February 2021 Covid blog
28 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that around 400 workers of Q-Point Fashion Ltd in Savar demonstrated and blocked a road for four hours, demanding arrears. Parvin Akhter, a worker at the factory, said factory authorities usually pay the previous month's full salary by the 20th of the next month, but were only partially paid for January. "I was given Tk 4,000 out of about Tk 12,000. It's hard for us to maintain our family if we do not get paid on time and properly.”
Media reports that according to a study by World Vision Bangladesh, up to 40% of children suffered from malnutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh, while 44% of children dropped out while studying at junior level (Class 8) to support their families by earning a livelihood. The survey also found that 18% of people had lost their day labour jobs, while incomes of 90% households decreased.
India: Media reports that months after lockdown ended, daily wage workers are struggling to make ends meet, due to limited employment opportunities, a plunge in wages, travel restrictions and limited government support. Most small-scale cottage style textile workshops are working with less than 50% worker capacity and even for those working, wages have been less than half of what it was before.
Morocco: A report from the High Commission for Planning, in partnership with the United Nations Women, has found that women in Morocco experienced more financial hardship during the pandemic than men. This was mainly because women are largely employed in more precarious work. For example, the report found that 57.9% of women lost their income compared to 52.9% of men.
27 February 2021
Vietnam: Media reports that nearly 2,000 of workers from the Nam Ha shoe factory went on strike, following reductions in wages and overtime pay.
Myanmar: An op-ed reports that garment workers paved the way for the protests against the military coup, after organising against union-busting during the pandemic. " “Workers were already angry, they were already activated”, said Daw Moe Sandar Myint, who has been on the frontlines of the movement against the coup. “A familiar feeling of suffering had returned and they could not stay silent.”
26 February 2021
Global: just-style have created a timeline showing how the pandemic is evolving, that will be updated as developments unfold.
In an op-ed for Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, The Fair Labour Association (FLA) has expressed the importance of a meaningful commitment to responsible purchasing practices, that must be central in any conversation about business and human rights, in the wake of the chaos and uncertainty caused by pandemic. The FLA also call for governments and global partners to adopt more robust social protection systems to help the vulnerable and those on or below the poverty line to cope with the unexpected.
Bangladesh: A photo essay by Bangladeshi photojournalist Zakir Hussain Chowdhury addresses the impact COVID-19 is having on garment workers in Bangladesh, following the devastation caused by Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Factory fire. The photo essay shares the experiences of women garment workers who chose to remain in Dhaka to work during the pandemic. One worker explains, “After the factory closed, the owners didn’t pay my salary for a whole month. I have two children so I had to start working as a servant in people’s houses to survive.”
Cambodia: Media reports that women working in women-dominated sectors, such as garments manufacturing, have been disproportionately affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, including an increase in domestic abuse, as well as the burden of school closures.
India: Media reports that mass lay-offs have taken place in Karnataka during the COVID-19 pandemic, as medium and small garment factories in Karnataka were forced to close down and many workers lost their jobs overnight, without any notice. Meanwhile, export-oriented factories experienced huge demands and are now allegedly overworking their employees, which they claim is to compensate for the time workers didn’t work during lockdown. A worker from a garment unit in Bengaluru explains, “I used to complete 40 garment pieces per day before the lockdown, which is already difficult. Now, they give me 70 pieces per day. On failure to complete this, the supervisors reprimand us. If we question this, they say we must be grateful to the company for keeping us in jobs. They insinuate to fire us, saying many others are willing to take up the job.”
Myanmar: Media reports that Myanmar’s garment industry has been hit with disruptions in raw materials imports and the export of clothing, including orders from major western brands, following the military coup. This in turn, has resulted in slashed wages.
Media reports that labour activists and striking workers in Myanmar opposing the military regime are facing a growing threat of being detained, despite the International Labor Organization (ILO) urging the junta to cease all harassment of striking workers. Garment workers and trade union leaders are reportedly in hiding, as authorities search for them for starting demonstrations.
Sri Lanka: A petition has been created, demanding UK brand Next recognise and engage in collective bargaining with the FTZ&GSEU trade union, a union based in a factory that Next owns. The workers have faced intimidation, threats and discrimination, but now nearly half the workers are union members, giving them rights to collective bargaining.
Thailand: Media reports that COVID-19 is taking its toll on Thailand’s Cambodian migrant workforce, with job losses, workplace shutdowns and coronavirus fears sending many workers back to Cambodia. However, after returning and finding scant work opportunities, increasing numbers are now risking arrest to sneak back into Thailand.
Media reports that among 914 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 in Samut Sakhon, 760 cases are among migrant workers, the majority of whom are from Myanmar.
Vietnam: Media reports that new research between Better Buying and worker survey platform Ulula, has explored the knock-on impact of purchasing practices on the labour conditions and wellbeing of workers in supplier factories. For over half of the suppliers, poor Covid-19 purchasing practices led to increased pressure on business profitability and economic sustainability, as well as increased difficulty in providing good working conditions and wages. Specifically, more business pressure on suppliers was linked with 5% more workers reporting their colleagues had been terminated because of the Covid-19 impact.
25 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's garment industry is now emphasising on "risk management" as order cancellations and reductions, payment deferrals and shipping delays by global brands left many garment suppliers in financial uncertainties amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just-style has published an interview with Sanjeev Mahtani, the owner of Must Garment Corporation, in which he describes the impacts of global brands' behaviour amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. "The Covid year hit me very badly. I had two of my biggest clients declare bankruptcy, and I lost almost 40% of my business", he explained while describing that buyers cancelled orders, demanded discounts, and delayed shipments - asking the company to keep ordered goods for as long as a year. "It just got to a stage where I couldn't handle it anymore", he expressed. The same article further reports that more than 350,000 workers in Bangladesh's ready-made garment sector have so far lost their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic – which, according to the author, "is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg."
India: Media reports that US clothing brands and retailers have come together to call for the establishment of a minimum wage for textile and garment workers in India's Tamil Nadu state. As previously reported on the live-blog, garment workers who work in this State organised protests to demand higher wages throughout the past year.
Japan: BHRRC reports that a survey conducted by JILPT has revealed that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are having a larger impact on working women than on working men in Japan, reflected both on a deeper decline in women's working hours and on higher furlough rates in comparison to men. Indeed, when the survey asked 4307 workers (aged 20 to 64) of private companies who were employed on April 1 2020 about their employment situation in May, it found a remarkable gender gap in terms of the percentage of persons who became unemployed or furloughed.
Malaysia: Media reports that a day before Malaysia deported more than 1000 migrants to Myanmar in defiance of a court order and protests from human rights groups, a young mother worried about her undocumented status committed suicide. According to the article, she is thought to have become depressed after both she and her husband lost their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Her suicide is estimated to be the 24th such suicide since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, although the real figure is likely to be higher.
North Macedonia: Fair Wear Foundation reports that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have severely affected the lives and livelihoods of garment workers in North Macedonia, particularly as government verdicts failed to protect workers' rights. In a video published by Glasen Tekstilec, workers report unilateral changes to their contracts, illegal terminations, forced and unpaid overtime, and unsafe working environments which caused COVID-19 outbreaks in factories such as the "Shtip textile cluster".
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'.
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.
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.
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"
ECCHR-WRC paper "Force majeure"
UN Special Rapporteur report "Looking back to look ahead"
WRC and Penn State University paper "Unpaid Billions"
WRC and Penn State University paper "Apparel Brands' Purchasing Practices during COVID-19"
ILO research brief "The supply chain ripple effect"
Basic health information
Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet
24 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that garment exporters have been granted an extra six months to repay loans taken under the government's stimulus package, which was created to support factories pay wages and allowances to garment workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Garment factory owners and manufacturers' associations have welcomed the extension, particularly as it comes at a time when many are facing a cash shortage due to cancellation/delay of and reduction in orders amidst the COVID-19 second wave.
