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.

24 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the recent study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Mapped in Bangladesh also states that about 60% of garment factories in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong were recruiting or recruited new workers by October and November 2020, adding that recruitment levels were particularly high in Dhaka and Gazipur. However, it was also found that factories that recruited new workers had mostly hired their laid-off workers but at a downgraded level. This means they were offered lower grades, lower pay and were hired on a contractual basis. The report, as made clear in another article, states that "new workers have largely recruited their retrenched workers but at downgraded levels (e.g. lower grades, lower pay, regular basis, contractual basis etc.)." Meanwhile, the first article further states that this same study also found that safety measures in Bangladesh's garment factories decreased amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, as over 13% of factories reported having absolutely no safety measures in place. Still in this article, Taslima Akhter, coordinator at Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity, called on factories to take workers' health seriously, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Also based on these findings, The Daily Star reports that more than 50% of garment factories had fewer workers in September 2020 than in December 2019. Relating this to orders, it adds that 56% of factories said that they were uncertain about work orders for the next six months (from November 2020 to April 2021). The article further reports that Kutub Uddin Ahmed, former secretary-general of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, said that the income of garment workers declined by 8% amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and that the EU and Germany fund for laid-off workers wasn't being disbursed due to BGMEA and BKMEA's "faulty lists".

Media reports that a survey conducted by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) in November and December last year found that 42% of the 5500+ households covered found themselves below the poverty line. Considering that this NGO had interviewed this same group of households in 2018 and found that less than 22% of households were below the poverty line, the results are very alarming. They add that the amount of people living in "extreme poverty" has also increased. Based on these findings, Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, made clear that the government's support has been insufficient thus far, as they "could not compensate for the damages incurred by the population."

Cambodia: Media reports that the Center for Labor Alliances and Human Rights (CENTRAL) has warned that increasing protests and strikes will take place if factory owners fail to address workers' seniority indemnity payments, which the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training recently clarified as mandatory. As workers' livelihoods continue to be affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, thousands have already taken to the streets this month. Central reports that around 8000 workers from six factories went on strike in January 2021 because they haven't been paid their seniority indemnity payments, which they need in order to make ends meet. On 22 January alone, workers from Y&W factory in Dangkor District, Canterne factory in Por Senchey District, and Holiday Design factory in Kong Pisei District held protests to demand their seniority payments. Central warned that more are likely to take place.  

23 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that a new study conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Mapped in Bangladesh, titled "Vulnerability, Resilience and Recovery in the RMG Sector in View of COVID Pandemic: Findings from the Enterprise Survey", found that most garment factories in Bangladesh failed to follow labour laws while laying-off and terminating workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, which is based on the study of 610 factories in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong in October and November 2020, found that:

  • About 357,450 garment workers lost their jobs between December 2019 and September 2020, which is a much higher figure than previous reports by the BGMEA and DIFE;
  • The average number of workers in factories fell by nearly 11% in 10 months;
  • Following layoffs, less than 4% of factories paid workers their due compensation. While 70% paid workers their due wages, most failed to pay workers their other lawful benefits;
  • Non-compliance was found to be much higher in factories located in Narayangonj and larger factories.
  • About 232 factories closed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, representing about 7% of the country's total factories;
  • Only 40% of small factories applied for the government's stimulus package. 58% did not apply due to complicated procedures.

Following these findings, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue and one of the authors of the report, called on the BGMEA and the BKMEA to "cooperate to identify the real number of laid-off workers in full" and submit a list of workers so that social safety net payments can be made. In addition, Moazzem urged the BGMEA and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments to take "special measures" and "launch awareness programmes" in order to make sure that factories pay workers their rightful wages and benefits. 

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, workers from Artistic Apparel, a garment factory which supplies H&M and Primark, protested against "inhuman treatment" in the factory. The protest was organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) at Korangi Industrial area.

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

22 January 2021

Global: Forbes has published an article on how global brands have been prioritizing profits over ethical supply chains. Based on previous research, the article highlights that brands and retailers are imposing discounts on manufacturers, which ultimately resulted in reduced hours and pay for workers. The article further reports that a senior partner at McKinsey, who published the State of Fashion 2021 Report, made clear in an interview that "2021 would be hugely affected by the pandemic" and that garment workers are likely to bear the brunt once again. 

Bangladesh: Media reports that garment exports from Bangladesh declined by nearly 3% year-on-year in the first six months of the present fiscal year, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.

Cambodia: Media reports that garment workers who lost their jobs in Cambodia amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are struggling with mounting debts and food insecurity. After many months without jobs or income, many are having to cut on food. Some are going hungry. The article reports the cases of Yin Yoy and Prum Tola, who both worked at New Best Global factory in Kampong Speu province before it abruptly closed in February last year. Both are yet to find new jobs in the garment sector. Yoy, who is now a domestic help at a relative's home and earning US$50 a month ($150 less than she made at the garment factory), explains that her eldest child, who is 13 years old, has had to start working at a salon in order to help buy food for the family, who is going hungry without Yin Yoy's salary. Tola, who worked at the same factory, explains that she is struggling to pay back her loan, particularly as she is still unemployed. She explained that factories in the are not hiring workers from New Best Global Factory because workers organised a protest against the owner of the factory demanding their unpaid wages. "Word spread around and other factories decided to not hire anyone who was part of the protests", the article reads. "It is discrimination for an employer to not employ workers who have protested", Tola made clear. Despite this, little has been done and workers remain unemployed. As reported by Mann Seng Hak, vice president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, factory closures are severely affecting garment workers, who are finding it hard to provide for their families and unable to pay back mounting debts. He called on the government to find a solution for unemployed workers who have debts and push microfinance institutions to delay workers' payments.

Media reports that Cambodia's Minister of Labour and Vocational Training has issued a notice which will require all employers in the country, including those in the garment sector, to pay former and current workers their seniority pay this year. 

Media reports that four more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19 in Cambodia earlier today, bringing the cluster to 81 workers. Meanwhile, media reports that the National Employment Agency (NEA) will organise career fairs in provinces to help Cambodian migrant workers who returned from Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic find job opportunities in the area. The jobs in question are in the manufacturing, garment, construction, service, and agriculture sectors. 

