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.

20 September

India: Media report on how many migrant women laborers’ dreams were crushed under the country’s Covid upheaval. 

Women like Anita Kumari and Manti Tudu did a two-month tailoring course through the Jharkhand government’s skill development scheme and worked in a garment factory in Chennai. They are now back home in Bokaro.

In January 2020, Manti managed to trick the factory managers with a ploy used by many before her: she applied for a few days of temporary leave to visit her ailing mother, and when the leave was approved, she returned to Bokaro and never went back. Inspired by her friend’s successful escape, Anita waited for two months and then put in her own application for temporary leave to visit home.

She never had a chance to find out if it was approved. On the night of March 24, the Covid-19 lockdown was announced. Other like Simran left her village as a single woman looking for work. As several of her batchmates accepted placements at a garment factory in the city of Tiruppur, she made a spontaneous decision to leave home. took off on a three-day train journey to Tiruppur. 

Now Simran is back home, unemployed. 

Laos: Media report that three cases were confirmed at Intermet Fashion garment factory, with two people residing in Xaysavang Village and one in Donnoun Village, Xaythany District.

5,270 tests were conducted over the last 24 hours, with 154 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in the country.

Myanmar: Media report that union leaders fear another 200,000 garment workers in Myanmar could lose their jobs by the end of the year due to factory closures caused by both the political crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nay Lin Aung, assistant secretary of the Myanmar Federation of Trade Unions said more than 100,000 garment workers were already unemployed and that number could rise by another 200,000 by the end of this year.

Vietnam: Media report that shoe manufacturer Rieker Vietnam, which employs more than 10,000 workers, has been requested to halt production at two facilities by the People's Committee of Quang Nam province after a workers tested positive for Covid-19 on 08 September.

During the following week (from 09 to 16 September), health authorities recorded 82 cases originating from the first case, tracing a complicated chain of infection across multiple locations and companies.

17 September

Cambodia: Media report that employers are demanding an $8.60 reduction per month in the minimum wage next year due to the Covid-19 crisis and other issues, while the union has demanded an increase of more than $22. 

Labour Programme Manager at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) Khun Tharo says the mechanism for raising wages for workers in Cambodia is not yet transparent and effective due to the National Minimum Wage Council and that most unions are pro-government.

Sri Lanka: Media report on the latest initiatives by Sri Lanka’s garment makers. At a meeting held by the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in Sri Lanka on the theme ‘The pandemic resilient corporate success of Sri Lanka’s apparel industry’, representatives from several of Sri Lanka’s well-known garment manufacturers including MAS Holding, Hirdaramani, Brandix Group’s Moose Clothing and Star Garments, said that more than 90% employees have been partially vaccinated, and 70% have been fully vaccinated.

Vietnam: Media report that shoe manufacturer Rieker Vietnam, which employs more than 10,000 workers, has been requested to halt production at two facilities by the People's Committee of Quang Nam province after a workers tested positive for Covid-19 on 08 September.

During the following week (from 09 to 16 September), health authorities recorded 82 cases originating from the first case, tracing a complicated chain of infection across multiple locations and companies.

Laos: Media report that the Covid Taskforce reported that 5,270 tests were conducted over the last 24 hours, with 154 new cases of Covid-19 recorded, reports Laotian Times.

Three cases were confirmed at Intermet Fashion garment factory, with two people residing in Xaysavang Village and one in Donnoun Village, Xaythany District


15 September

Bangladesh: Media report that around 84 per cent of the garment workers are concerned about the current state of Covid-19 in Bangladesh, according to a survey revealed today.

South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem) and Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) jointly conducted the survey -- "Worker Diaries: Working during COVID-19 Lockdowns" – since April 2020.

The data of the survey has been collected through interviews conducted over the cellular phone on 1,278 workers of garment factories in five major industrial areas -- Chittagong, Dhaka City, Gazipur, Narayanganj, and Savar.

Only 45 per cent of the workers were given a mask to wear while working. Around 77 per cent of those working respondents told that they had been able to socially distance while working in the factory. Sanem's finding showed that only 47 per cent of respondents told that their factory had taken additional steps to prevent Covid-19 infections

Cambodia: Media report that Tripartite discussions on the 2022 minimum wage for workers in the garment, textile and footwear sectors were set to begin on September 14. According to industry observers, the employers are planning to offer $183.40, as opposed to $214.20 requested by trade unions.

