVID-19 is considered an occupational disease under Malaysian law.
Myanmar: Media report that garment workers in Myanmar have joined an online campaign calling on the government and employers to suspend operations in garment factories and arrange for workers to receive paid leave, but most employers are resisting this idea because of the uncertainty of how long this shutdown could last and how that would impact their business.
India: WIEGO reiterates that 90% of India's workforce are informal workers, but little has been done by the Indian government to make sure that they will be able to earn income, buy essential goods and services or protect themselves.
Indonesia: Media report that Jemmy Kartiwa, chairman of a textile association in Indonesia, is concerned about the crisis where in a sector that employs more than 3 million workers, 'demand is declining sharply'.
Pakistan: Media in Pakistan report on the country's 1.25 trillion COVID-19 bail out package, which includes Rs200 billion designated for labourers who lose their jobs or are seeing a reduction in employment opportunities; Rs100bn tax refunds to export industry to provide them liquidity as soon as possible so that their work isn't completely halted; Rs3,000 a month for 4 months for 12 million most affected families; selling of five basic food items at lower prices at utility stores.
Media report that as industries in Pakistan struggle to stay afloat, Zubair Motiwalla, Chairman of the Council of Textile Associations, calls on the government to support industries by paying 50% of workers' salaries: 'The government should share 50% of the salaries of our employees out of the Workers Welfare Fund (WWF). The money in this fund, amounting to billions of rupees, is our money and should be utilised at this time of crisis', he said. Business owners also urged the government to look into the possibility of reducing all tax and interest rates, utility charges and petroleum prices for three months.
Thailand: According to information from the CCC network garment factories are still operating as long as they have orders from brands, but orders are starting to slow down. There is concern that some factories will use COVID-19 as an excuse to close down. These factories will be obligated to give proper advanced notice or pay proper severance pay. Employers can also use Section 75, which allows an employer to temporarily halt work or remain open with reduced hours when economic conditions are out of their control such as under force majeure, but must pay its workers 75% of the legal wage. They must give three days advanced notice. The determination of the legitimate use of Section 75 must be assessed by the local Labour Protection Office. Under the current situation, the ability to file labour complaints has been disrupted. The ability to submit labour rights violation complaints has been moved on-line, but is out of reach to migrants because it is in Thai language and they only have cell phones. So far, one factory has temporarily suspended operations under Section 75. Some factories have laid people off as work contracts and work permits expired. However, the government has given an amnesty extension for all migrant registration until 30 June without penalty. In factories that are still open, there are thermal checks on workers as they enter the factory, and workers have been encouraged to make their own cloth masks with material provided. People continue to work and live close together and the factories and dorms have terrible ventilation. As most factory compounds are gated, worker mobility is controlled and a ban on gathering further limits workers' chances to organize.
Vietnam: Media report that a textile industry body in Vietnam estimates that the sector could take a $467 million hit, predicting a dip from 7% to 4.9% for Vietnam's baseline 2020 growth.
6 April 2020
Bangladesh: At the start of the Bangladeshi working week, yesterday, there was lack of clarity over whether factories would reopen, with workers walking long distances in order not lose their jobs after the 10 day closure and then being turned back at the door or even being told they were laid off. Garment worker unions are calling on the government, buyers, or factory owners to pay workers who will struggle to feed themselves and their families with no income, reports Reuters. Many workers were especially eager to return to work as they have not yet been paid for March and hoped to receive their salaries. Journalist and University of Dhaka lecturer Towheed Feroze urged the government in an op-ed to provide for a plan including the upcoming Ramadan month, adding: "As for business people, it’s time they use a little empathy and logic. Sometimes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too." In the meantime factory owners continue to disagree on whether garment factories should be closed and the government does not enforce factory closure. This means some factories continue to operate and workers are left in uncertainty, reports the Daily Star. Today the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) announced closure of all factories under the eight EPZs in the country from 6-14 April.
Cambodia: The Cambodia Manufacturers Association (GMAC) has reiterated the appeal sent to all buyers through an open letter posted late last week. 'This will save 750,000 jobs and enable factories to pay their workers and ensure the livelihoods of millions of Cambodians', GMAC said. As of yesterday, according to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training of Cambodia, approximately 90 of Cambodia's garment factories had suspended their operations, accounting for 60,000 job
The GMAC also said that owners had complied to continue paying workers 40 percent of the 190$ monthly minimum wage, but Cambodian trade union leaders have said that they are 'sympathetic, but also skeptical about the request'. In addition to these 40 percent, the government said it would pay 20 percent of the minimum wage. However, garment workers have said that some factory owners believed they would not be able to cover the costs of 40 percent of the salaries after the April 13-16 break for Khmer New Year, as foreign orders dry up. Also today, Dork Sovann, head of the women's department at the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union (CATU), urged the government to 'close all factories for a period of time in order to prevent COVID-19 spreading and help secure workers pay in time.' Sovann also made clear that, considering the fact that workers travel to and from home provinces for Khmer New Year, there will be added risks if factories reopen after the break.
Myanmar: Media report that according to Industrial Workers Federation Myanmar (IWFM), a government factory has fired 686 of its 904 employees. This lay off is far from one-off, being part of a thread of similar cases in the country. Since January, 22 cut-make-pack garment factories have shut down, according to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population of Myanmar. The remaining factories have reduced the number of employees working in their facilities.
The COVID19 fund announced on the 18th of March by the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry of Myanmar is not accessible for foreign businesses. Of Myanmar's approximately 600 garment factories, 400 are Chinese-owned, 100 South Korea-owned. These owners are now urging the Myanmar government to review this decision and allow them to apply for loans through a stimulus package for foreign investors in the local garment industry, according to media reports.
Hong Kong: The Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) today called on the Hong Kong government to create 50,000 temporary jobs, like cleaning, and building repair and maintenance to provide a lifeline to those who have lost their livelihoods due to the coronavirus outbreaks in the city. The union said the government should also look at ways to give people cash directly. It said those who have lost their jobs or been put on furloughs should be given 80% of the pay they were getting before, as well as subsidise employers affected by the government's two-week mandatory closure of establishment
Pakistan: Media report that the Punjab government has started to allow for the reopening of various businesses, including businesses related to the textile industry, sports wear and leather.
According to media reports, more than a million garment and textile workers in Pakistan are set to lose their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis and most will get no financial support to ease the blow, according to trade union leaders.
Turkey: According to information from the CCC network COVID19 cases were detected in the Akar Textile factory in the İzmir province with over 1800 workers. Four workers diagnosed with the virus and 17 workers who worked in the same area were sent home for a 14 day quarantine. The factory received permission from the government to continue to work, but several workers tried to make use of their legal right to deny unsafe work. They were attacked by guards. Video footage of this is available but was removed from the social media platform it was posted on.
5 April 2020
Bangladesh: The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSSC) Mayor Sayeed Khokon on Saturday called upon the Commerce Minister to consider shutdown of garments factories to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In the meantime, media report that garment workers afraid to lose their jobs if they do not show up for work walk over 100km to their factories in absence of any public transport. Also on Saturday, the employers' organization BGMEA suggested that garment factories should be closed until 11 April. On its own Facebook page the BGMEA declined responsibility for factories remaining open during the lock down:
"1. BGMEA cannot close factories. We don’t have the authority. Only Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) does.