India: Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) reports that a garment worker at the H&M supplier factory Natchi Apparels in Tamil Nadu was raped and murdered by her immediate supervisor after months of sexual harassment in the workplace. Following the murder, Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) is demanding that H&M set up an independent committee for investigation into gender-based violence (GBV) in the factory, ensure adequate systems are in place to address GBV at Natchi Apparel and provide compensation to the victim's family. AFWA further reports that workers also reported that the factory failed to pay the minimum wage for some categories of workers, forced workers to do unpaid overtime and forced resignation of workers before the payment of yearly bonus. Workers explained that when the factory reopened after the COVID-19 lockdown period all workers were forced to do unpaid overtime. 

Thailand: IOM UN Migration has published its most recent COVID-19 Flash Update, in which it provides information for migrant workers and their employers on government decisions relevant to migrant workers in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This particular update includes information on the most recent COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand, which took place near Bangkok.

21 January 2021 

Global: Media reports that, as garment manufacturers' associations come together to urge Western brands to improve purchasing practices, campaigners reiterate that the initiative must include workers and explain how better deals with brands will lead to higher wages and safer work conditions for workers.

Media reports that Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and Workers-driven Social Responsibility Network (WSRN) have launched a website that sets out a concrete proposal for an enforceable, binding agreement between global brands and unions on the payment of living wages to garment workers. "Brands' CSR reports are full of promises regarding wages. Now it's time for them to put their money where their mouth is", Anannya Bhattacharjee, president of the Garment and Allied Workers Union, made clear.

Albania: Gender Alliance for Development Center (GADC) reports that a roundtable on "women workers' rights in the textile and footwear factories, COVID-19 and the 2021 perspective" took place on 19 January. The event was attended by representatives of public and private institutions, civil society organisations, media and academia. Here, Mr. Bardhi Sejdarasi, representative of the Association of Producers and Exporters, reported that a recent survey found that 61% of exporters in Albania have faced cancellations of orders for the upcoming months and that 53% said that, if the situation continued, they would not be able to pay workers for more than two months. The press release further states that workers in Albania's textile and footwear companies have faced hardship amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Albania GADC

Bangladesh: Media reports that Ring Shine Textile, located in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone and which, according to entries in the Open Apparel Registry (OAR), supplies retailers such as Inditex (Zara) and Arcadia (Topshop), has extended its closure. The factory has been closed for the last four months due to lack of raw materials and orders amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "Due to the Covid-19 fallout, we don't have sufficient foreign orders so the shutdown was extended", Ashraf Ali, company secretary of Ring Shine Textile, said. The article did not include any information on workers. 

Cambodia: Media reports that thousands of garment workers from Y&W Garment factory, which supplies Primark, Sainsbury's and Woolworths Supermarkets, are protesting in Phnom Penh. Workers are demanding unpaid entitlements after years of employers exploiting short term contracts to control staff, avoid bonuses and silence dissent. Many of these workers have been employed on short term contracts at this factory for years, and are demanding better contracts and their rightful bonuses, including paid seniority indemnity and maternity leave. The article points out that this is not an isolated case, as more than two-thirds of garment workers in Cambodia report that their employers illegally used short-term contracts, according to a survey conducted by Better Factories Cambodia 2019.

India: Feminism in India has published an article on how the collective action of workers from Euro Clothing Company-2 (ECC-2), a unit of Gokaldas Exports in Srirangapatna, finally resulted in workers being paid their compensation after the factory abruptly closed in June and laid-off all workers. 

Thailand: Media reports that around 1.5 million people in Thailand were estimated to enter into poverty in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Bank. They add that this number is expected to decline in 2021, as there should be a recovery in employment. In the first half of 2020, however, the same source reveals that Thailand recorded 340,000 net job losses, with reduced working hours of around three hours for women and two hours for men. While the labour market made a tentative recovery in the next quarters, working hours in November were still lower than one year before in 2019.

20 January 2021

Global: Media reports that brands and retailers are taking a "wait-and-see approach" amidst the COVID-19 second wave and suspending orders indefinitely or cancelling them altogether. In the meantime, suppliers, mostly garment factories in the global south, are struggling to stay afloat as these delayed promises fail to turn into work orders. "I work for a sourcing office and being an intermediary, we are directly witnessing the factories being destroyed over brands' one-sided exploitative actions", Bappy Nurul Muktadir, director of operations at Evelyn Textiles in Bangladesh, explained. In addition to delays and cancellations, brands are finding ways to lower the price of orders. As explained by Thulsi Narayanasamy, some are, for example paying 30 cents for a T-shirt they paid a dollar for the previous year. "Brands are having more success extracting concessions because the [lower] order volume has placed suppliers in a position where they're even more desperate than usual to get whatever orders they can grab. Supplier brands are taking advantage of that to squeeze them on price, and the new surge in the virus is likely to worsen that dynamic", Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, further explained. The article makes clear that, in the meantime, "the situation for garment workers grows direr as a soaring number worldwide are reporting growing hunger, increased food insecurity and spiralling debt." Hundreds of thousands, if not more, have been laid-off or furloughed, and those who are still working have seen their incomes fall an average of 21%, according to research conducted by Worker Rights Consortium.

Bangladesh: As reported on the live-blog last month, around 3000-4000 garment workers from Stylecraft Ltd factory in Gazipur protested in demand of 35% of their wages and arrears for September and October, full pay for November, overtime pay and other owed allowances. After having contacted the factory's sourcing brands, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that, in their responses, H&M, Next, New Look and River Island confirmed that full wages for November had been paid and that workers are due to receive full wages for December by late January. Next added that 17.5% of the outstanding wages for September and October will be paid over the coming months.

Cambodia: Media reports that seven more migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19 in Cambodia earlier today, bringing the cluster to 77 workers. As numbers continue to rise, the Prime Minister reiterates the call for migrant workers to remain in Thailand. In another article, however, Dy Thehoya, from the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL) explains that financial difficulties and fear of punishment for holding invalid or expired documents are the main reasons why Cambodian migrant workers are continuing to return home, not the COVID-19 outbreak near Bangkok. "Most of them return not because of COVID-19 but because they have no job, no money to survive and their legal documents will be invalid very soon", he explained. 