Malaysia: Media reports that employers across Malaysia are refusing to sign up for the temporary accommodation programme which was created to house migrant workers who currently live in overcrowded dormitories in hotels amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Two of the country's largest employer groups, including the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM), said that the programme would place "a huge financial burden on the employers who were already facing cash flow problems" amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, migrant workers remain in overcrowded and unsanitary dormitories, where they are likely to contract COVID-19.
Myanmar: Union organiser reports that garment workers in Myanmar continue to protest against the military coup. Today, workers who produce for Zara (Inditex) called on the fashion giant to issue a statement promising that no workers will be fired for joining anti-coup strikes or demonstrations. Meanwhile, social media posts show that warrants have been issued for the arrest of eight union leaders of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM), including the vice-president of the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), for their participation in the pro-democracy protests. Also today, the same source reports that garment workers from the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar (FGWM) staged a sit-in outside the ILO office in Yangon, demanding concrete support from the organisation amidst their struggle for democracy and safety.
South Africa: A report by Statistics South Africa shows that the unemployment rate in South Africa was still over 30% in the fourth quarter of 2020. It adds that unemployment is as high as 42, 5% if the expanded unemployment rate that includes discouraged job seekers is considered.
Thailand: According to reports from the media and CCC network, 26 Burmese migrant garment workers who were illegally underpaid while making products for major brands in Thailand will finally receive full compensation for loss of wages, after 1.5 years of campaigning. Regarding this case, Ilona Kelly, a coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign, made clear that this "sets an example for other brands to follow in terms of taking responsibility, but workers should not have to rely on the goodwill of companies in order to receive money they have earned". "The industry urgently needs binding agreements to hold brands to account, the lack of which has become even more notable during COVID-19 as millions of workers are now owed wages and severance pay", she added.
23 February 2021
Global: IndustriALL reports that the global union and online fashion retailer ASOS are renewing their commitment to work together, alongside relevant global and national stakeholders, to support the economic and social recovery of the global garment industry through the COVID-19 crisis. Among other commitments, ASOS has agreed to:
- Reaffirm the commitments made since the beginning of the pandemic for stable payment terms in order to support employers' cash flow and thus provide stability and predictability for workers;
- Work proactively with suppliers and unions to rectify and reverse the effects of unfair and unlawful actions by any of the relevant social partners in ASOS' supply chain.
Bangladesh: Media reports that small and medium-sized garment factories across Bangladesh are struggling to stay afloat as new orders continue to fail to come in. The article makes clear that many are likely to close in the near future if the order trend does not improve. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, at least 300 small and medium garment factories that were BGMEA-members shut down. Of these, only about 20 reopened. The article further reports that small factories that remain open are far from operating at full capacity, mostly operating with less than 50% of their usual workforce. As a result of these closures and downsizes, the BGMEA estimates that nearly 50,000 garment workers lost their jobs in smaller factories. As made clear in the article, small and medium-sized garment factories, which are estimated to represent around 70% of Bangladesh's garment units, were disproportionately affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic due to lack of support from the government and because most brands decided to place new orders with large factories - which are better placed to guarantee that deliveries are made on time and negotiate prices.
Cambodia: Media reports that over half of Kandal province's garment factories closed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving nearly 65,000 workers jobless. According to the Kandal Provincial Council chairman, 78 garment factories across the province closed their doors. While the article reports that the Minister of Labour finds that garment workers "have been able to weather the storm of the pandemic", union leaders make clear that garment workers are "still suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic." Seang Rithy, president of the Cambodian Youth Power Union League (CYPUL) reported that, while some workers have been able to find new jobs, many are still looking. "A small number of workers have migrated abroad because they can't wait to get a job here. They need a job, otherwise, they can't pay their loans", he added.
Media reports that Thai authorities deported over 200 Cambodian migrant workers yesterday - a move which sparked rights' groups to urge the Prime Minister of Cambodia to intervene and help workers, many of whom are struggling after months without jobs or income. NGOs further warned that hundreds of thousands more Cambodian migrant workers who are currently still in Thailand may face deportation after the registration deadline passes. "Due to the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers, especially undocumented workers, have found themselves stuck in Thailand. Many have lost their jobs and face strict controls on movement", the article explains.
European Union: Media reports that Euratex - the European textile and clothing industry trade body - has urged the European Commission and European Union member states to help accelerate the garment sector's post-pandemic recovery.
Jordan: BHRRC has published a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers in Jordan, many of whom already find themselves in vulnerable circumstances due to their migrant status, systemic labour exploitation and irresponsible conduct by employers. Based on research conducted between April and December 2020, the BHRRC found that:
- Companies were named in nine cases of labour abuse, compared to only once between July 2019 and March 2020;
- Lack of occupational Health & Safety measures was the most common issue, reported in five cases affecting nearly 2500 workers. Some of these cases lead to widespread COVID-19 outbreaks;
- Non-payment of wages was a recurring issue, appearing in four cases affecting nearly 350 workers.
Taking a closer look at garment factories in the country, BHRRC reports that many garment factories halted their operations after brands cancelled or postponed their orders or amended payment terms (i.e.: imposing discounts). As a result, many migrant garment workers were laid-off or were denied their wages. Consequently, many were left stranded in Jordan for months without income. BHRRC further reports that COVID-19 related health and safety measures have been implemented insufficiently by garment factories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Garment workers haven't been provided sufficient PPE, their living quarters remained overcrowded and social distancing measures failed to be implemented. The report highlights the following cases involving garment factories, most of which have already been covered on the live-blog:
- In July, 340 garment workers in the Alcara Camelwega industrial estate reported not having been paid their wages for five months;
- In August, garment workers at factories reportedly supplying US apparel brands did not receive regular pay for six months. Women garment workers also reported being sexually assaulted at work by their managers;
- In September, 17 female workers in three garment factories - Hi-Tech, Classic Fashion and Almafhoum - were exposed to dangerous working conditions and were denied the right to sick and annual leave;
- In October, 600 COVID-19 infections were recorded among migrant workers from Bangladesh at a garment factory in Zarqa governorate;
- In November, 1920 migrant workers from Bangladesh and India (representing 85% of the factory's workers) tested positive for COVID-19 at Sydney Garment Factory.
Laos: According to reports from the media and the ILO, around 17,000 garment workers in Laos whose lives and livelihoods have been severely affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will receive two months' emergency income support worth LAK900,000 (US$100). Eligible beneficiaries, 85% of whom are women, will receive the cash transfers by the end of March. While introducing the income support, Graeme Buckley, Director of ILO Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR, explained that: "The Lao garment industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. Income support will help workers survive this difficult period and businesses maintain their staff so they are in a better position to resume operations when the impact of the pandemic eases."
22 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that the disbursement of the government of Bangladesh's third round of cash incentives for garment exporters started today. These incentives aim to support export-oriented industries across the country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, media reports that some suppliers in Bangladesh have started to receive new orders from global buyers, as COVID-19 vaccination begins to take place. "Right now, we are getting a large number of queries from buyers and brands regarding new work orders", Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, owner of Fatullah Apparel, said. In clear contrast with these reports from factory owners, however, the president of the BGMEA has said that there has been no change in the work order trend, as current order volumes remain 40% lower than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. The order flow is better for outerwear and knitwear products, she acknowledged. According to the article, some garment factories report having received enough orders to keep their factories running at "sufficient capacity" for at least six months.