The National Council on Minimum Wage (NCMW) kicked off the negotiations earlier this year. Workers in the garment and footwear sectors are currently receiving a minimum wage of $192 per month. The NCMW scheduled September 21 and 28 for further discussions with the goal of having both sides agree to a final figure.

Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thon said workers would maintain their demands for an increase of $22.20, or 11.6 per cent, to the minimum wage over the previous year’s figure.

According to Thon, the employers are adamant that the minimum wage of 2022 should actually decrease rather than increase due to pandemic-related economic factors.

Myanmar: Media report that labour experts estimate that unemployment could rise by another 200,000 by the end of the year due to a series of garment factory closures. 

Nay Linn Aung, assistant secretary of the Myanmar Industry Craft Service - Trade Unions Federation (MICS-TUsF), said most of more than 700 garment factories had closed, leaving more than 100,000 workers unemployed and that the number could rise by another 200,000 by the end of this year.

Some of the factories that have not been closed down are no longer paying wages as before, and are changing to a pay-as-you-go system. One worker said the change in payment methods had reduced the minimum wage under the NLD government and reduced incomes significantly. Ma Thazin, a garment factory worker, said her income was low and she was no longer guaranteed a monthly income.

Vietnam: Seven textile and garment enterprises located in Tien Giang province have petitioned the Prime Minister, the People's Committee of Tien Giang province, and the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS) for support in providing the Covid-19 vaccine.

The seven companies, all VITAS members, employ 13,300 workers, and include: Tien Tien Garment, Tex-Giang, Phuong Dong Garment, Viet Tan Garment, Viet Khanh Garment, Viet Long Hung, and Cong Tien Garment.

13 September

Bangladesh: Covid-19 vaccine survey: vaccination rate among workers in Bangladesh is negligible. Bangladesh Occupational Safety Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) conducted a survey among 60 workers at 6 working sectors (readymade garments, leather, ship breaking, construction, waste recycling and home based work) under the district of Dhaka, Gajipur and Chittagong founds that only 27% workers received the Covid-19 vaccine and 73% of workers have not yet received any vaccine from the government. 

According to sector wise analysis, only 3% workers at RMG sector received the vaccine and 3% at the leather sector. 

Cambodia: Media report that unions are concerned over more factory workers testing positive for Covid-19 and are worried numbers may explode if stakeholders do not respond and cooperate.

The president of the National Trade Union Confederation (Cambodia), Far Saly, sees the new variant spreading within the garment factory community, which is a worrying sign. He said that the relevant parties, especially the Ministry of Health and local authorities must work together to take preventive measures in a timely and strict manner to avoid widespread outbreaks.

Global: Media report on how relationships between supply chain partners must evolve following the pandemic.

Virtually overnight, the pandemic created incredible pressure for businesses to diversify not only their services and products but to reconsider their power and relationships within the supply chain. Large companies that canceled significant business with their smaller vendors and then returned assuming immediate capacity have been surprised that their place in line has been taken by others. Vendors diversified into providing services to other industries that needed them during the earlier stages of the pandemic.

Forbes say that the lesson that needs to be learned: "We can’t assume suppliers will always be there if we don’t treat them well during difficult times. Even the smallest vendor demands a new level of respect. How you nurture and respect every partnership within the supply chain makes a difference."

Vietnam: Media reports from Ho Chi Minh City on the failure of Vietnam's “bubble” strategy to protect workers during a Covid-19 resurgence.

Many smaller factories simply closed, while larger facilities set up tents and cots in spare warehouse space or motorbike parking garages. In order to maintain some form of social distancing, only a fraction of workers was brought into these bubbles, with the rest sent home.

Even with reduced workforces, hygiene is a challenge, particularly when it comes to toilets and showering facilities. One factory manager who asked to remain anonymous said that, in essence, they had to become a hotel and a restaurant in addition to being a manufacturing facility.

“For the first two weeks we were at home, we were paid VND170,000 (US$7.40) per day, and now we’re paid just VND20,000 (US$0.88) a day,” Phat explained in a video call. “It’s very difficult, and since I don’t live in a red zone, we haven’t received any government support.”

10 September

Bangladesh: Media report that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has sent letters to representatives of developed countries and regional organisations seeking vaccine assistance for garment workers.

According to BGMEA, letters have been sent to the ambassadors of the British High Commission in Bangladesh, the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan, France, South Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, the European Union, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Qatar and Switzerland.

Cambodia: Media report that unions are concerned over more factory workers testing positive for Covid-19 and are worried numbers may explode if stakeholders do not respond and cooperate.