China: Media reports that China's textile exports increased by over 30% in 2020, boosted by the demand for face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ethiopia: As previously reported on the live-blog, garment workers from Indochine Apparel PLC and KGG Garments PLC factories in Hawassa reported being subject to unpaid and forced overtime and pay cuts. After having contacted the factory's sourcing brands, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that Levi Strauss & Co. said that Indochine Apparel has been paying workers on time for their work and for overtime when applicable, according to its assessments; H&M said no evidence of unpaid or forced overtime had been found from its visit to Indochine in November 2020, or by Better Work in December. PVH also pointed to Better Work's findings in its response. The Children's Place, which also sources from this factory, did not respond. 

El Salvador: Media reports that workers from Florenzi Industries, who have been demanding their unpaid wages and compensation since the factory closed and laid-off all workers in July 2020, have started a hunger strike. At least four workers are participating in the hunger strike, which started on 8 January. 13 days of struggle later, workers are yet to receive any response from the authorities. 

Somalia: A survey conducted by the World Bank, based on the answers of 550 businesses in Somalia, reports that about 45% of firms had to suspend operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, for an average of about seven weeks. It adds that those in the manufacturing sector were more likely to close. In addition, the survey also found that:

  • Most firms received fewer orders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • 70% of firms reported disruptions to their supplies of inputs and raw materials;
  • Sales and employment in June/July dropped roughly by 30% compared to 2019;

In terms of the impact on workers, the survey reports that:

  • 68% of firms reduced workers' working hours; 
  • 59% of firms reduced workers' wages;
  • 64% of firms furloughed workers;
  • 57% of firms laid-off workers.

Thailand: Media reports that NGOs and unions explain that, while Thailand announced that undocumented migrant workers would be allowed to stay and work in the country for the next two years, many are being fired. In order to remain in Thailand, migrant workers' employers have to purchase a two-year health insurance plan for them, among other requirements. What is happening is that, instead of adhering to the new regulation, employers are terminating workers, who are left with no job or income. 

19 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that, as the deadline to repay the government's stimulus funds nears, garment exporters urge for "more time", as factories are currently receiving little to no work orders. "The stimulus package brought us relief, but it is now a burden for us as we do not have sufficient work orders, which is the prime source of our income", one factory owner explained. Manufacturers explain that, when they took out the loans from the stimulus package, they believed that the situation would have improved by now. Hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 second wave, however, this has not been the case. "Instead of cancelling orders, buyers are now deferring order placements and splitting those into batches with a shorter lead time", Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, explained while calling for an extension of the grace period to repay the loans. 

Media reports that the BGMEA is being criticised for requesting 10,000 priority COVID-19 vaccinations for factory owners and their families - but none for their 4.1 million workers.

Bangladesh/Cambodia: CARE reports that research conducted by CARE Bangladesh & Cambodia found that 97% of garment workers have had to cut their food consumption amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, while 88% reported reduced income. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has approved the construction of a new garment factory, which is expected to create a total of 843 jobs. Another article reports that a new bag factory, expected to create 718 jobs, was also approved. However, the number of jobs created by new investments amidst the pandemic is yet to surpass the amount of jobs lost.

India: Media reports that fifteen migrant workers were killed when a truck ploughed into them while they were sleeping on a roadside near the western city of Surat, a textile industry hub. As made clear by Reuters,  this "accident highlights precarious living conditions of millions of migrant workers as many return to the cities after lockdown."

Myanmar: Media reports that COVID-19 cases are declining in Bago region after many factory workers tested positive at the end of 2020/beginning of 2021. “There are fewer factory workers coming to the clinics for suspected COVID-19 infections these days”, an official from the Bago District Public Health Department said, adding that they would receive up to 30 patients a day in the past.

Southeast Asia: Media reports that it is estimated that over 100,000 workers from Myanmar, 50,000 from Cambodia, and 60,000 from Laos returned home after losing their jobs in Thailand amidst the pandemic. Similarly, 40,000 migrant workers from Thailand and 12,000 from Indonesia returned home from Malaysia. 

Sri Lanka: Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) reports that FTZ workers from Shore to Shore apparel label factory, which produces for brands such as Victoria's Secret and H&M according to their website and is located in Katunayake, are protesting in demand of their January wages, which should have been paid eight days ago. They add that this is not the first protest for unpaid wages, as workers have had to protest almost every month to get their due wages. They have also not been given their EPF/ETF entitlements. Workers have highlighted these issues to the local Labour Commissioner, but there has been no resolution to date. Workers make clear that they will continue to protest until their demands are met.

18 January 2021

Global: Open Democracy has published an article by journalist and author Tansy Hopkins which explores how the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the exploitative nature of the world's garment supply chains, reporting that garment workers are now working on even lower pay and evermore precarious conditions. In the article, Kalpona Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, makes clear that "[c]onsumers should never forget this era and what the brands have done with workers. When the time came for them to have our back they left us starving." While the article points out that some brands have indeed faced financial hardship amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Tansy Hopkins makes clear that "not all companies are feeling the pain equally." Some, such as Nike, H&M, Inditex (Zara) and Adidas have actually been considered "winners" during this time - as their share price increased by 11% in October 2020 compared to pre-crisis levels, according to a recent report by McKinsey. While the ILO says that "there is momentum to use this major disruption to the industry as a way to challenge the status quo and build back better", the author makes clear that, as COVID-19 continues to disrupt work and health, economic precarity continues to force garment workers to report to work even when they fall unwell, as no work quickly translates into no pay, income, food or housing.

Asia: Media reports that garment manufacturers' associations from six countries (Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Vietnam) have made a joint call for the improvement of purchasing practices in the industry, saying that the power imbalance between buyers and manufacturers has increased amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers are looking to agree on "common positions regarding payment and delivery terms."

Bangladesh: In an article mentioned above, Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, reports that garment workers are not getting overtime and that many factories are not even paying the minimum wage. "[I]n many factories they (workers) have been told 'we are not paying the minimum wage, if you want to work, work, if not – leave'", Akter said. Due to these pay cuts, garment worker families are having to make "impossible choices to survive". As Kalpona Akter explains, "When they (workers) get full wages, 30% goes on housing (...). Losing 20% means they are substituting their food and their children's food (...). Instead of having 70% left, they have 50% left and that means they are starving." 