2. A formal meeting was held on 21/3 and many ensured that their factories could remain open as they would assure that highest precautions could be maintained.
3. Even then, BGMEA went ahead and recommended closure again on 26/3 and added that clause again
4. We made no announcement from BGMEA to reopen factories after that.
5. Today after seeing the wave of people, we again recommended closure
We recommended closure from 20/3 and till date we have not changed our position."
After working very long distances because factory owners had told them factories would reopen this Sunday, many workers were now told that factories will only reopen on 12 April and have to walk all the way back to their home towns and villages as they have no livelihood in Dhaka, reports Dhaka Tribune.
Cambodia: Employer organization GMAC says that 80% of buyers, including those from the US, Europe, & Canada have postponed purchases from Cambodian suppliers. They demand a review of the government policy that demands that employers pay 40% of worker wages during the lock down, reports AFWA.
Myanmar: Workers of a factory producing for Zara and Mango, where union members were first dismissed in the wake of the COVID19 crisis while others remain employed, are camping outside the factory demanding reinstatement.
Sri Lanka: Media report that due to the coronavirus the garment industry in the country might lay off 30% of the workforce.
4 April 2020
Global: Fibre-2-Fashion reports that "companies suffered significant cancellations or postponements, and on an average, orders dropped by 8 per cent, according to a survey by Zurich-based International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF). The fall in orders ranged from 4 per cent in South America to 13.3 per cent in Africa. The turnover in 2020, on an average, is expected to be 10.5 per cent lower in 2020 than last year. While North America is expected to witness an average decline of 7.5 per cent, companies in Europe are expecting a drop of 17.5 per cent, ITMF said."
Bangladesh: Thousands of people -- many of them garment workers -- are returning to Dhaka due to the lock down. People travel in cramped lorries or walk the distance in groups and are unable to keep social distancing, reports the Daily Star.
India: The plight of many migrant workers does not stop upon their return home, as media report. Often they face stigma of potentially carrying the virus.
Indonesia: Many garment factories in Sukabumi Regency, Java, Indonesia stopped production for 14 days due to the shortage of raw materials, the inability to ship finished goods and cancellation of orders by brands.
Italy: According reports from the CCC network organization Abiti Puliti logistic workers at the logistic hub of Stradella are still working to process online orders -- non-essential goods -- for H&M. They reported the dangerous situation and are calling upon the prefect to intervene and close the warehouse. 500 workers are working without safety measures.
The Philippines: Labour NGO Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) calls on the government to implement pro-poor policies and clearer guidelines as the lock down continues, calling for free testing and treatment for free, guaranteed income, immediate support to the poor and upholding freedom of association, collective bargaining rights and occupational health and safety.
US: Labour rights organizations Worker Rights Center and International Labor Rights Forum have sent a letter to apparel companies -- co-signed by a range of organizations, including CCC -- with recommendations on how to protect garment workers.
WRC's white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?"
Academic paper (Mark Anner) "Abandoned?"
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.
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 COVID19 crisis.
The Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD maintains a website with partner responses.
Retail dive tracks retailers’ response to COVID19.
Foot Wear News tracks fashion philanthropy.
ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.
3 April 2020
Global: An op-ed by Adam Minter argues that "all parties would benefit if retailers and brands committed to a shared responsibility for paying garment workers for completed work, and contributed to a reasonable severance during the inevitable virus-driven slump."
Bangladesh: The Guardian reports that Primark and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill are among retailers that have collectively cancelled £1.4bn and suspended an additional £1bn of orders as they scramble to minimise losses. This includes nearly £1.3bn of orders that were already in production or had been completed. In the meantime fabric is piling up in mills because of the restrictions and cancelled orders. The Bangladesh Bank asks exporters to apply for loans from the stimulus package immediately, the option is open until 20 April.
The Daily Star also reports on a home-based workshop owner and his wife using their own facilities to produce face masks from left-over material.
India: Media report that 10 trade unions call upon the labour minister to stop retrenchment of workers, salary cuts, and forced unpaid leave.
An analysis in the Wire argues that the Indian textile industry needs government support to overcome this crisis.
Pakistan: Human Rights Watch urges Pakistani authorities to take urgent steps to mitigate the economic impact of COVID19 on its most vulnerable workers, realizing the enormous economic consequences social distancing, quarantines, and the closure of businesses will have for garment and textile workers, domestic workers, home-based workers, and other workers in low-income households.
CCC network organization NTUF reports its is continuing relief work with around 350 food bags delivered to focal persons in different localities of Liyari town, Karachi yesterday. From today they will deliver food supply to district central, Karachi. Hindu community focal persons received food bags from Faisl Edhi at Edhi Center on yesterday to deliver to needy families in their localities
South East Asia: CCC network organization Mekong Migration Network reports on the vulnerable situation of migrant workers in this crisis. The governments of Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia have urged migrant workers to stay put and avoid travelling back to their countries of origin. However, many migrants have been compelled to return, as remaining in Thailand, for many, means no job, no food and a real risk of homelessness. A significant number of migrant workers will not qualify for exitisting government initiatives as they are either undocumented or ineligible to register on the grounds that they are in the informal sector. Migrants who have returned to their countries of origin also face a host of challenges. Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have all begun quarantining migrant returnees. Many migrants no longer hold documentation in their country of origin making it difficult for them to access social protection, including basic healthcare. The sudden influx of returnees is also the cause of hardship at the household level, as families must feed and accommodate returning relatives at short notice. MMN calls on the relevant authorities to announce free access to public healthcare in Thailand for migrants, start an information campaigns aimed at migrants on COVID19 in migrant languages including health and safety guidelines for those continuing to work, to relax documentation requirements in countries or origin to ensure that all migrant returnees have access to public healthcare.
Sri Lanka: CCC network organization FTZ-GSEU has written a letter to the Sri Lankan President on the violation of COVID19 preventive measures by some employers and state officials.
FTZ-GSEU also reports that a factory owned by NEXT has announced that because of COVID19 the company is undergoing financial difficulties and therefore it has decided to pay only 50% of the annual bonus.
2 April 2020
Global: Global Unions released a statement calling upon the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank to produce a plan to coordinate economic stimulus, public health action and debt relief.
An op-ed by Minh-Ha T. Pham at Truthout points out that workers should not be forgotten behind the brand promises to produce PPE: "When fashion designers and CEOs of fashion firms promise to make masks, they don’t mean that they will be personally making the masks. They mean that the local and international garment workers they employ in factories where they contract apparel production will be taking on this new task."
Bangladesh: Solidarity Center reports that in Gazipur, factory-level unions and worker union leaders representing 10,000 garment workers at Hop Lun Ltd. factories negotiated key pay and safety measures. Workers will receive their full month’s salary for March as the factory closes from 26 March–5 April during the government lock down. And at Natural Denims Ltd. 8,200 workers signed a collective bargaining agreement in January, SGSF worked with factory management to ensure workers receive their full pay during the factory closure. 3,000 garment workers at 4 A Yarn Dyeing Ltd. are receiving 20 days’ salary through the March 26–April 5 factory closure, and SGSF is providing education about the novel coronavirus and discussing more safety steps with management.