BHRRC reports that the collective action of garment workers from Jeans Manufacturing factory in Mirpur, Bangladesh, which has supplied many global brands such as Inditex, River Island, Benetton Group, Ernsting's, HEMA, Millers and Alcott, has resulted in the payment of workers' compensation. On 31 January 2021, approximately 500 workers staged a demonstration to demand back pay and Eid allowances from their factory, over concerns that the factory owners were allegedly closing the factory and relocating elsewhere without giving prior notice or settling workers' dues. While there seems to be no update on whether the factory closed or not, Inditex told BHRRC that it had received confirmation from the factory that "an agreement had been reached with the local union and compensation was paid to the affected workers on 10 February."
The Daily Star has published an op-ed by Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on how the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand have disproportionately affected women workers - many of whom are garment workers. Khatun explains that women across these countries have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic because they are mostly engaged in low-paying informal activities. "As a result, as soon as the pandemic broke out, they were the first ones to lose their jobs", Khatun makes clear. The author adds that those who are still employed have been impacted by reduced working hours and pay cuts.
Cambodia: Central Cambodia has published a report on the "Implementation of Government Allowances in the COVID-19 Pandemic" which analyses the implementation of the government's COVID-19 employment suspension allowance scheme for laid-off garment and tourism workers. Here, Central makes clear that the amounts provided to suspended workers were "low" but that the implementation of the scheme has been "well-handled" by the responsible authorities, as over 560,000 payments have been made to more than 320,000 workers from these two sectors.
Media reports that garment workers who were suspended from their factories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic had to cut on their own and their families' food consumption because their cash allowance of US$70 ($40 from the government + $30 from the factory) was far from enough to pay the bills. Another article reports similar stories from other garment workers who lost their jobs in Cambodia amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. "I've had to reduce my food expenses and cut down on electricity use. I eat only rice with a little bit of other food, but no sweets or fruit", one worker who received her final wages plus US$80 in suspension support from the Cambodian government but not the severance payment she was legally owed, expressed.
Haiti: Media reports that garment workers who suffered pay cuts and lost their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are struggling to buy basic necessities such as food. Marline, for example, who was fired by Sewing International, which produces for Gildan, after protesting against the factories' wage theft, explains that she has struggled to feed her three children since last summer. She is struggling to find a new job and is now without what little savings and government assistance she had. Marline explained that, before she was unfairly dismissed, her factory cut workers' salaries from around US$205 to $68 due to lack of orders.
Myanmar: Several social media posts report that migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand protested at the UN headquarters in Bangkok against the military coups. Meanwhile, in Myanmar, a union organiser reports that the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar (FGWM) led the demonstration in Hlaing Thi Yar industrial zone during today's general strike.
Sri Lanka: According to reports from the media and the CCC network, a 21-year-old garment worker from the Stretch Line factory, which is owned by MAS Holdings, has passed away after contracting COVID-19 at work.
21 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that garment workers in Narsingdi, Gazipur, Dhaka and Narayanganj will be provided with free medical consultations, a measure created by NGOs to avail health costs for workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the organisations will set up digital doctor booths in seven garment factories in Dhaka and surrounding areas. Here, garment workers who work at these factories will be able to consult with specialist doctors of various departments like gynaecology, psychology, paediatrics and dermatology, for themselves and their families via video calls, completely free of cost.
20 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that the prime minister of Bangladesh has agreed to extend the moratorium facility on loans taken under the garment sector's stimulus package for another six months. As previously reported on the live-blog, garment exporters across the country had been urging the government to extend the loan repayment deadline because most are still far from operating at full capacity due to deferred orders and an overall lack of new orders amidst the COVID-19 second wave.
India: Media reports that India's cotton yarn export declined by over 8% year on year in 2020, according to the official data.
Indonesia: Media reports that the impacts' of the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed nearly 3 million people in Indonesia into poverty, bringing the country's poverty rate to its highest level since March 2017. Experts added that the poverty rate could have increased even more if social protection programmes, such as the creation of the 'pre-employment card program', hadn't been implemented amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Myanmar: Cleans Clothes Campaign reports that, despite repression and violence, garment workers all over Myanmar continue to demonstrate and strike to protest the military coup.
19 February 2021
Global: Apparel Insider has published an op-ed on how the ILO's 'Call to Action', which was launched in April 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, "is failing garment workers". The 'Call to Action', which was supposedly created to "address the already serious damage to the garment industry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic" is yet to create palpable support for garment workers. Under this initiative, garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Indonesia are intended to receive cash support. According to the article, however, most workers are yet to receive any support. Looking at Bangladesh, for example, only 3266 garment workers have been deemed "eligible" for support thus far, meaning that only €287,179 of the €113m – or less than 1% of the fund – has been committed to Bangladeshi garment workers thus far.
Cambodia: Media reports that Cambodia's labour groups are calling on their government to support undocumented migrant workers navigate the complex registration process and protect workers from deportation or imprisonment for not having been able to register through Thailand's new labour registration system, which was created by to prevent the spread of the coronavirus across the country. While over 100,000 workers managed to register, it is believed that tens of thousands remain undocumented.
Myanmar: Solidarity Center reports that garment workers in Myanmar continue to show their support for a return to democracy, both inside and outside the factory walls.
Malaysia: Media reports that an amendment to the Workers' Housing Act which states that workers living in accommodation that is "not suitable for human habitation" will be relocated to suitable accommodation was passed yesterday. Authorities explained that this includes overcrowded accommodations and that workers in these dormitories, most of whom are migrant workers, will be immediately relocation to centralised labour quarters (CLQs).
United Kingdom: Media reports that Labour MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe has called on ministers to end "the scourge of exploitation" in Britain's garment industry after official figures reveal high COVID-19 fatality rates among women workers in the sector.
18 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that as brands and retailers from Europe and North America postpone and cancel orders, Bangladesh's garment industry is once again under threat. In a video broadcast, the media source shared that small and medium garment factories are permanently closing as a result of lack of orders. Showing images from garment factories in Bangladesh, garment exporters reported that they are only operating at 50% capacity - meaning that half of the workers are not being called to work. Rafiqul Haq Parosh, managing director of Versatile Fashions Private Ltd, explained that buyers had cancelled orders once again amidst the second wave, while others were postponing them. As a result, the factory is struggling to continue production.
Egypt: Media reports that Egypt's textile and garment industry was severely affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, with orders declining by nearly 20% in the first nine months of 2020. As a result, around 30% of textile and garment factories across the country have closed their doors and those still open are only operating at 50 to 70% capacity due to lack of orders. As a direct consequence of these closures, many workers were laid-off and suspended. Overall, Egypt's unemployment rose to almost 10% in the second quarter of 2020, mainly due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haiti: The International Finance Corporation (IFC) published a survey report on how COVID-19 has affected Haiti's apparel industry. Based on the answers of 33 apparel firms which collectively employed over 50,000 workers in March 2020, the survey found that:
- All but one factory reported reductions in and cancellations of orders and over half of factories saw reductions or cancellations of more than 50%;
- Most factories expected at least a 30% loss in revenues in 2020 as a result of the pandemic;
- Between May and June 2020, most factories were operating at less than 60% of their usual capacity;
- Employment at the surveyed factories declined by over 30% between March and April 2020, meaning that tens of thousands of workers were laid-off or suspended;
- Small factories were disproportionately impacted, showing declines in employment of around 60%.
Myanmar: Media reports that garment workers continue to protest against the military coup. Today, workers protested in front of the US Embassy in Yangon. Meanwhile, media reports that garment factory owners are already thinking about moving overseas and say they will do so if sanctions are imposed following the military coup. "Business owners have already planned contingencies in the event of sanctions. We will most likely shut down our factories and move our operations overseas", U Aung Min, garment factory owner and central executive committee member of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), said.