Myanmar: Media reports that the government has arranged cut-make-pack still courses for garment workers who were furloughed garment workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Training will be provided by the National Skills Standards Authority (NSSA) and workers can obtain a certificate.

SMART Textile & Garments reports that the EU Myan Ku Fund has been extended until February 2022. Support has been doubled to 10 million EUR, which the EU says will help tens of thousands of garment workers who were laid-off amidst the COVID-19 pandemic - most of whom are women. As previously reported on the live-blog, over 60,000 workers have received aid from this fund thus far. Ranieri Sabatucci, EU Ambassador, reports that, in its second round, the programme will focus on "getting more workers back to work by supporting unemployed workers to complete skills training programmes and to match-make unemployed workers with factories for jobs."

Philippines: Media reports that garment exports in the Philippines are expected to grow by as much as 15% this year, as buyers have reinstated orders cancelled at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines (FOBAP) reports that there has been about US$200 million worth of orders for the country's soft goods (mostly garments) for the first quarter of 2021.

Sri Lanka: In an article mentioned above, Abiramy Sivalogananthan, from Asia Floor Wage Alliance reports that most garment workers in Sri Lanka lost their critical December bonus, which represents an additional month's wage. "The bonus is really important. Workers usually have plans for that bonus even at the beginning of the year - like they will pay off their debts", Sivalogananthan explained. 

Thailand: Media reports that the owner of a factory in Thailand has fired nine Myanmar migrant workers due to "concerns that they had contracted COVID-19". This happened despite the fact that all workers tested negative for the virus. The Aid Alliance Committee (AAC), which reported the case, states that the owner expelled workers from their accommodation. "He broke the fans, tore the clothes of workers and expelled them", AAC reports. 

United States: Media reports that an LA distribution centre for Fashion Nova has reported at least 203 cases of COVID-19 in recent months, making it the third largest ongoing outbreak in all of LA County. 

Vietnam: Media reports that the collective action of garment workers from YSS Garment Company, which produces for PVH (Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein), has resulted in the company agreeing to pay workers their full Tet bonuses, equivalent to one month's wages. The announcement was made on 14 January and, by the next morning, all workers had returned to work.

17 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the government of Bangladesh has approved two new stimulus packages, whose implementations will begin "immediately". One of the packages is destined to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which, as previously reported on the live-blog, have been struggling without aid during most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reports that a new study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) found that job uncertainty among Bangladesh’s garment workers has been alleviated to 4% in September 2020 from 36% in April, as around 60% of factories have started recruiting new workers. While the study states that some factories are recruiting new workers, it also found that some are still dismissing workers. According to CPD, the garment sector is now making a "slow recovery" from the impacts of the COVID-19 second wave. The article further reports that around 10,000 garment workers have so far been listed as beneficiaries for the EU and Germany's fund, from which each worker should receive Tk 3000 per month (US$35) for three months. Also in this article, Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) reports that over two lakh (200,000) workers have lost their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that overtime has been reduced significantly (which affects workers' pay) due to an overall decrease in work orders.

16 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the government of Bangladesh has said that it is "ready to assist" the country's garment industry once more, hinting that more time would be given to factory owners to repay the stimulus package loans. "We have to see the interest of all people including manufacturers, workers and buyers", Tipu Munshi, Minister of Commerce, expressed.

Cambodia: Media reports that 10 more returning migrant workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Cambodia, bringing the cluster to 66 workers.

Malaysia: Media reports that migrant workers in Malaysia are uncertain about their jobs and income after the country declared a nationwide state of emergency until 1 August to contain the coronavirus. Workers and activists report that many migrant workers have lost their jobs or had their wages cut since February 2020, as many businesses faced closure or downsizing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with a new state of emergency, Malaysia media reports that many more businesses are closing - leaving migrant workers in uncertainty. "I am now just trying to survive", Ismail Sagor, a Bangladeshi migrant worker who was interviewed for the article, expressed. Ismail still has a job at a restaurant but explains that there are very few customers nowadays. He reports that the situation for undocumented migrant workers is even worse, as workers face discrimination and the possibility of arrest. The article reports that while manufacturing, construction and service sectors are open, they are not running at full capacity. Many people are losing their jobs but while Malaysians are able to receive aid through various public social safety schemes, migrant workers are not.

Myanmar: Media reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a second emergency financial assistance package for Myanmar, which aims to “minimise the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”. The IMF reports that Myanmar’s economy is suffering amidst the COVID-19 second wave, which has caused extensive lockdowns and supply chain disruptions.

Pakistan: Media reports that Pakistan's textile and garment industry is running at "full capacity", as US and European buyers are diverting orders from India and Bangladesh to Pakistan, which, unlike its neighbouring countries, has lifted COVID-19 restrictions.

15 January 2021

Global: Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) reports that Dutch retailer HEMA wrote to suppliers in Asia to cancel all orders effective immediately. For goods already delivered to the brand, for which it had not yet paid, the company told suppliers it would pay them 30 days later than originally scheduled. Hema said it does not expect to place any new orders right now. WRC makes clear that while this is "the first example (...) of a major apparel retailer systematically reneging on its financial commitments on existing orders during the current round of lockdowns", reports of order deferrals and reduction of order amounts from original commitment levels had already started to emerge. 

Bangladesh: Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) and South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) published the results of a survey on health and safety measures implemented in Bangladesh's garment factories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey is based on the answers of 1287 garment workers and has now been conducted twice, with the first round being conducted in May. Seven months later, MFO and SANEM surveyed the same workers to see what changed since then. The data shows that factories have been "letting their guards down", as rates of precaution decreased in almost in all health and safety categories compared to May. Among other findings, they report that:

  • While 77% of workers reported being able to maintain proper social distancing while working and during commuting in May, only 56% agreed with this statement in December;
  • While 60% of workers reported that surfaces were regularly cleaned and wiped down in May, only 36% supported this statement in December;
  • Only 53% of workers agreed that their factory had taken steps to ensure social distancing at entry/exit points and at workstations in December;
  • Many factories have ceased to use queue marks, created to help maintain social distancing;
  • Only 38% of workers reported that enough sanitizing dispensers had been placed in their factory.

