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

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

4 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that several hundred workers of Padma Wears Limited demonstrated in front of Chattogram Press Club on Wednesday, as the Padma Wear authorities reportedly closed the factory without paying their arrears. Md Nazrul, a worker of Padma Wears explained that that the garment authorities locked the factory on Wednesday morning without serving any notice. ‘The authorities did not pay our arrears and we didn’t find any management official at the factory in the morning.’

Media reports that knitwear manufacturers and exporters are reporting soaring yarn prices, that fluctuate abruptly. Textile millers claim cotton yarn prices increased due to the surge in cotton prices in the global markets. 

Media reports that earnings from exports declined 3.92% year-on-year to $3.19 billion in February because of a fall in apparel shipment, impacted by the lingering coronavirus pandemic. Shipment of garments, particularly woven ones, are yet to fully recover because many major export destinations in Europe and the US are still under lockdowns due to the second wave of the Covid-19. Another media report adds that Bangladesh’s export earnings in the July-February period of the current financial year fell by 1.45% to $25.86 billion from $26.24 billion in the same period of the previous fiscal year, also due to the impact of the pandemic. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the Ministry of Health together with the Dangkor District Administration has now ordered the temporary closure of the Y & W Garment factory,   following a garment worker testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

India: Media reports that despite much celebration following an increase in GDP September-December 2020, with India's top companies amassing profits, there was a significant number of unemployed individuals recorded, with a jump of nearly 20% compared to 2019. 

Indonesia: Media reports that Indonesia’s manufacturing growth slowed down in February, after hitting a six-year high the previous month, due to flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the sector. The country’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) dropped to 50.9 in February from 52.2 in the previous month.

Philippines: Partido Manggagawa (Labor Party) reports that mass layoffs and income losses continue, despite the easing of restrictions and the initial rollout of vaccination. As women are significantly impacted by the pandemic, members of the Nagkaisa labor coalition are demanding another round of ‘ayuda’ or income support, public employment program, and the protection of labor rights, and has arranged a rally at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). In one particular case of union-busting, Jessica Guerrero, PGA Union-FFW president explains, "Using the pandemic as an excuse, Provision Gloves Apparel closed its factory in Batangas, only to find out that their main factory remains in operation, under a different name. Management is busting our union and avoiding collective bargaining. This should stop."

Sri Lanka: Media reports that a new fabric processing park, funded by the government’s investment promotion agency, is to be built, and will be operational by the last quarter of 2021. It is suggested that developing this park will enable the country to be better prepared for disruptive events, after the pandemic hit both the supply of materials and export orders. 

Turkey: Media reports that with a 9.6% hike year-on-year, Turkey's exports registered an all-time high February figure at $16 billion.

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam’s textile and garment export revenue totalled nearly $4.8 billion in the first two months of this year, down just 0.01% against the same period last year. In February alone, Vietnam’s textile and garment export declined 6.4 percent year-on-year to $2.1 billion due to the impact of the latest wave of new COVID-19 cases in the country. Over the two-month period, local garment enterprises have been constantly receiving new orders, according to the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association. The growth in new orders was due to the recovery of global demand following the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, said the association. 

3 March 2021

Global: BHRRC has published a report, addressing the increased attacks on communities and human rights defenders last year, where in at least 80 cases, COVID-19 was a key factor. This included union-busting and the targeting of union leaders across the garment industry.

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh overtook Vietnam in garment exports last year, earning $1.6bn more on exports than Vietnam. 

Cambodia: Media reports that Cambodian garment exports to the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) dropped by 36.6% year on year between 2019 and 2020. The decline in exports to the EAEU occurred between April and June of 2020. Export volume began to make a recovery in July.

Media reports that more than 700 garment workers at the Y&W garment factory have tested negative, after a worker from the factory tested positive earlier. 

India: Media reports that the micro, small and medium enterprises sector has emerged as the growth engine of the economy and is showing signs of revival after the pandemic-led de-growth in early part of the current fiscal, according to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Shaktikanta Das. 

Malaysia/Thailand: Media reports that migrant workers from Myanmar are struggling to send earnings back home to dependents following the coup, heightening the impact COVID-19 has had already on migrant workers from Myanmar and their families. Own Mar Shwe, a migrant worker living in Bangkok, expressed her worries for her family, including her 76-year-old mother who is sick and relies on her income to buy medicine, "I'm concerned about how (my family) will get through each day…I don't know what to do.”