United Kingdom: Media reports that garment workers have the highest rate of coronavirus deaths among working women in the UK, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The analysis, published in January and now highlighted by Labour Behind the Label (LBL), found that sewing machinists as a subgroup had the highest fatality rate among women of any group, at about 65 deaths per 100,000. These findings come after several reports that garment workers in Leicester were forced to report to work throughout the first COVID-19 lockdown, as factories remained open without adequate safety measures in place. Workers described lack of social distancing measures, hand sanitiser and unhygienic toilets. While many factories in Leicester have made changes to their working practices since the first COVID-19 lockdown, sources in the city reported that some continued to force machinists to work in close proximity without adequate safety measures in place.
17 February 2021
India: Media reports that a new report by Homeworkers Worldwide (HWW) has found that home-based workers, who work in some of the worse conditions in global textile and garment supply chains and were disproportionately affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, remain invisible to many of the brands whose products they help produce. The NGO estimates that five million home-based workers work in textile and apparel supply chains in India alone, 3.5 million of whom produce for global brands.
Jordan: Media reports that garment workers in Ajloun, Jordan, are being denied sick or annual leave and being forced to work overtime. In addition, the article reports that workers are forced to work in unsafe conditions to meet insanely high piece-targets, which is strongly impacting workers' health.
Latin America and the Caribbean: Media reports that a new report published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) earlier this month has found that the impacts of the COIVD-19 pandemic have disproportionately impacted employment and working conditions for women in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study found that women have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment, as feminised industries such as the garment industry laid-off many workers amidst the crisis.
Lebanon: Media reports that COVID-19 lockdowns produced a surge in abuse against migrant workers in Lebanon. As a result of this abuse and the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers' lives and livelihoods, an increasing number of migrant workers across the country sought mental health support, as many have started to experience panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) set up a medical helpline for migrant workers, and by the end of November 2020, 170 migrant workers had requested mental health support through the helpline, 60% of whom were considered to be in severe psychological distress.
Myanmar: Media reports that thousands of garment workers gathered outside the International Labour Organization office in Yankin Township earlier today, protesting against the military coup. This was reported by Frontier Myanmar, which has created a live-blog which reports on the ongoing protests against Myanmar's military coup.
Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, workers from Rajby Unit 5, which produces garments for H&M, are yet to be reinstated after having been unfairly dismissed by the factory.
Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, hundreds of thousands of garment workers across Sri Lanka are at risk of contracting COVID-19 at work, as preventive measures and instructions agreed upon amidst the COVID-19 first wave failed to be implemented in most garment factories. In addition, the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU) reports that garment workers and their families are being discriminated against for testing positive for COVID-19 or having to undergo quarantine due to close contact with workers who tested positive. Examples of discrimination against garment workers were reported after the Brandix garment factory outbreak at the end of last year and now that new clusters are emerging in garment factories, new cases are getting reported daily. Unions report that, since garment workers from two factories in the Ridimaliyadde area in Badulla district tested positive for COVID-19, shops have started to refuse to serve their family members and school authorities publicly announced that the children of garment workers would not be accepted. In response to this clear social stigma against people who test positive for COVID-19, including garment workers and their families, FTZ&GSEU has written a letter to the President of Sri Lanka requesting the creation of an awareness program.
Vietnam: Better Work reports that the textile and garment industry was one of the worse-hit manufacturing sectors in Vietnam amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, as the industry saw its export value fall for the first time in 25 years. Garment exporters report that the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted production between May and November 2020, as all their previous orders had been cancelled. In order to remain open, some of these factories had to switch their production to PPE material, which, although unable to cover all their losses, helped them survive through the crisis. Manufacturers say that while orders remain low, some new orders are coming in and allowing them to slowly go back to producing garments.
16 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that a new report by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has found that Bangladesh's economy is going through an uneven recovery, as larger firms are recovering faster than small and medium enterprises (SMEs). According to their findings, smaller companies, low-income workers and poor people have been disproportionately affected amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and have not received adequate government support. Meanwhile, another article reports that according to a second CPD report, Bangladeshi apparel items have witnessed a sharper decline in prices in the European and US markets than Vietnamese products. The article adds, as reported on the live-blog during the last few weeks, that Bangladesh's garment exports are following a "worrying" negative trend, that is only expected to improve from April 2021 onwards.
India: Media reports that the garment sector of Punjab is struggling as exports fall amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers say they have not been provided with adequate support from the government, which is also impacting their recovery.
Jordan: Solidarity Centre reports that garment workers in Jordan are being forced to work when sick, after months of working without a day of rest. In addition, doctors are being pressured by employers to "advise" workers that they do not need a sick day. The situation garment workers are currently facing in Jordan has been reported in a video by Radio Al-Balad, only accessible in Arabic.
Myanmar: Media reports that according to a recent report, Myanmar's manufacturing sector continued to struggle and report losses amidst COVID-19 restrictions in January 2021, as new orders fell for the fifth consecutive month. According to the same source, this decline has led to factory closures and more jobs losses. The report further found that employers are still holding back on hiring new workers and made clear that, following the military coup, the overall situation in the manufacturing sector is unlikely to improve.
Sri Lanka: Media reports that COVID-19 cases are increasing in the urban and industrial areas of Sri Lanka. The article reports that workers are being forced to work under unsafe and unsanitary conditions, particularly in garment factories. In Badulla district, several workers from a garment factory in Rideemaliyadda are now in hospital. "Garment factories, at which thousands of workers are employed, have become epicentres of the pandemic", the article reads. It adds that while reports of COVID-19 infections in garment factories are emerging daily, most factories remain open. At Vanavil MAS garment factory in Killinochchi, for example, several workers have already tested positive but the company says it is "not prepared to close the factory." In the meantime, infections continue to surge.
Meanwhile, according to reports from the CCC network, the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU) has sent a letter to the President of Sri Lanka requesting that the vaccination process of all private-sector workers in export manufacture be carried through immediately and completed by the 31st of March, as the COVID-19 second wave which started in the western province spreads through the country. The letter further reports that, while it was previously agreed that COVID-19 health committees with worker participation would be established in all garment factories, very few have actually been established. On this topic, FTZ&GSEU has also contacted the Joint Apparel Association Forum requesting a meeting. Here, the union will provide the Association with a list of garment factories which failed to set up bipartite health committees and also inform them of the spread of COVID-19 in garment factories.
According to reports from the CCC network, garment factories in Sri Lanka are distorting and abusing the Wage-Scheme enforced amidst the COVID-19 first wave in May 2020. As previously reported on the live-blog, it was decided in May 2020 that suspended garment workers would be paid either 50% of their basic salary or Rs. 14,500 (US$74) during the suspension period - whichever was higher. This Wage-Scheme, however, expired in September 2020 and, in October, it was decided that factories would need prior approval from the Commissioner-General to pay workers at this rate. Despite this fact, some companies have been abusing this scheme by continuing to pay their workers according to these rates without the approval of the Commissioner-General. Indeed, unions report several shocking cases of disruption of the Wage-Scheme. For example, some companies arbitrarily decided to pay the allowance of Rs 14,500 instead of December 2020 wages to their workers without prior approval from the Commissioner-General of Labour. In another example, Sumithra Garments Hasalaka factory decided to pay workers a salary of Rs 14.500 below the daily wage for the two days they did not work because raw materials did not reach the factory on time. The same source further reports that Smart Shirt Company in Katunayake has suspended nearly 1000 workers due to lack of orders and is trying to get the approval of the Commissioner-General to pay workers Rs. 14,500 (US$74) during the suspension period. Considering these reports, the Free Trade Zones and Public Service Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU) has requested that a Task Force meeting be convened to discuss the future implementation of this Wage-Scheme.