The study further states that:

  • In May, 80% of workers who said they did not feel safe reporting their illness said it was due to a fear of losing their job - this number increased to 94% in December;
  • 36% of workers reported that they were working fewer hours in December.

Media reports that the owner of Kwun Tong Apparels is trying to sell the factory, which is located in the Adamjee Export Processing Zone, after having struggled due to order cancellations, imposed discounts and unusually long payment deferrals. The owner reports that one of his US-based retailers cancelled work orders worth $20 million and another retailer had to be provided with a discount of $25 million. According to Open Apparel Registry, the factory supplies brands such as Sainsbury's and George (Asda). "I have been doing business over the last 40 years in Bangladesh. I have never faced such a big crisis in my life that I faced last year", the owner expressed. The factory employs around 7000 workers. 

Cambodia: Media reports that 15 more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 56 workers. Another article reports that with the cluster increasing at an "alarming rate", the government has reiterated its call for Cambodian migrant workers to remain in Thailand. Also today, Khmer Times has published an interview with Khun Tharo, from Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), on this topic. Tharo said that Cambodia needs to take urgent and effective measures to prevent another COVID-19 outbreak as well as a migrant worker crisis. 

Media reports that unionist Rong Chhun's trial started today. 

Malaysia: Media reports that hidden cameras revealed "appalling" conditions in a PPE factory in Malaysia supplying Canadian hospitals. The hidden camera videos showed that Top Glove workers work in unsafe working conditions and hot, cramped living conditions. "They just want product. They don't care about the worker", one migrant worker from Nepal, who works 12 hours every day, explained. 

Media reports that Glorene Das, Tenaganita executive director, has exposed and critiqued Senior minister for security Ismail Sabri Yaakob attempt to shift blame onto migrant workers for Malaysia's surge in COVID-19 cases. She made clear that comments like his "demonise" migrant workers and highlight "deeper failures in the immigration system."

Myanmar: SMART Textile & Garments reports that the extension of the EU Myan Ku Fund will be announced during a conference on Monday, 18 January. 

14 January 2021

Global: In a video published by the Fair Wear Foundation, Ineke Zeldenrust, from Clean Clothes Campaign, sends a message to the garment industry on #TheIndustryWeWant. Zeldenrust makes clear that the post-COVID-19 transition must be just, calling for "relief as well as reform". "The industry we want can start tomorrow with brands publicly committing to ensure workers will be paid their wages in full, and their severance in case they lose their jobs, by paying small price premiums on orders going forward into a global fund", Zeldenrust explains.

Media reports that over 300 industry stakeholders, including brands, manufacturers, government representatives, trade unions and international organisations, are taking part in the "Industry We Want" initiative, which was launched at an online event jointly hosted by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Fair Wear Foundation. 

Bangladesh: Media reports that the Ministry of Commerce has requested that the Ministry of Finance liquidate 133 struggling garment factories, which have remained closed thus far. During a committee inquiry, the BGMEA explained that the factories in question failed to avail government benefits due to overall lack of orders amidst the COVID-19 crisis and the "disruption in shipping consignments due to the political instability in the country".

Media reports that the BGMEA is calling for priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine for its members and their families. The request did not include vaccines for the country's garment workers. 

Cambodia: Media reports that 13 more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 41 workers. 

Nepal: ILO Nepal published a report titled "Impact of COVID-19 on Nepali Migrant Workers", in which it makes clear that Nepali migrant workers faced extreme health and economic challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The ILO reports that, with the economic slowdown, many businesses in destination countries are struggling to continue operations, with manufacturing and service sector being the most affected. As a result, Nepali migrant workers have suffered from reduced work hours, non-payment of wages, forced unpaid leave with inadequate access to health care and food, layoffs and have been made to work in exchange of food. 

Philippines: The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (Philippines) reports that thousands of garment workers from FCF Mfg. Corp. in Bataan, which produces for luxury bags companies such as Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade, held a protest earlier today demanding that the company pay them their full wages and benefits. Workers report that the company is not remitting their contributions to Social Security and other social insurances despite deducting these amounts from their pay.

Thailand: Media reports that some global brands are providing cash and food aid to migrant workers in Thailand amidst the most recent COVID-19 outbreak. While civil society organisations welcome the aid, they make clear "the private sector must also ensure workers are paid decent wages, have access to healthcare, and do not bear the burden of paying for COVID-19 tests or new registration requirements." The article highlights that the current crisis has left many migrant workers unable to find jobs and struggling to survive in Samut Sakhon (where the outbreak started), which has an estimated 400,000 migrant workers, according to activists, and has been under lockdown since last month. Meanwhile, another article reports that Thai health authorities have announced that they will accelerate COVID-19 testing for Myanmar workers in Samut Sakhon, with around 35,000 migrant workers working in 400 factories in the province expected to be tested by 24 January.

United Kingdom: Media reports that, after committing to improving factory conditions in the UK rather than moving production to Asia, Boohoo now admits it will expand suppliers overseas. The article reports that Boohoo sources about 40% of its products in the UK, where labour abuse has become widespread and instances of fraud have been reported. "Instead of taking responsibility and remediating labour rights issues - they are simply cutting and running from the problems", Labour Behind the Label wrote on Twitter.

Vietnam: Media reports that 3000 workers from YSS Garment Company, located in My Trung Industrial Park, are on strike as their Tet bonus, equivalent to a month's salary, is to be cut. The company argues that it cannot pay the bonus due to economic difficulties amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Following negotiations, management suggested paying about one-quarter of what workers were supposed to receive. Workers did not accept the amount and continue to demand their rightful bonus.

13 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that knitwear shipments, which dropped 31% in the January-June period, increased in the year's second half, as longer home stays raise the use of casual wear.

Cambodia: Media reports that six more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19 earlier today, bringing the total cluster to 33 workers. The article further reports that more workers are returning from Thailand every day, following the COVID-19 outbreak near Bangkok.