Media report that factories can pay wages for 3 months from a stimulus package for which the finance Ministry has sent around implementation guidelines.
Cambodia: Reuters report that 91 garment factories have suspended work due to COVID19 with 61,500 workers affected. Khmer Times raises that crowds of more than 10 people are banned to curb the COVID19 pandemic, but factory workers are daily being packed into vans and trucks to commute to work.
Malaysia: CCC network organization Tenaganita reports that it has been disseminating factual information on COVID19 in the languages of migrant communities since the beginning of the crisis as well as lobbied for making tests available for them. Fear of arrests prevent undocumented workers from seeking health care.
Action Labour Rights reports that earlier this week the Chinese Textile and Garment Federation stated in a meeting with union federations that buyers are massively reducing their orders: Primark is reducing orders with 40%, H&M with 60% and Spanish and Italian brands are cancelling all orders.
Sri Lanka: According to media reports, a government representative said that the apparel sector will lose USD 2 billion for the three-month period starting from March because of the disruption to supply chain in Europe and the US following the COVID-19 outbreak, Cabinet Spokesman and Minister Bandula Gunawardene said yesterday.
The Philippines: Media report that President Duterte threatened to order the police to shoot anyone who "makes trouble" during the lock down after residents of a slum in Manila's Quezon City staged a protest along a highway near their shanty houses, claiming they had not received any food packs and other relief supplies since the lock down began more than two weeks ago.
Turkey: The Istanbul Apparel Exporters Association (IHKIB) published a statement predicting that the cancellation of orders and suspension of payments by trading partners will cause dramatic results, stating this will result in social turbulence because a high number of workers will be unemployed or unpaid. The association requests its business partners to pay as normal for orders under production and finished products, offering flexible payment methods.
US: Garment Worker Center is reporting on the unsafe and unsanitary conditions in sweatshops in Los Angeles.
1 April 2020
Global: In a statement, Human Rights Watch states that apparel brands’ business practices in response to COVID-19 are exacerbating the economic plight of millions of garment workers in Asia and are contrary to brands’ human rights responsibilities outlined in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector.
After damaging reports on brands cancelling orders to the detriment of factories and workers, media report that more and more brands are now committing to paying existing orders, including Inditex, Marks & Spencer, Target, and Polish clothing company LPP. Other brands, including Primark, stick to nor paying for already produced orders.
Bangladesh: IndustriALL reports that ACT signatory brands have expressed their commitment to maintain responsible business practices and social dialogue, and in majority agreed in principle to pay for completed orders, and are discussing various incentive and stimulus packages for suppliers to ensure workers are paid. Media report that employer association BGMEA welcomes that new brands have ensured to commit to orders: ‘Spanish clothing company Inditex, British multinational retailer Marks and Spencer, French retail company Kiabi and US retail company PVH and Target have come forward and have informed us of their decision to take the ready goods along with the goods in production,’ Rubana told New Age.
Media report that the Finance Ministry in Bangladesh has announced a stimulus package for the export-oriented sectors. Factories can loan funds at 2% interest to pay their workers' salaries for up to three months. The borrowers will get a six-month grace period, meaning that they will start paying back the borrowed money in instalments to the government from the seventh month of receiving the money.
An Al Jazeera report once more illustrates the issues in the garment industry in Bangladesh.
Cambodia: CCC network organizations report that COVID19 continues to cause cancellation of orders, while factories are still operating. Some brands have said they will continue to pay for orders, but more factories are shutting down with now over 50 factories under suspension. Workers should get 40% of wages from their employers and another 20% from the government. Trade unions are in discussions with employers on top ups. Furthermore, organizations report that the government is trying to place the country under a state of emergency, a law draft will be issued on Friday. Estimates are this will take about two weeks to pass and be signed off by the king. There are fears that this might affect union's freedom to organize.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has said that factory owners cannot afford the payment of 40% of worker wages during the COVID19 lock down as instructed by the Cambodian Prime Minister because of suspension of orders. Over 70 factories have filed for dismissal of workers.
Indonesia: CCC organizations report that most factories still produce. Factories are trying to implement the COVID19 guidance from the government, but getting the right protective equipment is difficult in many places. Some workers are reported to have been infected. Unions fear that dismissals might follow during Ramadan when it is common to renew worker contracts and that workers might not receive their religious allowance. Social dialogue is hindered by obstacles to in-person meetings. Already now 1,200 workers of the Kahatex (adidas supplier) were sent home without clarity whether they can work again and no pay. 80 workers of an underwear factory in Bogor were dismissed.
Garment workers at Sukabumi in Indonesia demand paid leave. With factories continuing to work, garment workers say they receive only 2 masks a week, which they have to use till it stinks. They say social distancing is impossible, with only 50 cm gaps between workers. The fear of losing pay and jobs is what is forcing them to work, though they are scared of contracting COVID19, reports AFWA.
Lesotho: Three unions in Lesotho today in a press release express concern over the absence of a decision on payment of workers during the 21 day lock down. The unions have regularly appealed to the Department of Labour demanding that workers who are at home observing the lock down must be paid their wages in full for the 21 days, workers who are medically diagnosed for coronavirus must be paid full wages until they recover, workers whose children‘s schools or day-centre are closed because of the coronavirus and who needs to take of those children must be paid full wages, workers who advised by the doctors not to report to work because of underlying conditions must be paid full wages, and workers who are caregivers to relatives who tested positive for the coronavirus can be released on full pay until alternative arranged can be found to take of those relatives.
Myanmar: Media report that unions in Myanmar call for closure of factories in April with payment of full wages.
Pakistan: Government measures to provide financial support to workers are hampered by the fact that there is no reliable data on formal and informal workers in the country, according to media.
South Asia: HomeNet South Asia published a charter with demands for immediate action from South Asian governments for home based workers, including income support, free rations, door-to-door delivery of services, access to free-of-cost tests and healthcare facilities at public hospitals.
The Philippines: CCC organizations report that garment factories are closed and factories didn’t give any advance payments to workers. Production was already slowing down before the lock down. For many workers this means: no work, no pay. The Labour Ministry promised around 100 USD (5000 pesos) subsidy for workers. Some workers received government subsidies, but others, for example in Export Processing Zones, are not receiving the subsidies.Unions are demanding for quarantine payment. Last week, a state of emergency was passed, granting extra power to the president.
US: Garment Worker Center started an emergency relief fund for garment workers in Los Angeles.
31 March 2020
Global: An article in Huckmag gives an overview of effects the pandemic and measures following it has on workers. The article reports that "in Bangalore, the shutdown has affected nearly 600,000 workers. “The State Government of Karnataka has instructed companies to pay the salaries and not terminate any kind of workers either casual or contract, but the management has informed the workers that they will need to compensate for this by doing overtime and working on Sundays,” says Jayaram K R from the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) in Bangalore. ... In Sri Lanka, Anton Marcus of the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union says garment factory owners are reporting brands curtailing orders by up to 40 per cent. “Some employees said their brands informed them not to send garments they have manufactured because they can’t take the responsibility and their warehouses are closed and therefore they cannot send funds,” Marcus says. “These employees were told they will be paid salaries for the month of March, but they will not be paid April’s salary.”"