Thailand: Media reports that more than 650,000 migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have applied to register to work in Thailand for two more years under the government's labour amnesty programme, which was launched amidst the recent COVID-19 outbreak. The figure was announced by the Labour Minister, Suchart Chomklin, who failed to justify the 2300 baht (US$64) fee for migrant workers' mandatory COVID-19 tests, which NGOs have made clear many cannot afford.
15 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that various figures have been presented as the "actual number" of laid-off workers in Bangladesh amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the article, the actual number is now starting to become clearer, with one survey putting the figure at 357,000 laid-off workers. The article points out that while there seem to be disagreements on the number of workers who lost their jobs amidst the pandemic, it is more than clear that the impacts of the pandemic on workers' lives and livelihoods have been "significant and far-reaching".
The Daily Star has published an op-ed by Mostafiz Uddin, director of Denim Expert Limited. Here, he reports that many global brands have closed physical stores and invested in online sales amidst the COVID-19 pandemic - a trend that, according to Uddin, is likely to continue and that will impact garment suppliers in Bangladesh.
Cambodia: Media reports that, as of February 8, around 126,000 Cambodian migrant workers had successfully registered to work in Thailand. According to local rights' groups, workers migrate to Thailand for three main reasons: (1) lack of jobs in Cambodia, (2) unpaid debts, and (3) higher salaries in the neighbouring country.
Indonesia: Better Work reports that the Indonesian garment industry's export level fell to 60% in the first half of 2020, showing the COVID-19 pandemic's unprecedented impact.
Myanmar: Union organiser reports that the Industrial Workers' Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), Myanmar’s largest garment union, has called on all brands that supply from Myanmar to condemn the military coup, announce that future investment will be in jeopardy under a military dictatorship, and ensure no workers are punished for going on strike or joining the current demonstrations against the coup.
Thailand: Media reports that the government of Thailand has approved cash assistance programme which aims to provide support for low-income workers amidst the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The government will support around 9 million workers with 4000 baht (US$134).
14 February 2021
Cambodia: Media reports that labour rights groups in Cambodia are calling on their government to address the challenges faced by undocumented migrant workers in Thailand, many of whom are struggling to register before the registration deadline, which is today. They warn that the situation could see tens of thousands of workers deported or imprisoned after months of struggle amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As previously reported on the live-blog, registration costs money - money which many workers do not have after months of partial or nonexistent wages. The article further reports that, even for workers who have managed to register, the situation is far from easy, as Thailand's economy struggles and jobs have dried up amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Migrant workers report having suffered from pay cuts and delays in wage payments in Thailand amidst the pandemic.
India: Media reports that new data from the Ministry of Labour and Employment reports that over 1.14 crore (14,000,000) interstate migrant workers returning to their home-states in India during the nationwide lockdown amidst COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The article further reports that, according to the same source, most migrant workers have now returned to their workplace and started working.
13 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's readymade garment exports to non-traditional markets (China, Russia, Japan, India and Australia) plunged by nearly 10% from July 2020 to January 2021 compared to the same time last year, mostly due to the economic slowdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Garment exports from Bangladesh particularly decreased to China and Japan. On this topic, Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, said that the "export trend continued to show a depressing trend", which reflects a "worrying scenario", particularly for the garment sector. In this regard, she added that it might still take a while for "economies to rebound and people to get back to jobs."
Cambodia: Media reports that over 1000 garment workers from ECO Base & Dignity Knitter will finally be paid part of their dues in the coming week. Workers from these two factories, which share the same owner, had been fighting for their wages and bonuses withheld since December 2019, when the factories began to scale down operations before three months of work suspensions leading up to the official shutdown in June 2020. As previously reported on the live-blog, workers have made clear that the amount raised by the auction is not enough and that the financial support they will receive will be "soon gone" in debt payments. The article reports the stories of workers from these factories who had to take out loans during the past year, as they were abruptly left without income. In some cases, the dues they will receive are not even enough to pay back these loans. "It's not much but we have no choice. I feel nothing. I've waited too long", Sao Na, who worked 10 years at Dignity Knitter, expressed.
Lebanon: Media reports that migrant workers have not been included in the government's national coronavirus vaccination programme. In response, the Labour Ministry and UN agencies are working together to plan the estimated 250,000 migrant workers' vaccination.
Malaysia: The BBC has published an audio report titled "Unmasked: Stories from the PPE frontline" on how migrant workers in Malaysia work up to 12 hours a day, 29 days a month to produce rubber gloves, with some even being exposed to COVID-19 outbreaks at work.
Philippines: Partido Manggagawa (PM) is calling on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to respond to continued mass layoffs in the garment and aviation sectors, adding that some are the result of union-busting practices. "Employers are weaponizing COVID-19 to bust unions (...) and deny workers their benefits and rights", PM made clear.
12 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's garment manufacturers and workers continue to struggle as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect demand and global fashion brands continue to cancel and defer orders. Indeed, the BGMEA reports that orders in 2021 have remained worryingly low. Rubana Huq, president of the Association, expressed that "exports may continue suffering till the third quarter of this year." "We are not getting pleasant signals from the local liaison offices of the buyers", she added. Arshad Jamal Dipu, a vice-president of BGMEA, reported that, until mid-January, 24% of member-factories' existing orders had been postponed. "We will get the whole picture in April-May. We fear a 30% order loss", he added.
Cambodia: Media reports that one more migrant workers returning from Thailand tested positive for COVID-19 earlier today, bringing the cluster to 89 workers. All returning workers were placed in quarantine upon arrival.
Myanmar: Media reports that Moe Sandar Myint, President of the Federation of General Workers Myanmar (FGWM), is leading protests against the military coup. Hundreds of thousands of garment workers followed her call to fight against the coup. After a year of COVID-19-induced shutdowns, layoffs and pay cuts, Moe Sandar Myint explained that garment workers across the country "were ready for a fight." "Workers were already angry, they were already activated", the leader of FGWM made clear. Moe Sandar Myint explained that the COVID-19 pandemic had been used as an excuse to exploit garment workers across the country, and then also as an excuse to stop workers from fighting against exploitation. Knowing that the situation will only get worse under military dictatorship, the FGWM leader made clear that they "will fight as one, united, until the end."
Meanwhile, media reports that ten global unions representing over 200 million workers have come together to urge governments and corporations to target the commercial interests of Myanmar's military leaders - including an end to the country's preferential EU trade status. In addition, they called on unions worldwide to pressure their national governments to demand that the Myanmar military rescind the state of emergency, release all political prisoners and remove limits on freedom of expression, assembly and association.
11 February 2021
Global: Media reports that four more associations of garment manufacturers from Turkey, Indonesia and Morocco have joined the call for better purchasing practices in the garment industry. As previously reported on the live-blog, this initiative seeks an agreement with buyers on "common positions regarding payment and delivery terms."
Cambodia: Media reports that workers who lost their jobs in Cambodia or abroad amidst the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to apply for free vocational training programmes. In addition, those who enrol will receive a bonus of about US$50 per month for a period of four months. The article further reports that, according to government data, 340,032 garment and tourism workers have received a monthly allowance of US$40 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Media reports that one more migrant workers returning from Thailand tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the cluster to 88 workers as of 10 February 2021.
Media reports that a study conducted by UN agencies has found that more than half of households in Cambodia have at some point had to cut back on the size and quantity of their meals as an effect of the COVId-19 pandemic.