India: Media reports that the garment industry has been one of the worst affected sectors in India amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the article makes clear that most companies in this sector are small and medium enterprises, which have small financial margins. With this in mind, the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) is calling for solid support from the Government in order to survive. In this sense, the Association made some recommendations that it believes should be incorporated in Budget 2021. Among other suggestions, CMAI asks for benefits and tax reliefs.

Malaysia: Media reports that the government has announced that it will provide assistance to migrant workers who need help during the newly imposed state of emergency. The assurance comes after calls from NGOs urging that the government provide support to migrant workers during this time. Focusing on Cambodian migrant workers, Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, explains that [m]any of the Cambodian workers in Malaysia have been suffering from financial problems as they have been laid off by their employers due to the economic crisis." They warn that, with these new measures, migrant workers' situation is only set to worsen. Indeed, the article makes clear that thousands of migrant workers in Malaysia, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, have suffered wage cuts and layoffs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are yet to return home or find new jobs. 

Myanmar: In line with yesterday's reports, Myanmar Times reports that around 1000 workers from Supreme Asia Garment Limited, which produces for German brand Tchibo, protested outside the factory against labour violations, including a "questionable termination". The article clarifies that the Human Resources manager was dismissed over alleged health problems. In the words of Ko Kyaw Kyaw, organiser of Actions of Labour Rights, "the Human Resources manager with five years experience was suspended from her job for four months pointing out she is having health problems caused by diabetes." Workers are fighting for reinstatement, one hour break from work, ending the practice of unpaid overtime on Sunday and higher wages. At least 1000 of the 1878 workers have been protesting for changes in factory policies. While management has agreed to give workers "casual leave" on Sundays, the HR manager is yet to be reinstated.

12 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that Garments Trade Union Centre (GTUC) staged a demonstration in front of the Narayanganj Press Club against a recent police attack on garment workers who were peacefully demanding their dues. During the protest, the union and workers also demanded that Kwun Tong Apparels Ltd, which produces for George (Asda) and is located in the Adamjee Export Zone, be reopened and that all workers be paid their dues. In August 2020, management closed the factory on the pretext of announcing a two-day holiday without paying any dues to the workers. Workers haven't been paid since. In one of the peaceful protests workers organised, they were met by police who injured at least 20 workers.

Media reports that Tangail's sari industry is "in tatters" due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. When lockdown ended, manufacturers had no other choice but to take out loans in order to reopen, but sales have been far from what they needed in order to continue operating. As a result of low orders, manufacturers have decreased workers' wages.  

Cambodia: Media reports that many Cambodian migrant workers who returned from Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are struggling to find jobs in Cambodia. With zero income for nearly ten months, many are severely struggling. "I started looking for jobs and till today I cannot find one", Son Seiha, who started looking for jobs in Cambodia's factories, exclaimed. Some workers are thinking about returning, but with the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand, they had to postpone that idea once again. 

Media reports that 129 garment factories closed in Cambodia over the course of 2020, affecting over 70,000 workers. In the meantime, 112 new factories opened, creating more than 20,000 jobs. While many factories opened, it is clear that the number of jobs created is much lower than the amount of jobs lost. Of the 71,202 workers who lost their jobs in the garment industry in 2020, 57,794 are women. 

Myanmar: Media reports that about 300 workers from Supreme Asia garment factory, which produces for German brand Tchibo and is located in Shwe Pyi Thar Township, protested against workplace discrimination after a HR manager was dismissed without any notice. During the protest, workers also demanded better working conditions and pay. Following the protest, workers met with management and negotiations were "successfully made". "We got satisfactory results through negotiations. Some points we demanded will be settled in the meeting and some will be done in accordance with the law", one of the workers explained.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that several private companies, including Brandix Lanka Limited (owner of the Minuwangoda garment factory where a COVID-19 outbreak took place a few months ago), aim to contribute with Rs 10 billion (US$52.6 million) towards the government's efforts to procure new COVID-19 vaccinations and contain the spread of the virus in Sri Lanka.

11 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that workers of Bata Shoe Company's Dhamrai manufacturing report having been forced to resign in September 2020. Yesterday, around 100 workers along with their family members staged a demonstration demanding reinstatement. Mahbubur Rahman, one of the workers present, explained that around 210 workers of Bata's Dhamrai and Tongi manufacturing plants were forced to resign and that management cited losses amidst the pandemic as the cause. Workers explained that, when they denied signing the resignation papers, management threatened to deprive them of their rightful benefits. Workers are calling on the government to intervene.

Meanwhile, media reports that workers from Radisson Fashion Ltd, a garment factory in Tongi which produces for Lidl, protested against the harassment of workers by their line chief today. During the protests, three workers were injured after the industrial police charged them with batons. The article further reports that factory management has decided to close the factory indefinitely, stating that workers went on strike "illegally".

Media reports that after months of local protests and organising, along with international solidarity actions, workers from Dragon Sweater factory in Dhaka have finally been paid their owed wages and severance. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the families of activists who were jailed following protests for unionist Rong Chhun's release are now struggling to make ends meet. "With his imprisonment, all his projects have been suspended and there is no income. I already sold our car because I didn’t have money to pay back the banks - next, I will have to sell the house" Dos Kimteang, Chhour Pheng's wife, explains. 

Media reports that 157 Cambodia migrant workers working in Thailand have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, another article reiterates that around 12,000 migrant workers have returned from Thailand thus far. Also on this topic, media reports that the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has announced that it will provide 20,000 jobs in Cambodia to migrant workers who have returned from Thailand. Jobs are expected to be provided in various industrial sectors, including manufacturing.

Myanmar: Media reports that while regional authorities report that 65,000 factory workers in Yangon lost their jobs over the past year as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade unions warn that the "real number" is closer to 100,000 workers, as many factories did not inform the government of their closure. Moe Moe Suu Kyi, Yangon's employment minister, explained that at least 70 of the region's factories permanently closed, costing almost 25,000 jobs, while 200 more closed temporarily or laid-off workers, affecting another 40,000 workers. Most of these workers young women and migrant workers, who are struggling to find new jobs. "There are no jobs. The cost of accommodation is high, they're facing shortages of food. They're having a really hard time", Ye Naing Win, secretary of the Cooperative Committee of Trade Unions, expressed.