The president of the National Trade Union Confederation (Cambodia), Far Saly, sees the new variant spreading within the garment factory community, which is a worrying sign. He said that the relevant parties, especially the Ministry of Health and local authorities must work together to take preventive measures in a timely and strict manner to avoid widespread outbreaks.

Media report that a medical team went to test more than 5,000 factory workers in Top Summit Garment Factory located in Khan Kamboul and discovered more than 30 Covid-19 cases on September 7.

Myanmar: Media report some factory owners have been accused of exploiting and failing to protect their employees during the latest COVID-19 outbreak, and with unions lying low since the coup, workers are unable to seek redress.

Frontier was unable to find figures on the number of factory workers infected with COVID-19, but with over 6,600 factories in Yangon alone, it is believed to be significant. 

Workers and labour rights activists say employers have also not been doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus.

Ma Ei Ei Win, 37, who is one of more than 8,000 employers at the Chang Yi footwear factory in Hlaing Tharyar that makes footwear for Adidas, a major global brand, said the factory was claiming to have no workers infected with COVID-19 when that was not true.

“Our factory closed from July 17 to July 31, and during that time I heard that many workers were sick and one with a high fever had died. There are still workers taking sick leave because they have COVID-19,” said Ei Ei Win, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym.


8 September

Bangladesh: Media report that german brand KiK has provided finance towards the purchase Covid-19 vaccines for garment workers in Bangladesh. The donation was made through BGMEA which will be forwarded to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as the government is responsible for procuring and administering the vaccines.

Cambodia: Media report that trade union leaders and representatives yesterday met to brainstorm and finalise the garment and footwear workers’ minimum wage adjustment for next year, taking into consideration the social and economic situation following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is understood that the proposed figure to start the minimum wage negotiation was $214.20.  Currently, the minimum wage is $192 a month.

The meeting was led by Solidarity Center, previously known as American Center for International Labor Solidary. Cambodian Labor Confederation president Ath Thorn said the $214.20 as a minimum wage for next year reasonable taking into account the cost of living, the pandemic and the need for workers to send money to their aged parents and families.

“We are aware that many workers are suffering from the current low wages and waiting for an increment to meet their daily expenses,” he added.  

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) has criticised the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) which recently led a joint call from more than 50 groups calling for more to be done to keep workers safe in the country, and also in Bangladesh.

The CCC, along with other NGOs and trade unions, believe that both countries had put workers' lives at risk by exempting garment factories from lockdowns because of their economic importance.

Despite constant calls from unions and international labour advocates since the beginning of the pandemic, neither national governments, nor local factory managers, nor international apparel brands that source from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have acted to provide workers with adequate occupational safety and health protections or social programs that would allow workers to stay home.

The failure to prioritize worker health and safety forces workers to choose between going into a factory without access to necessary PPE, with inadequate social distancing, and with minimal testing and vaccination or to face financial ruin without income or social benefits. It is untenable that Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers must choose between death and destitution.

6 September

Global: Media report over 50 labour advocacy groups have signed a new call to action, urging governments, apparel brands and employers to ensure the safety of workers. As COVID-19 cases surge in South Asia. For many, the choice to work for survival has resulted in the loss of life itself. “It is untenable that Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers must choose between death and destitution,” the letter reads.

Zimbabwe: Seven IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in Zimbabwe are embarking on a campaign to encourage workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19 amid hesitancy caused by anti-vaccination messages on social media and other platforms.

Several topics and questions were discussed during a meeting on health, including whether it is lawful for the employer to ask workers to produce vaccination certificates or negative Covid-19 test results taken in the last 24 hours as a condition for reporting for work. Health and safety rights that workers enjoyed during a global pandemic were discussed with reference to Zimbabwean labour laws and international labour standards.

The unions raised the issues as a response to a recent trend in which employers in the country were demanding vaccination cards, or negative Covid-19 test results when workers reported for work. 

The National Union of the Clothing Industry (NUCI) and the Zimbabwe Textile Workers Union (ZTWU) were among the affiliates. 

According to the Ministry of Health and Childcare, the country has procured 13 million vaccines and vaccinated 2,582,705 people (single dose) and 1,636,498 (double dose) using mainly the Sinopharm vaccine from China. 

Sierra Leone: IndustriALL also reports that the Artisans, Services and General Employees Union (ASGEmU), says the ratification of nine International Labour Organization (ILO) instruments by Sierra Leone is an opportunity to transform industrial relations and promote decent work in the country.