UNI Global Union urges fashion retailers to take responsibility for their workers during the coronavirus pandemic by guaranteeing employees a full income and committing to protect their jobs until the recovery.
Bangladesh: Articles in the New York Times and Forbes sum up the consequences of declining Western orders for workers and factories in Bangladesh. CCC network organizations report that many workers cannot return to their home towns or villages because of suspension of public transport, cannot practice social distancing in crowded hostels, and do not know when they will be paid.
Cambodia: Media report that nearly 200 factory workers of Jacka Shoes Manufactory Co Ltd in Kampong Speu province’s Samraong Tong district staged a protest after being suspended without due compensation.
India: According to media reports many workers are stuck in factory hostels where social distancing is impossible. An article by the BBC describes how the lock down in India has turned into a humanitarian crisis. CCC network organizations report they deliver food support to migrant workers who do not return home as they are not entitled to state food support.
Pakistan: CCC network organization NTUF is providing emergency food support to workers together with the EDHI foundation.
Ukraine: Reports from the CCC network state that workers are requested or forced to take unpaid leave during the lock down. This is against the law as leave should be voluntary.
30 March 2020
Global: A new academic paper "Abandoned? The impact of COVID-19 on workers and businesses at the bottom of global garment supply chains" gives an analysis of recent developments in garment supply chains.
Albania: Despite early and strong measures on public life, including closure of schools and public offices, CCC network organizations report that many business in Albania continue operate, such as mines, call centres and garment and shoe factories. Women in garment factories continue to work close to each other, in no conditions to ensure their safety and of the rest of the communities they live with. Two weeks ago, women workers were protesting in the yard of a factory in Tirana, because they were fearing for their life under these circumstances. The next day another protest took place in another factory in the suburb of Tirana. Factory owners state that workers are free to choose if they want to come, but they won’t get paid if they do not show up. In some factories in South Albania factory managements are reported to “explain” to workers that the virus is exaggerated by media. When in the ProDyn factory in Tirana a first case of a 38-year-old woman worker infected with Covid-19 virus was confirmed, the factory continued to operate normally despite the concern expressed by the workers. Just three days later, after 10 other workers showed symptoms of the virus and did not show up, the owners decided to suspend work for two weeks.
India: Thousands of domestic migrant workers continue to walk hundreds of kilometres to their home towns. The vast majority of workers do not have paid sick leave and many workers are left stranded and without resources. According to media reports, at least 22 people have died on the walk home. Reports also coming in of migrant workers having to undergo disinfecting measures on the way, including potentially with hazardous chemicals.
Myanmar: More factories are closing in Myanmar, according to media reports, as factories after shortage of raw materials are now hit by cancelled orders from Europe and the US. The new situation, right as raw material starts coming in from China again, has led to mass lay-offs and strikes. Report from the CCC network state that more than 100 workers from the Myanmar Royal Apollo and Su Xing Garment factories protested in front of the Yangon ministry to demand social security and lost wages after their factories closed overnight earlier this month. On the monthly payday, the workers found out the factory owner had fled the country, leaving the workers without their wages or any compensation for losing their jobs. The workers were producing jackets and trousers for well-known European brands such as Bestseller (the brand Only), Inditex (Zara) and Mango, yet as they operated as subcontractors, it is to be seen if the brands will take responsibility for the wage theft from these workers down their supply chains. The total amount owed to the workers at Myanmar Royal Apollo is estimated at 300 million Kyat (almost 200,000 Euro).
Poland: CCC network organization Buy Responsibly Foundation has received information about a sewing room not paying full salaries in March, citing closure and lack of revenue for the brand. Seamstresses are told to take unpaid leave.
Sri Lanka: CCC network organization FTZ GSEU has sent a letter to the minister in charge expressing appreciation for the evacuation of the workers of Katunayake, Biyagama and Seethawaka Free Trade on 27 and 28 March and requesting him to advice the employers of the Free Trade zones to pay the wages of the month of March without further delay to all workers including Man Power employees. The tripartite task force on employment decided that wages need to paid during factory closure because of COVID19.
FTZ GSEU members at Star garments have receive letters from the management stating that they have transferred their March wages. The annual bonus due in April has however been suspended until further notice. FTZ GSUE continues to press this issue. Read more.
29 March 2020
Global: Just Style created a list of brands that have switched to producing protective wear and face-masks. Concerns about the circumstances under which workers continue this work continue to rise, not least after circulation of this video.
Online retailer ASOS faces criticism for making workers work in crowded warehouses without sufficient safety measures.
Bangladesh: According to reports from the CCC network two organizers of the Garment Workers Unity Forum (Jibon and Shohag) were arrested from Jamgora, Ashulia at 9am in the morning. At first, they were kept in a separate rooms in Sripur Police station and their phones were taken. The officer-in-charge mentioned that no charge has filed against them but they were arrested for posting news of yesterday's unrest on social media. Yesterday there were clashes with police when workers came out demanding factory closure, Shohag was there at the time of unrest. They were released at 6:45pm.
India: Asia Floor Wage Alliance reports that Filatex India Limited, a manufacturer of synthetic fibres in Gujarat is forcing workers to work despite the lock down in India while workers have not received their wages.
Domestic migrant workers continue to walk home hundreds of kilometres. Media report that four workers on their walk home were killed by a truck. Over two hundred academics and professionals call for support for migrant workers.
Indonesia: Workers of the PT Bintang Karya Inti factory in Karangsono Village are given only 50% of their wages, reports Asia Floor Wage Alliance. Thousands of workers demonstrated on 24 March. The company argued that it needed to take these measures because of the effects of COVID19 on business. In response to the demonstrations the Regent of Magetan Suprawoto intervened. To solve the problem, he negotiated with the company. As a result, the salary deficit paid by the company will be guaranteed by the district government.
Sri Lanka: CCC network organizations, including the union FTZ GSEU and Dabinda collective, report that the workers who were stuck near the Katunayake Free Trade Zone. On 27 March, around 10,000 to 15,000 workers gathered at the Katunayake BOI gates, a much larger number than the government was prepared for. Some came with their own transport and were only allowed to travel after intervention by labour rights activists. Around 1,500 workers are still remaining at their boarding places or hostels. Immediate action is needed to make sure all of these workers are paid, including from the brands, as these workers have never been able to build up any financial buffers to use in time of crisis.