Vietnam: Media reports that the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) warned that Tet bonuses would be reduced this year, as a number of enterprises are facing hardships due to the economic impact of COVID-19 and the new labour code now allows employers to pay Tet bonuses in goods rather than money. Consequently, it is expected that strikes and disputes will break out. 

Meanwhile, media reports that the VGCL calls for the minimum wage to be raised on July 1 2021, as workers have suffered hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will face even more difficulties if minimum wages are not increased until 2022. The VGCL argues that this can be done as the country saw positive economic growth in 2020. 

The General Statistics Office has released a report which assesses the impacts of COVID-19 on labour and employment in Vietnam during the last quarter of 2020. The report states that the number of those in informal employment has increased and that average monthly incomes have decreased across all sectors.

10 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that, while garment workers who were previously laid-off are being rehired, workers are being rehired at lower pay and therefore continue to struggle to make ends meet. Shirin Akter, for example, used to make Tk 10,000 (US$117) a month, but her new factory only pays her Tk 8,800 (US$103). "Had I switched jobs during normal times, I could have negotiated for better wages. But I had no option but to take the lower pay", Akter expressed. The article makes clear that "[t]his is only a story among countless others who also lost their jobs during the pandemic, but got rehired elsewhere." Unions explain that factory owners are taking advantage of the abundance of unemployed workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and their need to make a living to offer lower wages. In the same article, Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, reports that many garment factories are "downsizing their operations due to the current business situation".

Cambodia: Media reports that more than 12,000 migrant workers have returned to Cambodia in the past two weeks amidst Thailand's most recent COVID-19 outbreak. The article further reports that four more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing total cluster to 26 workers.

9 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) is demanding a 30% annual risk allowance for Bangladesh's garment workers, as workers have been repeatedly risking their lives to work in this industry, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Media reports that, according to a study conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), a total of 593 labour protests took place in different industrial hubs across the country last year, mainly due to non-payment of wages and deprivation of rights. 264 of these protests were organised by garment workers, who protested demanding that factories be reopened, laid-off workers be reinstated and wages, bonuses and other allowances be paid. The same report further reports that at least 729 workers died in workplace accidents across the country in 2020. In addition, 433 workers suffered injuries due to workplace accidents. 

Cambodia: Media reports that another returning Cambodian migrant worker tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the cluster to 22 workers. 

Myanmar/Thailand: Media reports that following Thailand's latest COVID-19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon's seafood market, discrimination has become a part of Myanmar migrants' daily lives in everything from transportation to banking. While the article reports that Thai authorities seem to have made an effort in avoiding to single out Myanmar migrant workers in COVID-19 updates, it makes clear that "the problem still persists." Indeed, just yesterday, two Myanmar migrant workers were denied entry to a Krungsri Ayudhya bank branch in Bangkok due to their nationality. "The manager told me that there is a Thai rule that they don't allow Burmese into their bank", Ma San a migrant who speaks Thai and helped the two migrant workers, explained. Meanwhile, the same article reports that Thailand has reported a total 9841 cases with 205 new cases yesterday.

Thailand: Media reports that an NGO reports that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Thailand are at risk of losing their legal status as hospitals refuse to conduct health checks on migrant workers amidst the recent COVID-19 outbreaks. Migrant workers need a health certificate to renew their work permit, meaning that this suspension impedes them from doing so and puts workers at risk of losing their legal status.  

8 January 2021

Cambodia: Media reports that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 120,000 out of 1.2 million Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have returned home. Following their return, many are facing difficulties to sustain themselves and their families. While the government encouraged workers to apply for IDPoor cards (in order to receive food and cash relief), only a few have been able to do so thus far. The article further reports that a survey conducted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), based on interviews with over 1000 migrant workers who returned to Cambodia, found that 61% are looking to migrate for work again. 

India: Media reports that unemployment in India rose again in December. According to the article, the sudden rise in the unemployment rate is due to a significant number of workers returning to the labour market in the search of jobs.

Myanmar: Media reports that garment factories in Myanmar continue to use the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic crisis as an excuse to lay-off workers, particularly those who are unionised. Phyo Sandar Soe, assistant general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM), explained that another strategy Myanmar's factory owners have been employing is to shutter facilities temporarily so they don't have to compensate workers for lost wages and, in the meantime, reopen a new factory under a different name, leaving workers with no wages or compensation. "This keeps the workers waiting in the hope they will be re-hired when the factory opens. But the owners simply restart another factory so they can avoid the whole issue", she said. 

Thailand: Media reports that, according to the new COVID-19 report from Thailand's Department of Disease Control, migrant worker communities have been hard hit by the recent outbreak. As reported by local media, at least 153 Cambodian migrant workers have so far tested positive. Meanwhile, another article reports that migrant workers in Thailand are struggling to find work and survive after the outbreak. NGOs report that migrant workers are being asked to obtain medical certificates showing negative COVID-19 test results in order to return to their jobs. Those deemed "low risk" of having COVID-19 have to get tested privately, where they can be charged over 4000 baht ($133). Migrant workers are unable to pay this charge and therefore unable to report to work. One migrant worker at a factory in Samut Sakhon, for example, said he had been asked to stop working without pay after being unable to afford a COVID-19 test and obtain a negative certificate to show his employer. "Even if I'm not working, I should at least receive half of my wages. I want the same rights as other workers", he made clear.

United Kingdom: War on Want reports that the collective action of garment workers from Next Manufacturing Ltd in Sri Lanka has resulted in Next agreeing today to pay their full bonus. 

Vietnam: Media reports that about 1.3 million people in Vietnam lost their jobs last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the General Statistics Office (GSO). The article further reports that, according to the same source, 32.1 million people reported having their jobs affected by COVID-19 as of December 2020:

  • Nearly 70% had their income lowered;
  • 40% had their working hours reduced;
  • About 14% were forced to temporarily suspend their work.

7 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the BGMEA has once again urged the government to extend the moratorium on the COVID-19 stimulus package by six months and the tenure of the loan by one year. "Without the moratorium of the salary stimulus package being extended by six months or the tenure of the loan being extended by at least one year (currently 24 months) the industry will collapse", Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, said in the letter. 