China: Labour Action China (LAC) reports that, while the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on working conditions has weakened as China's economy recovers, their research has found that there are still long-lasting negative impacts on workers' livelihoods, as many workers in Guizhou continued to report work hours and pay cuts, delays in wage payments and insufficient health and safety measures. Indeed, at least 40% of respondents still indicated a decline of monthly income compared to pre-pandemic times and, while most workers reported wearing face masks in the workplace, less than 20% reported that PPE was provided to them by their employer.
Myanmar: Media reports that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) called on Myanmar to respect workers' rights to protest against the military coup after reports that the police are using plastic bullets and water cannons on demonstrators started to emerge.
United States: Garment Worker Center LA reports that garment workers in California who have COVID-19 are being denied sick pay or any sort of paid leave. In response, the organisation has been providing pandemic relief support to workers and their families.
10 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that the National Garment Workers' Federation (NGWF) is calling on garment manufacturers not to lay-off workers for more than 45 days. Amirul Haque Amin, president of the federation, explained that employers have been laying-off workers for three, four, or even five months, paying them only 40% of their wages or even less during this time. According to NGWF, employers do this in order to avoid paying workers their rightful compensation. The Federation demands that this practice be put to an end and that, after a maximum of 45 days, employers compensate workers who have been laid-off in accordance with their reinstatement or dismissal.
Cambodia: Media reports that the 1000 workers from ECO Base and Dignity Knitter will finally be paid part of their due wages and benefits, as authorities found a buyer for the factories' equipment. The auction raised US$1.2 million, which is still insufficient to pay the full amount that workers are owed. The union estimates that all workers will receive between US$800 and $1500. While workers expressed relief that part of their dues will be paid after fighting and guarding the factories for over a year, they also made clear that the amount raised is not enough. Phin Sophea, who worked at Dignity Knitter for 14 years, explains that the amount he will receive isn't even enough to pay back the loans taken while unemployed and fighting for a resolution during the past year.
Media reports that more than 80 garment workers were injured when their truck slid off the road and turned over in a rice field in Takeo province yesterday, another example of lack of safety in vehicles that transport garment workers to and from factories. The Ministry of Public Works made clear that this vehicle, similar to many others, was carrying too many workers - which also hints to the fact that no social distancing measures were implemented.
Malaysia: Media reports that NGOs are concerned about the impact of Malaysia's new policies aimed at containing COVID-19, as recent changes exclude migrant workers from equal treatment and limited their access to public healthcare. The new circular states that migrant workers' quarantine costs must be paid by them or their employer. For many workers, who have been unemployed and without income for months, this cost is impossible to bare. NGOs call for an inclusive approach.
Myanmar: Media reports that the military coup in Myanmar is poised to deliver a major blow to the country's garment and footwear industry, threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs which were already in dire straits amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. "In the coming months, I think you'll see investments pause and new approvals dry up. Orders will continue to drop. The question is how bad it will be - both for the sector, but more importantly for the people of Myanmar", Jared Bissinger, an economist who has consulted for the ILO in Myanmar, expressed.
Union organiser reports that thousands of workers under the Federation of General Workers Myanmar (FGWM), mostly young women garment workers, marched in Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone as part of Day 3 of the national general strike against the military coup.
9 February 2021
India: IndustriALL reports that after an eight-month struggle and international solidarity campaign, the Garment and Textile Workers' Union (GATWU) has signed an agreement with H&M supplier Gokaldas Exports that recognizes the union and reinstates all the 1257 garment workers who were abruptly laid-off in June. The garment producer had been using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to break the union at its Euro Clothing Company 2 (ECC-2) factory since the beginning of the outbreak (even before abruptly closing the factory), but workers did not back down. Their actions worked and, on 1 February 2021, Gokaldas Exports signed a memorandum of understanding with GATWU, their national centre NTUI and IndustriALL. The agreement states that all workers who were employed at ECC-2 will be offered work at two other Gokaldas Exports factories (ECC-2 will remain closed), the company will provide transport for workers to the factories and that GATWU will be recognised.
Indonesia: Media reports that Indonesia's economy remains under stress as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country. According to economists, this scenario is likely to persist into the first quarter of 2021.
Myanmar: Media reports that NGOs are urging brands and retailers to support garment workers in Myanmar amidst the military coup, which comes after months of economic struggle related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair Wear Foundation, for example, is asking member-brands sourcing from Myanmar to take steps to ensure worker safety, including protection of union members, and ensure full and on-time payment of workers. Meanwhile, another article reports that global brands, such as H&M and Primark, say they are "closely monitoring the situation before deciding whether or not to continue their business relationships in the country."
Philippines: Partido Manggagawa (PM) calls on J.Crew to take further action to address dismissals and union-busting at its supplier factory First Glory Philippines Inc. As a result of these unfair dismissals, 300 workers have been fired and are now without jobs or income. "J.Crew has done nothing while its supplier - First Glory - in Mactan ecozone (Philippines) is busting the union by firing 76 union officers and members", Partido Manggagawa made clear.
Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, COVID-19 cases are surging in industrial parks and factories in Sri Lanka's western province. At least two garment factories located in Mahiyanganaya - Stretch Line (MAS Holdings) and EAM Maliban Garment - have seen over 500 of their workers test positive for COVID-19. Stretch Line has around 2500 workers and is owned by MAS Holdings, South Asia's largest lingerie manufacturer. EAM Maliban counts with about 1500 workers and, according to entries in the Open Apparel Registry (OAR), supplies C&A and George (ASDA).
United Kingdom: Media reports that Boohoo has acquired Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Wallis, the remaining brands from retail giant Arcadia Group in a £25.2 million deal. In total, Arcadia's sales together with other asset realisations have raised proceeds to date of over £500 million for the benefit of creditors. Garment suppliers and workers, however, are unlikely to receive much of this sum.
United States: Media reports that garment workers in California's garment factories who meet the age requirements are urging to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as they struggle to get it due to lack of internet access and difficulty navigating the state's complicated sign-up system. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, garment workers across California have been working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, to sew masks, hospital gowns and surgical hair nets for doctors and nurses. At the end of the month, most don't even get paid the minimum wage. To make things worse, workers have been working in unsafe conditions - as factories fail to implement social distancing measures and provide PPE to workers, who cannot afford masks at their own account. Alex Sanchez, a field organizer with the Garment Worker Center, reports that garment workers - many of whom are undocumented workers - are being excluded from the vaccine delivery, even though they are producing masks and gowns for the health care community.
8 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that garment suppliers in Bangladesh and many other garment manufacturing countries are struggling to stay afloat as brands and retailers, such as Primark, Marks & Spencer and Hugo Boss, cut back on spring orders. To make things worse, many brands are asking to push payment deadlines, further impacting suppliers. The article explains that, as clothing retailers in Europe and North America "sit on excess inventory", garment factories in Bangladesh are "on the rack". Indeed, a new wave of COVID-19 lockdowns and "patchy" national vaccine rollouts has once again destroyed hopes of recovery for garment suppliers, who are still far from operating at full capacity. "Factories are struggling to stay open", the article makes clear. As expressed by factory owner Shahidullah Azim, whose clients include North American and European retailers: "Orders usually arrive three months in advance. But there are no orders for March. We are operating at 25% of capacity. I have some orders to run the factory till February. After that, I don't know what future holds for us. It’s difficult to say how we will survive."
The Daily Star has published an op-ed by Mostafiz Uddin, factory owner of Denim Expert Limited, which calls on Asos and Boohoo to take into account garment suppliers and workers while signing deals to purchase Arcadia and Debenhams, respectively. Uddin makes clear that many of the factories which supplied these two brands had to shut down amidst the COVID-19 pandemic due to cancelled orders. "Will they ever be paid?", Uddin asks. "What will be the impact on garment workers? Who is looking out for them?", he adds. Uddin calls on Asos and Boohoo to remember suppliers and workers in Bangladesh.