28 March 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that in the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) asked its members to consider shutting down the factories on Thursday, but the government on Friday said that factories making protective equipment or working on previous orders can remain open if they take adequate safety measures for the workers. After dissatisfaction among its members on Friday BGMEA also decided to support the government's position and keep factories open, according to media reports. Also Chittagong port remains in operation to continue to allow for export, according to media reports. CCC network organizations report that most of the factories of Ashulia and Gazipur areas in Dhaka are open and they are continuing regular production. This includes East West Industrial park (9 Factories), Emerging Fashion Ltd, Gemtex Fashion Ltd, Fead Fashion Ltd, Concord Raiment wear Ltd
Bangla poshak Ltd, Ali Garment Ltd (3 Factories), Euro Denim Fashion Ltd, That’s it Fashion Ltd, Latest Fashion Ltd, Lue Tex Fashion, Tushuka Trousers Ltd (partly), Jamuna Group (partly), Islam knit Design (partly).
Central America: Media report that factories in Central America are closing, often without clarity for workers whether or how much they will be paid.
India: Media report that the lock down in India has little additional influence on factories as many already suffered lack of orders. Asia Floor Wage Alliance, other labour rights activists and media report that domestic migrant workers walk long distances home after public transport was suspended.
South Africa: Media report that 80,000 garment and textile workers in South Africa will receive full pay during lock down thanks to an emergency package negotiated by trade unions.
27 March 2020
Global: Worker Rights Consortium published a white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?" addressing the drivers behind the current crisis, the consequences for the workers and the ways in which brand accountability and an international concerted response can avert or mitigate a catastrophic outcome for workers. The paper also addresses the need to move away from a broken supply chain system and calls for immediate action.
S&P Global sums up the influences of the current global crisis on garment workers, listing factory closures and cancelled orders around the world, but also highlighting positive developments including the fact that at least 25 apparel factories in Honduras have shut down for two weeks with full pay for workers.
Fair Wear Foundation published country-specific guidance to deal with the impact of the COVID19 virus in supply chains for its company members.
Albania: CCC network organization Gender Alliance for Development Center reports that in Albania about 100,000 garment workers are affected by reduced brand orders and concerns about their health in the workplace. Some factories have closed voluntarily while some other factories such as in Vlora, Durres and Tirana were closed by the State Labour Inspectorate. Hundreds of employees are out of work and at home, and the fate of their pay during their forced stay away from work is still unknown. The financial package approved by the Albanian government provides for employee payments, but factories do not have the financial means to pay. It remains unclear whether all factory workers are listed to receive state benefits. In one factory, GADC is in contact with work was first interrupted and then resumed. Workers were not paid for the five days of interruption. When work was resumed, safety measures were in place, and operation resumed with only those workers who can reach the factory without public transport. In other factories where workers are still at home or work restarted with safety precautions, it is still unclear to workers whether they will be paid for the time spent at home. In one example, a factory explicitly it will pay for the special leave. GADC is also in contact with the Labour Inspectorate in order to increase monitoring in factories.
Cambodia: According to media reports nearly 1,000 garment workers protested outside a Phnom Penh factory after the owner failed to pay their regular wages, which the company said was due to declining payments from buyers during the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.
Myanmar: CCC network organization ALR reported that the Myanmar government provides loans to factory owners against an interest rate of 1%. The loans should be used for paying worker salaries. However, loans need to be repaid within one year. There is very low response from factory owners to this offer. With declining orders from brands, factories might not want to take the risk of not being able to pay back the loans. As long as there is no penalty on not paying workers while (temporarily) closing factories there is also not an incentive for the factory owners to do so.
Serbia: Information coming in from the CCC network shows many worker rights violations in the wake of the COVID19 crisis in Serbia. In one factory, management insisted to continue production until 23 March although no protective equipment was available and it currently remains unclear whether workers will be paid during the suspension of production or whether this will be deducted from their holidays. In another factory, work still partially continues without protective equipment. This factory makes it difficult for workers with children sent home from school to take leave, even forcing workers into dismissal. In a third factory production only stopped after the first worker was confirmed to have COVID19. The management announced that closure days will be deducted from workers' holidays and stated that a cut of the workforce is imminent, with those on temporary contracts to be fired first. Several other factories continue working with protective gear for the workers.
Sri Lanka: Several reports from our network and media about the situation in Sri Lanka state that garment workers (mostly domestic migrant workers) who were stranded in their boarding houses due to the sudden imposition of a lock down assembled this morning. The Export Processing Zones-focused worker organizations had arranged for these workers to congregate in front of the Board of Investment (the apex state body in charge of EPZs), to be transported back home by the military, after being checked for fever first, but without actual testing. The crowd stayed in front of the entrance for more than two hours. Workers will need to self-quarantine after returning home. The authorities took this action after repeatedly being called upon by labour rights organizations to take responsibility for these trapped workers. These workers still direly need to receive their wages during lock down, which is the responsibility of the BOI, factories and brands buying from these factories. Some unionised companies are reported to have transferred wages, but many others are still lagging behind. Some garment factory tell labour activists that their buyers have asked them not to send finished orders because all their warehouses are closed and they will not transfer the payments due. Factory owners have indicated that for this reason they will not be able to pay wages for next month.
26 March 2020
Global: The International Apparel Federation calls for solidarity in supply chains. In a statement the IAF says: "No buyer can be expected to sacrifice its own existence or the jobs of its employees to save its suppliers. But collaboratively searching for ways to reduce the damage to suppliers is not only an urgent need, but feasible. Solidarity in the face of this crisis means collaborating with industry members to bridge the income gap for workers and the demand gap for business. Operating with the objective of moving as much of the pain upstream in the supply chain will create breaches of trust that will be difficult to repair when we emerge from this crisis, IAF stated. “Choices made now will be scrutinized later”, IAF secretary general Matthijs Crietee said."
India: The Indian Ministry of Textiles appeals to buying houses and buyers not cancel orders and adds that delivering schedules can be reworked, payment plans can be extended.
Pakistan: The Sindh Tripartite Committee for Implementation of Labour Laws has asked employers in the province to implement the government orders of payment of salaries to all their staff during the lock down period and is monitoring the payment of wages and the ban on dismissal of workers during this period.
Sri Lanka: Dabindu collective reports that workers of the Katunayake Free trade Zone have been on lock down, unable to return to their home towns. There are around 82 companies in the Katunayake Free trade Zone and they provide service to signature brands such as Gap, H&M, Marks and Spencer, Tommy Hilfiger, Decathlon and Victoria's Secret. The majority of these workers are women and they reside in the boarding houses with their children. It has been estimated that there are about 20,000 workers are on lock down in these boarding houses. As the rooms in these boarding houses could accommodate 10-100 people, they live as groups. These workers use the same limited number of common lavatories and the public well. As the services of the garment factories were considered to be an essential service, the workers were forced work up until the moment the lock down was announced irrespective of their protest. The due date to pay their debts (used to pay for food) has expired and shops suffer from scarcity of essential grocery items. The police estimates that there are about 10,000 Man Power Agency workers. These workers have not received their daily payments and in have lost their jobs. Dabindu collective urges the Board of Investment, the Labour Department and the companies to provide these workers with requirements of food and medicine, make sure they receive their salary advances, provide them with health care, ensure that the shops have the essentials.
The latest news coming in from the CCC network is that workers who are on lock down in Katunayake are asked to gather in-front of the BOI premises tomorrow (27 March 2020) at 6.00 AM to go back to their places of origin. They will be transported with the help of the Military.