Thailand: Media reports that exports are expected to continue growing in February, and could fare better than 4% growth this year, driven by the world's economic recovery ignited by the Covid-19 vaccine distribution. The Commerce Ministry reported on Feb 23 that exports rose for a second straight month in January, edging up by 0.35% from the same month of last year after a 4.71% year-on-year surge in December 2020. 

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam attracted around $5.5bn of foreign investment in January and February this year, down 15.6 percent against the same period last year.

2 March 2021

Global: WIEGO have published a blog post highlighting the significant wage losses and lack of social protection informal garment workers have faced during the pandemic. Together with Asia Floor Wage Alliance, they call on brands and retailers to pay a once-off COVID relief grant (Supply Chain-Relief Contribution) to informal workers in their supply chain. 

Amsterdam: Clean Clothes reports that campaigners in Amsterdam have demanded Hema pay for cancelled orders earlier this year, by delivering orders at their doorstep and plastering #PayUp messages on their shopfronts across the country.

Cambodia: Media reports that hundreds of staff at a Phnom Penh garment factory are being tested for COVID-19, after a worker tested positive for the virus. One building at the Y&W Garment factory has been shut down and 500 staff told to stay home, but more than 4,000 staff are expected to continue working, a factory administrator said, raising concern of the virus spreading. Pav Sina, a union leader, is calling for the factory to suspend operations.

India: Media reports that India’s exports dipped marginally by 0.25% to $27.67 billion in February, and its trade deficit widened to $12.88 billion. 

Media reports that Madhya Pradesh has witnessed a 19-fold jump in unemployment registration in the last two months compared to 2020. This comes after the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent nationwide lockdown from March 25, 2020 that took away jobs of close to 10.9 million people. 

Philippine: IndustriALL reports that 25 leather workers at Provision Garments Apparel’s (PGA) Manggahan branch are on strike over the illegal closure of the factory, demanding immediate reinstatement of all workers with back pay and that collective bargaining is resumed.

USA: Media reports that the human trafficking prevention organisation Liberty Shared is calling for a deeper investigation into UK brand Boohoo’s business practices and engagement with modern slavery. These claims are now being considered by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This follows a report from June 2020, that exposed poor working conditions in factories supplying Boohoo during the pandemic.

1 March 2021

Bangladesh: In an op-ed, Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim Expert Limited, reflects on a year since the coronavirus pandemic began and brands first started to cancel orders. He highlights how the issue suppliers now face are smaller orders and reduced unit prices from brands, and the need for partnership between brands and suppliers, as suppliers cannot afford to cover the costs of building a fairer, more resilient garment industry. “In all of this, I keep coming back to the question: where is the money for our industry to bounce back better? Who will fund the necessary sustainability overhaul our industry so badly needs to make (and I am talking about both social and environmental sustainability here)? We know factories cannot afford it. We know that, in many cases, Asian governments cannot afford it, or are unable to commit more money to struggling businesses. So where will the money come from?"

China: Media reports that China's factory activity expanded in February at a slower pace than a month earlier, hitting the lowest level since last May and missing market expectations, after brief COVID-19-related disruptions earlier in the year.

India: Media reports that manufacturing activity fell slightly to 57.5% in February from 57.7% in January, however, employment decreased further amid COVID-19 restrictions related to shift work. Goods producers expect output to increase over the year. 

Sri Lanka: Media reports that Sri Lanka’s apparel exports had a gloomy start in 2021, with export earnings recording an 11% decline in January, as constant COVID-19 related disruptions undermined buyers’ confidence concerning timely delivery of export orders, combined with growing competition. In January, apparel export earnings hit a five-year low of US$ 397.61 million, according to export figures released by of Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAF). 

Information and campaigns

General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry

PayYourWorkers campaign

PayUp campaign page -> coming

Resources

Demands, recommendations, proposals

CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.

Global union and employer joint call to action.

WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.

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

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

Information trackers

WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders

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

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

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"

COVID-19 Report by Decent Work CheckIndonesia and Ethiopia garment industry.

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"

WRC research report "Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain" & Spanish version

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

published 2021-03-02