Myanmar: According to reports from the media and union organiser, garment workers in Maynmar continue to protest against the military coup. The Federation of General Workers Myanmar (FGWM) has been at the forefront of the protests. Today, thousands of garment workers took part in the third day of demonstrations in major cities, including Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon, against the seizing of power by the military. Local union activists further report that garment workers have been staging protests in their factories and on the streets. Indeed, IndustriALL reports that yesterday, 7 February, more than 100 members of Industrial Workers' Federation Of Myanmar (IWFOM) organised a mass meeting in the canteen of New Way garment factory to protest against the military coup, raising 3 fingers and banging pots.
Social media post reports that about 300 Myanmar migrant workers staged protests in front of the Myanmar Embassy and UN Office in Bangkok against the military coup yesterday.
Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, garment workers from Rajabi Textile Garment Industries, which produces for C&A and H&M, protested against the factory's forced contract system and forced dismissals. The peaceful protest was met with an overwhelming police presence.
7 February 2021
Myanmar: According to reports from the media and union organiser, garment workers in Myanmar have been at the centre of the ongoing protests against the military coup, which are taking place all over the country. "Young women factory workers in Myanmar, union garment workers, marching against the military coup. This is who took the 1st stand in the streets yesterday, and the ppl responded hitting the streets by the thousands", Andrew TS, union organiser, wrote on Twitter. Indeed, media reports that, since yesterday, tens of thousands have started to rally across Myanmar in growing anti-coup protests. As thousands of workers take to the streets, another article reports that the National League for Democracy (NLD) has promised to support any workers fired for opposing the military coup.
Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, workers from Rajabi Textile Garment Industries will protest against the factory's contract system and forced dismissals of workers tomorrow morning (8 AM) in Korangi.
Thailand: Media reports that experts say efforts to register migrant workers and trace COVID-19 infections are being undermined by smugglers taking advantage of migrants desperate for work. The article further reports that, since the first cases in mid-December, more migrant workers are testing positive for COVID-19 every day.
6 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's garment exports to the United States fell by nearly 12% in 2020, as brands cancelled orders in the first quarter of the year and failed to put in new orders in the following. The same data shows that US apparel imports from Bangladesh declined by over 3% in July-December 2020, showing that the COVID-19 second wave also impacted the sector.
Myanmar: Media reports that workers from JEWOO Garment Factory in Thakayta Industrial Zone in Yangon Region conducted a red ribbon campaign this morning. According to the article, those participating in the campaign came to the factory wearing red ribbons in their chests. According to another article, the "red ribbon campaign" is a form of protest against the military coup, as workers report to work while wearing red ribbons oppose the coup.
Media reports from Thailand to Singapore, Myanmar migrant workers are reacting against the military coup. The article further explains that undocumented migrant workers in Thailand who can't afford the registration fee feel like they have "their back against the wall", as they have been without income in Thailand since the beginning of the lockdown but fear going back to Myanmar because of the military coup.
Malaysia: Media reports that Malaysia's government has decided to temporarily house migrant workers in near-empty hotels across the country to tackle the worsening spread of COVID-19 cases, as overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in workers dormitories have been a key source of infections.
United States: Media reports that US garment imports from Bangladesh, India and Vietnam declined in 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Garment exports from India to the US fell by over 25% compared to 2019, as orders severely decreased amidst the crisis. However, the article also reports that US garment imports from Cambodia and Pakistan increased in 2020 compared to the previous year.
5 February 2021
Cambodia: Media reports that the Ministry of Labour has provided a monthly allowance to 340,032 garment and tourism workers who suffered from layoffs and factory suspensions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, soft skills training has also been organised for a total of 66,607 workers, of which 53,610 were women, from 107 factories. The article further reports that, according to government data, the suspension of employment contracts of garment and tourism enterprises peaked in June 2020, when 433 factories, equivalent to 153,336 workers, were suspended. The same source reports that, by the end of December 2020, 150 factories, equivalent to 23,682 workers, were still suspended.
Media reports that the government of Cambodia has provided COVID-19 financial subsidies to 674,146 poor and vulnerable families, representing approximately 2.7 million people.
Myanmar: Media reports that over 30 more factories in Yangon Region filed for closure in December 2020. The Ministry reports that over 220 companies filed to shut down, close temporarily or layoff workers by the end of September, a direct result of the impact of the COVID-19 second wave. According to the article, laid-off workers have been provided "labour cards" that grant them priority in hiring.
According to reports from the media, union organiser and social media posts, garment workers and unions across Myanmar have been protesting the military coup. Some workers protested inside factories, giving the three-finger symbol of the resistance. In addition, over 800 workers from the Federation of General Workers Myanmar (FGWM) protested outside. Many other groups of workers, activists and unions have been protesting and showing resistance to the coup.
Meanwhile, media reports that garment manufacturers in Myanmar are urging brands and retailers not to cancel orders because of the military coup, at least in the short term, particularly as suppliers have already been severely affected by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Buyers should not use this coup as another excuse to cancel payments. That already happened during the pandemic. Doing it again will drive tens of thousands more into hunger", a clothing industry executive, who requested anonymity over fears of reprisals from the Myanmar armed forces, expressed.
Philippines: Social media post reports that garment workers protested near the Regional Labour Court in the industrial province of Laguna after the Court failed to act against their employer, who has been actively taking equipment from the factory before paying workers their rightful benefits, including last year's 13th-month pay.
4 February 2021
Global: Media reports that experts from the Univerity of Leeds have said that understanding the full long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the garment and textile industry could take years. This statement was shared on a podcast episode, which discussed how this pandemic compares to other crises that have hit the fashion industry, and what it means for garment supply chains.
Bangladesh: Media reports that the BGMEA is looking to reform the existing legal and regulatory framework on the resolution of insolvency and bankruptcy, stating that while many factories have been facing "financial distress" amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, only one company has been declared bankrupt under the law.
Media reports that migrant workers from Bangladesh who lost their jobs abroad amidst the COVID-19 pandemic now face rising poverty. In addition, entire communities who were supported by overseas work are now at risk of extreme poverty. With no jobs or income, many migrants are being forced to take out loans from relatives or microfinance groups in order to pay rent and buy food. Most are uncertain of their future. In the words of Mahmud, a Bangladeshi migrant worker who lost his job in Oman: "Before the pandemic, I was able to send money home every month and, from abroad, alleviated many of the crises at home. I thought I could make a living through this job, that I could improve my life. Coronavirus shattered all dreams."
Cambodia: Media reports that garment workers over 35 years old who lost their job amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are finding it almost impossible to find new jobs. "Employers don't outright say they won't hire older workers, but when candidates gather at a factory for recruitment, it's clear who's picked for a job and who's left out", Chul Sreymom, who lost her job of 20 years when her factory closed about a year ago, explained. Indeed, workers and advocates report that as garment workers age, their contracts are less likely to be renewed and their struggle to be hired for new jobs increases. "They [garment employers] profit from the workers until they become slow, less energetic, weak and unhealthy after several years of employment. There's discrimination against recruiting older women", Prok Vanny, a consultant on gender equality issues, made clear. Highlighting the experience of garment workers who are over 35 years old and lost their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the article reports that none have found full-time employment in the sector. Sreymom, who has been continually looking for work since her factory closed down, explained that she has only found some temporary, non-guaranteed work. "They dismiss me whenever they don't have a lot of work at the factory", she reports.