25 March 2020
Global: News keeps on coming in from around the world that brands are cancelling orders putting the livelihood of millions of workers at risk and factory owners associations calling upon brands to take responsibility and uphold orders or help solve the crisis.
Bangladesh: The IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, in which a large group of unions cooperate, has issued a press release after conducting an emergency meeting: "At present, due to Coronavirus the whole world including Bangladesh is in fear. In current situation Bangladesh is also at risk. Considering the overall situation in today’s emergency meeting IBC agreed on that,
- Until the situation gets in control all the factories including garments should announce leave with pay.
- In this hazardous situation no worker can be retrenched or terminated.
- If any worker gets sick or get infected all required measure relating to his/her proper treatment and safety must be ensured.
- Rationing system must be introduced for the workers.
- No factory should close or go into layoff without paying workers wages and dues.
- In emergency situation the government must provide cash support to the workers.
- Under the leadership of Labour Ministry tripartite monitoring taskforce including Government, BGMEA and IBC must be established.
- In this situation we are requesting buyers not to cancel any order."
Trade union federation BIGUF has sent a letter to the employers' organization BGMEA in response to the closure of the factories without mentioning proper provisions of for workers, calling for paid leave, medical assistance and ensuring food security for the workers.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced a bailout package for export-oriented industries to fight the impact of coronavirus on the country's economy.
Cambodia: The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has called for collaboration from all stakeholders in facing the critical situation caused by Covid-19 pandemic calling upon brands not to cancel orders.
Cambodia is tracing migrant workers that returned to Thailand before the borders closed. Dy The Hoya, a programme officer at labour rights group Central, called on the government to ensure other migrant workers who could not return home are being taken care of in Thailand during this difficult time: “I hope the government will cooperate with Thai authorities to disseminate preventative measures against the COVID-19 disease to the workers and arrange to help them to continue staying in Thailand although their visas have expired,” he said. “The arrangement should also cover illegal migrant workers.”
Sri Lanka: CCC network organization FTZ-GSEU reports that almost all factories and offices have been closed except essential services. Most of the factories in the Free Trade Zones were opened until the declaration of a curfew despite earlier government requests to close. Some factory workers even went on strike demanding closure of their factories for health reasons. Because factories stayed open until the declaration of the curfew most of the workers could not travel to their villages. As a result they are stranded at their boarding houses near the Free Trade Zones. As they are still waiting for their monthly salary they do not have enough money to meet their needs. FTZ-GSEU wrote a letter to the Minister of Labour requesting him to intervene immediately by taking the following measures.
1. To advise to the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) to supply food rations to boarding houses as they are the in charge of administrations of
Free Trade Zones.
2. To advice the companies to remit the salaries of these employees to their bank accounts immediately.
3. To advice through BOI to employers / Man Power Agencies to give Advanced payment to their employees.
FTZ-GSEU and the Women Center have launched a limited programme to provide food rations to the Free Trade zones employees. These boarding houses have up to 50 workers in each house without appropriate facilities. FTZ-GSEU raised this with the top level of the government and put up a video on social media requesting employees to contact the union if they need any assistance.
24 March 2020
Global: The Ethical Trading Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative of brands, trade-unions and NGOs, has closed its offices world-wide and said in its statement: "Where business has had to cancel orders and shut their business temporarily, it is important that they share the responsibility of ensuring that wages already earned by workers in factories in their supply chain are paid and that to the extent possible arrangements are made to provide support for workers during shut-down periods. While some countries may have national programmes that will support workers, some may not. Business can work with others to collectively create alternative mechanisms for the support of workers, who otherwise might quickly be destitute."
Around the world brands are stating they are switching production from garments to face masks, notably in the US, Italy and elsewhere. Garment Worker Center raises that workers need to be properly protected if they have to continue working. In Italy many luxury brands have switched to producing face masks and have asked seamstresses sent home for health and safety reasons to volunteer for making these items.
Global Union Federation IndustriALL has issued a statement: "Social distancing measures taken in countries currently most affected by COVID-19 are driving wholesale closure of thousands of garment factories with millions of workers being laid off without a social safety net. As the virus spreads within the garment-producing countries themselves, more factories will be forced to close, putting potentially millions more workers out of work.
While garment retailers are shutting up shop in affected countries, garment workers are expected to pay the price for the clothes they have already made.
Not only are major brands and retailers cancelling future orders, they are refusing to take responsibility for garments that have already been produced, using emergency provisions in contracts to stop shipments and avoid paying for the goods they ordered. This leaves factories holding the goods, unable to sell them to the customer that ordered them, and in many cases unable to pay the wages of the workers who made them.
Measures announced by companies to protect the wages of retail and other direct workers are to be welcomed, but the security and wellbeing of the workers in their supply chains, who have made the products on which their business is built, must not be ignored.
There are three critical stages for which interventions are needed, and many countries have already reached stages 1 and 2:
1. Payment of wages to workers now for orders that have been filled, but will not be paid for by the brand customers
2. Payment to workers during periods of factory closures, either from lack of orders or from government measures against COVID-19
3. Support for restarting production
Once the crisis has passed and global brands and retailers are able to start trading again, how many factories will still be in business and have a workforce ready to restart production?
Unless measures are taken now to protect factories and workers to enable them to survive the crisis, the short-term decisions being taken by brands and retailers to renege on existing contracts will end up destroying the very businesses they are seeking to protect.
Brands, employers and governments must come together urgently with trade unions to find ways to support garment workers during this unprecedented period to ensure the future viability of the industry once the crisis has passed."
Asia: The Asia Floor Wage Alliance issued a statement identifying developments across the region and listing demands on brands, retailers and the government to protect garment workers: "Three trends can be identified with respect to the degree of institutional response on COVID-19 in the garment-producing countries in Asia:
1. Governments are taking stringent measures to reduce the direct health effects of Covid-19 while also providing economic support for workers. For example, in Sri Lanka, factories in some regions, under government directives, have shut down, with workers entitled to paid leave. Factories that are still operational have to follow adequate health and safety measures due to stringent directives from the Sri Lankan government. In India, till last week most factories continued to work without taking adequate steps to prevent occupational exposure to COVID-19. However, from today onwards, factories across most states in India have closed down till March 31st under strict directives from state governments. Additionally, the Indian government has also issued an order stating that workers must not be terminated nor face a reduction of wages due to this crisis. The order, most importantly also states that workers are entitled to fully paid leave till this crisis is mitigated.
2. Governments are issuing voluntary codes of conduct to factories to mitigate direct health effects while also promising some economic support for workers: For example, in Cambodia and Myanmar, the shortage of raw materials from China has forced many factories to halt production, with thousands of workers suspended. In Cambodia, the government has issued guidelines for workplace health and safety to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also, factories that have suspended operations must pay 40 percent of the minimum wages to workers. An additional 20 percent of the wages will be provided by the Cambodian government for workers who have enrolled in soft skills training programs organized by the Cambodian Ministry of Labour. In Myanmar, many workers who have been laid off have not been compensated, and the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) has announced that factories that refuse to pay workers’ salaries will be banned from continuing operations.