The ILO says the ratifications of eight conventions and a protocol, which took place on 25 August, were unprecedented.

The conventions are aimed at addressing the decent work deficit common among workers in the country, including for migrant workers, and improving working conditions for precarious workers who have no job security and are poorly paid.

In most instances, precarious workers are employed through third parties such as private employment agencies who often exploit them and violate their rights. The conventions include those on occupational health and safety, which has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.


3 September

Cambodia: Media report that Cambodian unions held an online meeting to discuss the minimum wage negotiations for garment workers for 2022. Prior to this meeting, the unions had expressed their position demanding an increase in workers 'wages by around $8 for a monthly wage of $200/per month. 

In response, employers asked unions to reconsider and decrease the amount. However, via Radio France International (RFI) on Wednesday, [the unions] stood firm on asking for $200 per month, citing the difficulties of factory workers in working during Covid-19.

Sri Lanka: Media report that vaccination of those aged 20-30 has begun. 

A Health Ministry press release further detailed that, of those falling under the 20-30 age group, all frontline healthcare workers, as well as a considerable number of persons working in essential service industries, such as garment factory workers, had been vaccinated already.

Media report that civil society and NGOs are ready to help with Sri Lanka’s national Covid-19 efforts, but have been shut out of official mechanisms despite repeatedly offering assistance.

Some groups are even willing to give their residential facilities as intermediate or triage centres, provided there is some partnership between the organisations and the Government, they revealed, adding that there was reluctance to hand them over to the full control of the military.

This week, the Independent Technical Expert Group (ITEG) convened by the World Health Organisation also recommended a strengthening of the social support system “by engaging with temples and religious groups, NGOs, civil society, etc (ie, a national mobilisation effort) to overcome needs of the lower income groups, led by the government.

Myanmar: Media report that following the announcement from IndustriALL Global Union and their Myanmar affiliate, the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), Bestseller will not place new orders in the country until an impact assessment and dialogue with experts, NGOs, trade unions and other relevant stakeholders with a clear focus on the wellbeing of garment workers in Myanmar has been conducted.

Earlier this week, IndustriALL raised concerns about the health of garment workers in Myanmar particularly under Covid-19.

1 September

Bangladesh: Media report that about 70 per cent of readymade garment workers who have been retrenched from jobs amid the Covid outbreak have still remained unemployed, according to a survey conducted by Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh. Apparel factory owners, however, opposed the findings saying that the sample size for the survey was very poor and failed to reflect the real scenario.

The platform on Tuesday presented the findings at a webinar on ‘Bangladesh’s RMG Sector and Workers: Anticipating the Future’ that said that 71 per cent of unemployed RMG workers were actively looking for jobs.

Cambodia: Media report on how Covid-19 has impacted South Asia. In Cambodia, due to different epidemic control policies, the Cambodian authorities will not stop factories immediately after an outbreak. "Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the factory has not stopped work. 

“If there is an outbreak in the factory, the people who are sick need to be checked. If there are only a few cases, the factory can handle it by itself and let the workers rest at home. The Cambodian government will not directly stop production. If it stops, many people will lose their source of livelihood,” says Zhang Liang, Zhang Liang, a Chinese worker who has lived in Cambodia for more than 20 years.

Myanmar: Media report on the IndustriALL Global Union warning that garment factories in Myanmar have no concrete plan to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

One garment manufacturer said: “We have heard the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association is preparing to make an official statement on the matter soon. The MGMA instructed us to open factories during Covid-19 if in accordance with the Ministry of Health's latest workplace standards (5.0). So what we understand is factories open only after all these things have been fixed. And now all the factories are providing vaccines." 

Media report that Danish retailer Bestseller has announced a halt on new orders from garment factories in Myanmar because of fears over the lack of COVID-19 protection for workers.

It comes after IndustriALL’s warning that garment workers in Myanmar are working in factories without measures to protect them from COVID-19.

The IndustriALL-affiliated Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) says two of its members have died from coronavirus and more than 100 factory-level union leaders have been infected.


Information and campaigns

General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry

PayYourWorkers campaign

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 Check: Indonesia 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

BHRRC report "Wage theft and pandemic profits"

IHRB and Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh studies at UC Berkeley report "The Weakest Link in the Supply Chain - How the Pandemic is Affecting Bangladesh’s Garment Workers"

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

published 2021-09-21