Media reports that civil society groups called on Cambodian authorities to drop "politically motivated charges" against trade union leader Rong Chhun. Despite these calls, Chhun's trial is still taking place.
Pakistan: According to reports from the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), the registration of home-based workers has now started in all districts of Sindh. A plan of action has been prepared to expedite the registration process.
Thailand: Media reports that rights groups have expressed concerns regarding the decision of Samut Sakhon province authorities to confine around 40,000 migrant workers to their factories and crowded and unsanitary dormitories, which are located on factory premises. According to new directives, workers have to report to work but aren't allowed to leave the premises until at least the end of February. While provincial officials say the move is necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the province, rights groups have made clear that these measures are unsafe for the workers affected by them, particularly as many are likely to contract the virus at work or in their dormitories.
3 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's exports continued to decline in January 2021, compared to the same time last year, mainly due to the slower recovery of garment exports amidst the COVID-19 second wave. Overall, exports fell by 5% last month, which according to experts was far from a surprise. The article reports that garment manufacturers are hoping that successful vaccination will be followed by an increase in orders. For now, however, they are receiving very few and most factories are far from running at full capacity. Also on this topic, another article reports that garment exports declined by 7% in January, compared to the same time last year, adding that woven exports dropped by nearly 14%. According to Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, this is due to the fact that "[t]he major markets of our RMG items are struggling with the intensity of the pandemic."
Cambodia: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that 906 workers from Hong Sen Textile factory, who were left without their due wages after the factory suspended operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, will receive financial support from their supplier NEXT. The factory owner reportedly fled in September 2020, leaving workers owed between US$200 and US$250 in unpaid wages each. After intervention by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, each worker received US$150 from the proceeds of a factory equipment auction which partially covered the outstanding wages owed. After being invited to respond by BHRRC, NEXT said that it would provide financial support to workers from its "charitable resources". According to the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), the distribution of funds to workers will begin this month.
Media reports that over 80,000 migrant workers have returned to Cambodia from Thailand since last March. Of these, around 8000 have returned after the recent COVID-19 outbreak, which was detected in mid-December 2020. As of yesterday, 87 of the returning migrant workers had tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival. The article highlights the situation Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, making clear that many have lost their jobs or faced severe wage cuts. Many are going from factory to factory to see if they can find temporary work - a situation which has been reported in other countries. "After factories closed for a month or two, workers moved from one factory to another. We were asked to work only five days [a week] and with no overtime", one migrant worker explained.
China: Media reports that China's apparel exports plunged by nearly 40% in January 2021 compared to December 2019. Looking at 2020, data shows that China's apparel exports declined by about 15% from January to November, compared to the same period in the previous year. The article says that most of this decline is due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thailand: Local NGO reports that, as national borders remain closed and orders from global buyers drastically decline, workers are being laid off with nowhere to go. It further adds that COVID-19 outbreaks are surging in key industry hotspots.
2 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that textile manufacturers say they are struggling and incurring financial losses due to unusual payment delays by the banks. The Bangladesh Textiles Mills Association (BTMA) alleged that the banks, in collusion with garment factory owners, have delayed payments to the textile suppliers for five to six months. They have now sent a letter to the Bangladesh Bank to resolve the issue.
In an update to earlier reports on Bangladeshi suppliers' lawsuit against US clothing giant Sears, a supplier in Dhaka has reached out to Forbes journalist saying that in his eyes there "wasn't really a victory", as suppliers only received 10% to 15% of the amount owed in the settlement. The article has been updated accordingly.
India: Media reports that, according to a new survey-report, labour conditions for migrant workers in the automotive a garment sectors have worsened post-lockdown. The study, which is based on October-November 2020 testimonies of 372 migrant automotive and garment workers in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt found that cases of labour exploitation and discrimination are increasing. While media reports previously showed that companies were offering migrant workers higher pay and better benefits in order to bring them back to complete pending orders, this study has found that these changes weren't long lasting. As pending orders have now been fulfilled and factories are yet to receive new orders, many workers have been put on leave. Workers are now walking from company to company looking to do at least some hours of work in order to make some money. The study further found that in August, when factories were still fulfilling pending orders, over 50% of workers reported that their workload per hour had increased tremendously, and 37% of garment workers reported being forced to do unpaid overtime. "If you don't like it then you can leave, is what the employers tell us", one worker explained. In addition to this, the survey-report has found that there has been a strong shift to piece-rate work and outsourcing and that piece-rates have been reduced.
Myanmar: Media reports that Myanmar migrant workers in Japan have gathered in front of the UN office in Tokyo to protest against the military coup in Myanmar.
Philippines: Media reports that union workers from the garment factory First Glory, which produces for J.Crew and is located at the Mactan Economic Zone, have decided to sue the company instead of going on strike. "The union is now preparing to file a case at the National Labor Relations Commission and with the assistance of Partido Manggagawa (Labor Party), we are confident of winning our complaint for illegal dismissal and union-busting", Cristito Pangan, president of the First Glory labour union, made clear. The article further reports that, so far, over 5000 garment workers from Mactan Island's economic zones have been laid off since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Partido Manggagawa (PM) calls for wage increases, cash aid and job creation for workers in the Philippines after hundreds of thousands were laid-off last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. "Workers, both formal and informal, are suffering from the double whammy of high prices and mass layoffs. The government itself admitted that half of the 400,000 workers reported as retrenched last year were fired in the last quarter. This means the economic crisis is still worsening and the government should act fast", Rene Magtubo, PM national chair, made clear.
Thailand: Media reports that Thailand's household debt, already among the highest in Southeast Asia, is expected to rise further following the recent COVID-19 outbreak near Bangkok. Workers who were already in debt before the COVID-19 pandemic are still struggling to pay back their loans; many have had to indebt themselves further.
1 February 2021
Bangladesh: Media reports that textile and apparel companies in Bangladesh are yet to witness a revival in demand, with most still registering high losses and negative exports compared to the same period last year. The companies which registered negative earnings are listed in the article.
Cambodia: Media reports that returning migrant workers, who used to work in Thailand, are now facing an uncertain future in Cambodia. Many explain that they had no other choice but to return, after losing their jobs in Thailand and struggling to find new ones. Faced with hunger, they decided to return to Cambodia - some crossed the border by foot, after walking for a few hours. "I went to work in Thailand before the COVID-19 outbreak there and after the virus started spreading rapidly, my place of employment was closed for a few months. I had no alternative but to return to Cambodia", Kim Ya, who used to work in Thailand, explained. "COVID-19 ruined everything for me and my family", she added. Describing returning migrant workers who are crossing the border by food, Kong Sambath, deputy governor of Battambang province's Kamrieng district said: "They are hungry, desperate, worn out physically and mentally and have many reasons to cross the border back to Cambodia."
Myanmar: Media reports that Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand protested in front of their embassy earlier today, waving posters of Aung San Suu Kyi after she was detained during a military coup.
Singapore: Media reports that Singapore has said migrant workers in dormitories should be vaccinated bu the end of this year - the same timeline as the rest of Singapore. The Minister added that workers who reside in high-risk dorms will be vaccinated first, although no clarification of what defines a dormitory as "high-risk" was included in the article. The article reports that, since November last year, there have been zero new cases in dormitories on most days, with none being reported since January 16.
United Kingdom: Media reports that online fashion retailer Asos has bought Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands from Arcadia group in a deal worth £295 million. Another article reports that Philip Green, the owner of Arcadia Group, is likely to gain at least £50 million from this sale, while its more than 1000 suppliers are set to get less than 1% of the money owed to them. Activists and civil society organisations are asking when and how garment workers who produce for Arcadia will get paid their owed wages.
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