3. Governments are issuing voluntary guidelines for factories to mitigate direct health effects of COVID- 19 and ensuring no economic and employment policies to protect workers: For example, in Indonesia, the government has only issued health and safety guidelines for factories that continue to operate and some factories seem to be adhering to these precautionary measures. In general, the efforts to mitigate the income losses and reduced economic activity due to COVID-19, which is also an important incentive to disclose potential infections, has been limited across garment-producing countries in Asia."
Demands to governments, brands and suppliers are:
Bangladesh: According to media reports $1.5 billion of Bangladesh garment orders have been cancelled at 1,089 Bangladesh garment factories, employing over 1 million workers. The article states that Primark "which has no online sales, is using a force majeure clause in its contracts to cancel orders."
CCC organizations in Bangladesh report that workers from a factory in Gazipur are staging a sit-in protest in front of an owners' house in Uttara demanding their due wages. The factory management was supposed to pay workers that were recently laid off, but now refused to pay on the ground that buyers have cancelled orders and urged all workers to pray for the betterment of the industry in this time of corona.
Cambodia: Fears are mounting that the virus might easily spread in crowded garment factories, many of which do not have sufficient sanitary facilities.
India: A three-week lock down has been announced for India. Before the announcement the state of Tamil Nadu had already ordered a lock down until 31 March. There are reports that workers sent home during the lock down have to take these days from their paid holidays instead of being granted paid special leave.
Pakistan: Media report that the Sindh government has forbidden employers to dismiss workers during the lock down. CCC network organization NTUF reports that contrary to the Sindh government's lock down policy major industrial establishments in the SITE industrial area in Karachi have been forcing their workers to report at factories and resume production work as usual. Workersthat could not reach their workplaces due to lack of public transport were declared absent and as a result cannot claim their wage. The government has given 200 billion rupees as relief to exporters but failed to pass on any compensation to workers. NTUF urges the government to immediately take action against all factory managements who openly violate government instructions and are putting well-being of the society at risk.
23 March 2020
Global: Sourcing Journal explains that technically brands cannot cancel orders at factories as they are considered a binding contract and quotes specialists that urge brands to get out of panic mode and work out solutions with factories that work for the brand and the factory. WIEGO has released a statement calling for more protection for informal workers around the world.
Bangladesh: In Bangladesh, among closure of government agencies and schools, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh has suspended all inspections and educational activities to protect the health of its employees. Garment factories, however, remain open without many safety precautions. Media report that the Bangladeshi state minister for labour has said that the production in the garment factories would continue unless the prime minister would direct them to shut down. Factory owners reportedly want to keep factories open as long as they still have orders and are seeking government support to pay wages and allowances to the workers during upcoming Eid festivals. Employer organization BGMEA president Rubana Huq has appealed on brands to no cancel orders and support factories. Labour rights groups demand temporary closure of factories and paid leave for workers to protect their health as water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in factories are inadequate and usage of masks and hand sanitizers rare. Read more.
India: The Indian Times reports that 10,000 manufacturing units in Tirupur are struggling to maintain their largely migrant workforce with payments and new orders not coming in. The Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU KGWU) reports that workers in Bengaluru are refusing to enter their factories. The union urges the government to protect garment workers and all informal and unorganized workers from exposure to the virus without having to suffer pay cuts and dismissal and calls upon brands to reschedule order deadlines and ensure paid leave to all workers in their supply chains, allowing them to practice social distancing for themselves and everyone around the world.
Pakistan: Pakistani CCC network organization NTUF reports on demand of trade unions and labour bodies the Sindh government has announced paid leave for all workers whether they work in factories or another workplace. NTUF calls for other governments to follow this example. The federal government has announced a 200 billion rupees package for the industrial sector, but only 3000 rupees per month for workers which is not sufficient to meet the minimum need of family. NTUF calls upon the federal government to pay the minimum wage to each and every worker during the lock down.
Vietnam: If the virus continues it course 440-880 thousand workers will face reduced hours or job loss. If the virus begins to spread more rapidly, 880 thousand-1.32 million workers will be affected. Some companies are reported to engage in workplace dialogue with their workers in order to reduce worries about being laid off or having incomes reduced due to coronavirus, reports Vietnam Labour Update.
22 March 2020
Global: Fibre to Fashion reports that the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) predicts an unemployment level of 10-15 per cent and the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association (PTEA) is foreseeing "a significant fall in exports and an unmanageable level of unemployment." Garment exports from Central America are also declining, while Turkey is still feeling the result of previously diverted orders to the country when the new coronavirus first emerged.
Bangladesh: Media report that factories are remaining open, but that measures to raise awareness among workers will be taken.
Myanmar: Chairman of the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM) U Maung Maung and U Nandar Sitt Aung, director of Our Generation Network spoke to the Irrawaddy stating about the recent closure of 17: "There is a question about whether those factories have closed due to industrial disputes. Labour organizations have asked if those factories were closed due to shortages of supplies or if it was just an excuse. Taking a look at the recent interviews with factory owners, it appears that they had stocks to run until the end of April. If so, why have those factories closed?" Both labour activists also suggested that factories might reopen elsewhere under a different name for tax reasons. They called upon factories "not to take advantage of COVID-19. They should be open about their difficulties and cooperate as it affects the national interest."
India: Garment factories in India remain open, with workers forced to go to work as they cannot miss a paycheck, but also have the concern of how arrange for childcare as schools have closed. Deccan Herald reports: "A piece of cloth exchanges more than 10 hands in a typical garment factory, making it easy for the coronavirus to travel from one person to another. Many workers are aware of this and are afraid of catching the dreaded disease."
21 March 2020
Global: Just Style started a time-line documenting how the new Coronavirus is influencing the garment industry. A Quartz report quotes H&M ad saying it has had to “temporarily pause new orders as well as evaluate potential changes on recently placed orders” due to the global drop in demand, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. Many brands are currently not responding to journalists asking how they address the influence of COVID-19 in their supply chains. This media article traces one brand's supply chain and the influence the Coronavirus has on production and sales. It indicates describes the safety measures under which work in Chinese and Italian factories continues.
Bangladesh: Media reports claim that brands in Bangladesh are cancelling orders, including some that have already been made, and are in some cases asking for discounts on orders already placed. Concerns on what this will mean for factories' abilities to pay workers are mounting.
El Salvador/Honduras: Solidarity Center reports workers are challenging employer attempts to use the coronavirus as a way to cut wages, lay off workers and stop worker efforts to form unions as well as factories that are not obeying orders by the government to close.
US: Garment Worker Center has issued a state a statement on the COVID-19 pandemic.
20 March 2020
Global: In many countries workers and especially migrant workers do not have easy access to reliable information about the Covid19 virus. For this reason The Hesperian created a fact sheet available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Urdu, Bangla, Filipino, Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesia, Farsi, Sindhi, Telugu, and Hindi. Fact sheets in Shona, Portuguese, Arabic, and Chichewa are on the way.
Fair Wear Foundation issued a statement saying: "international clothing brands also have a responsibility, not just for the employees in their own companies, but also for the workers across their supply chains. This, more than ever, is a time for the garment industry to show what global entrepreneurship really looks like. At the same time, we recognise that these are also trying times for brands, and some unfortunately have needed to close their shops."
Bangladesh: The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association stated that more than 100 factories have already lost orders. This could have dire consequences for workers. “These workers live hand-to-mouth and they are panicked because they have heard that orders are being cancelled,” said Kalpona Akter, founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity. Read more on Reuters. Vogue also reports on orders to Bangladesh and other countries being put on hold and has reached out to brands, who usually do not pay the full price for an order until it is delivered. Calls to close factories in order to stop the spread of the virus are also being heard.
Guatemala: Labour rights organization ATRAHDOM reports that the government has decreed suspension of work for the public and private sectors, but that factories continued to work. When they were called out for this workers had to take up vacations, to prevent factories from giving paid special leave.
Sri Lanka: CCC network organization FTZ-GSEU reports that the union at the end of February has demanded the government to suspend permissions to send migrant workers to the Middle-East. The union has also been calling for the establishment of a tripartite task force to deal with the crisis in the garment sector, which was eventually agreed upon on 10 March and set up by the labour ministry. On 11 March the Prime Minister called a special meeting to discuss the impact of the virus on the garment industry with four unions, which emphasized the need for workers to be paid minimum wages in case of temporary closer and additional payment to cover the loss of overtime payments over a longer period. The task force first met on 17 March and discussed workers' health protection. Garment workers in Sri Lanka face a range of issues including being forced to report for work even though the government requested to give them leave and factories being unable to give workers paid leave because brands are withdrawing orders. FTZ-GSEU has urged the government to take action to address the situation, including taking responsibility for worker wages, and calls upon brands to take responsibility for their supply chains. The union is concerned that if factories close without paid leave for workers this will exacerbate the crisis as workers might return to their villages and potentially impact measures of the government to contain the virus.
19 March 2020
Global: The International Labour Organization published a paper on the impacts of Covid19 in the world of work, also address global supply chains.
Cambodia: Media report that 800 workers of a Cambodian garment factory will receive bonuses and pay after protesting being sent home without wages in February.
Thailand/Cambodia: Migrant workers from Cambodia in Thailand are asked not to return home for the Khmer new year in order not to spread the virus according to media reports. Another fear is that they could lose their jobs if places in quarantine, according to media.
18 March 2020
South Asia: Home-Net South Asia put together a short worker education power point presentation focused on the health and safety of home-based workers.
Pakistan: CCC network organizations in a press conference yesterday called upon the Pakistani authorities to take more action to protect workers' rights during the crisis. Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation called for free testing and medicine and stated that " [Factories] may close or send their workers on leave but with pay.” Zulfiqar Shah of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research said that "export orders are getting cancelled, which will have a direct effect on the workers. So if they don’t die of coronavirus, they certainly will die from hunger” reports Dawn, also read more in The International News.
Hong Kong: On Monday, the South Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) held an online meeting to share their experiences in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizations issued a set of demands to governments to ensure the health, safety and livelihood of workers. The demands are:
- Use public funds to provide emergency unemployment and living subsidies to all workers who are temporarily unemployed, underemployed, or taking unpaid leave during to the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Ensure all workers suffer no loss of wages or conditions during any period of quarantine;
- Ensure all infected workers, are entitled to paid sick leave and suffer no loss of wages or conditions during any period of recovery from COVID-19;
- Ensure all workers are not subjected to any form of discrimination upon returning from any period of recovery or quarantine;
- Provide comprehensive personal protective equipment to all workers who may come into contact with infected people or anyone that has come from an infected area;
- Provide comprehensive personal protective equipment to all workers who are carrying out essential public services or working in public or highly frequented areas;
- Ensure the above measures 1 to 6 are applicable to all formal and informal workers, including sub-contract, dispatch, casual, self-employed, disabled, and migrant workers etc. without any discrimination;
- Provide transparent and up-to-date information to the public, workers, and trade unions about the number, location of infections and any other information needed for protection;
- Regular consultation with trade unions to devise appropriate measures and procedures to ensure workplace safety;
- Ensure all public spending and resources on essential public services are not to be slashed during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
El Salvador: Due to the first case of COVID-19 in El Salvador, president Bukele ordered to close all world market factories and call centres, saying that: “These are places of high concentration of people, producers have enough money to live 20 lives, so they shouldn’t be thinking that they are going to lose 20% of their capital”.
China: China labour bulletin reports that now that workers in China return to work also collective protests are flaring up again.
17 March 2020
Global: In a statement published today the Clean Clothes Campaign network expresses its concern about the threats the COVID-19 virus poses to the health and livelihood of garment workers in global supply chains. The statement calls upon apparel brands to:
- Ensure that their supplier factories follow government requirements or recommendations regarding the suspension of large gatherings and close factories as necessary for the appropriate duration to protect the health of workers and their communities, while maintaining all workers' contracts and payment of their full regular wages;
- Ensure that workers who are sent home because of a lack of work are compensated at their full regular wage;
- Ensure that workers who contract the virus, or suspect they have the virus, can take sick leave without negative repercussions and are compensated at their full regular wage during the period of recovery and self-isolation;
- Ensure that, when factories reopen, deadlines for orders are reassessed to prevent workers from working mandatory overtime to make up for delays;
- Ensure that measures to fight the virus do not unduly restrict workers’ freedom of movement or their freedom to organise.
Dutch trade union federations FNV and CNV called upon the Dutch Agreement for Sustainable Garment and Textiles to take responsibility for their brands' global supply chains.
Some general media resources of the past days:
Op-eds and statements:
Myanmar: According to reports from the media and our network, approximately 10% of garment factories in the Yangon region of Myanmar are now temporarily closed, and garment workers are not being paid their salaries. In Myanmar, workers are owed severance pay if the factory closure lasts beyond three months; however, severance pay itself only amounts to half a month’s salary per year employed in a factory, after an initial six months probation period. Many factories in Myanmar only opened in the past five years, and the turnover of workers is very high, meaning many workers will be left with nothing. According to media reports and information from our network, factory shut-downs are also being used to quell labour organising throughout the country.
Garment workers also fear that the coronavirus will impact on their right to paid public holidays. The Water Festival, the Myanmar New Year, is in April and is celebrated annually with a ten-day paid public holiday. This year public festivities have been cancelled due to infection fears, and workers worry that factories will not allow them to take the public holiday, instead counting any time off as unpaid sick leave.
Some media resources:
Cambodia: Tens of thousands of garment workers could lose their jobs in the coming weeks if the raw materials situation does not improve. Under Cambodian law, employers must seek authorization before suspending workers, and must pay them 40% of the $190 monthly minimum wage, with workers given an option of taking training courses to earn an extra 20% of their wage. Government reports now suggest that workers could receive 60% of the minimum wage for six months. However, some factories have suspended workers without authorisation. Many workers already live in debt, borrowing to make up for shortfalls in their low wages, and they are now in a position where they cannot afford their monthly loan repayments. Workers may have put their family’s land up as security for their loan and this is now at risk.
Some media resources:
10 March - Assistance for suspended workers needed
Media resources from other countries (before 17 March):