Media reports that the National Garment Workers' Federation (NGWF) has called for opening A-One BD Limited, while also demanding salaries and allowance of the 1100 workers, which have been without pay for a year. Workers demand that: 

  • The factory be reopened;
  • Actions be taken to prevent the factory owner from fleeing Bangladesh;
  • Arrangements for legal compensation and ensuring workers' jobs be made;
  • Payments of remaining of salaries and allowance be made.

Cambodia: Media reports that, according to the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation, 100 factories closed down in Cambodia due to "COVID-19 related factors", such as the lack of raw materials and lack of orders. According to the article, most of these factories produced garments. The article further reports that, according to the latest data from the General Department of Customs and Excise, Cambodia's exports in clothes, footwear and travel goods declined by 9% amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Media reports that 108 Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have tested positive for COVID-19. Also today, another article reports that two more migrant workers who returned to Cambodia from Thailand tested positive, bringing the cluster to 20 workers.

India: Cividep India reports that the COVID-19 crisis and the nationwide lockdown have had a devastating impact on workers in India's leather and footwear manufacturing industry, as many were unpaid during the lockdown period and thousands have since been laid-off or terminated. Indeed, a study conducted by Cividep India on the impact of the COVID-19 induced lockdown on leather sector workers in Tamil Nadu found that:

  • Over 50% of workers reported that they had no income during the period of intense lockdown (nearly three months). Almost all respondents reported a reduction in their household income during the lockdown period;
  • Around 50% of respondents reported having to resort to borrowing money, primarily for essentials such as food, groceries and medical care;
  • Many respondents reported that their eating habits had changed during the lockdown, with the majority being forced to forego essentials;
  • Most workers were not able to avail the "special withdrawal scheme" announced by the central government amidst the pandemic;
  • Many workers were laid-off after the lockdown period. None were served formal notices in writing;

Workers who were able to keep their jobs report a cut in wages and benefits. They report that, in the absence of transportation (which used to be arranged by the factory), commuting to work has become a challenge. In addition, the majority of employed workers reported a sharp fall in monthly wages, with more than half of workers being paid below the legal minimum wage.

Myanmar: Media reports that a study by IHS Markit has found that new orders for manufacturing in Myanmar further declined in December 2020. As a result, terminations in the sector have also increased. The article further reports a shortage of raw materials. It states that "decline in new orders and the labour force, coupled with a shortage in raw materials, led to a sharp increase in incomplete works, the fastest to be recorded since the survey began in December 2015."

United Kingdom: War on Want reports that whilst Next UK makes record-high profits amidst the pandemic, its 2350 workers from Next Manufacturing Ltd in Sri Lanka (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Next UK) are yet to be paid their full annual bonus. Following a walkout by hundreds of workers, management release 50% of the bonus pre-Christmas, but the factory is still holding back on paying workers the full amount. As made clear by the article, "many garment workers depend on this bonus to supplement their poverty wages – which are less than a third of the Sri Lankan living wage." Workers need this money to purchase essentials for them and their families and to pay off debts. "Annual bonuses are not just a little money for us", one garment workers from Next Manufacturing Ltd explained. 

6 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that about 43% of female garment workers in Bangladesh report not having enough food and therefore suffering from malnutrition. The article further reports that this is not exclusive to the garment sector. In response to these findings, the State Minister for Labour and Employment said that the government is "committed to facing this challenge". 

Cambodia: Media reports that the government of Cambodia has announced that it will continue to offer subsidies to the garment and textile industry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The article also reports, however, that there is still fear that these government subsidies may come late or be insufficient to pay workers' allowances. According to the Prime Minister, at least 44 garment and textile factories suspended operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting over 14,500 workers. The article reports that some of these factories are starting to reopen for production. 

Cambodia/Thailand: Media reports that 106 Cambodian migrant workers working in Thailand have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, one more migrant worker who returned to Cambodia tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 18 workers. In Thailand, media reports that 365 more people tested positive for COVID-19 today, 99 of whom are migrant workers. 

Gulf: Migrant Rights reports that migrant workers who returned from the Gulf face uncertainty as there are little to no job offers now and those hiring offer low salaries compared to previous years. "I looked for new jobs in the Gulf. I got a few too. But the salary offered is US$400, which is around a 35% decrease compared to what I was getting earlier. With that, it is difficult to save anything", Anish, a migrant worker from India, explained. The article further reports that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have put tens of thousands of migrant workers in a dire situation. With no social security or unemployment benefits, an increase in wage and benefits theft, workers are getting into more debt in order to survive.

Malaysia: Media reports that a raid on Brightway Holdings, a glove-making factory in Kajang district, found hundreds of workers living in cramped, dirty metal shipping containers stacked behind the premises. 

Myanmar: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that Mark's Work Wearhouse, Lidl and s.Oliver, who all sourced from the Young Clothing garment factory before it closed in September said they had investigated reports that over 1000 workers were yet to receive severance pay and wages and confirmed that most workers had been paid by 18 December 2020. Mark's Work Wearhouse confirmed that as of 31 December 1171 workers had been paid in full, while 65 workers were still in negotiation with the factory's human resources. 

Singapore: Media reports that a Bangladeshi migrant worker is suing his ex-employer and dormitory operator in Singapore, accusing them of "false imprisonment" after he was locked in a room with 20 other migrant workers for almost two full days after one of the workers developed COVID-19 symptoms.

South Africa: Media reports the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South African Federation of Trade Union (SAFTU) fear that workers will be more exposed to coronavirus infections when returning to work amidst the COVID-19 second wave. The article further reports that South Africa's unemployment rate is currently standing at over 30%, with 6 million people losing their jobs in 2020 alone, and warns that, amidst the second wave, more people could lose their jobs. 

United Kingdom: Media reports that Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Britain's investigative agency for labour exploitation, which recently probed 172 facilities, is "working through a list" of factories in the UK to uncover health and safety violations, such as lack of COVID-19 preventive measures. In its most recent investigation, GLAA reports having uncovered evidence that factory owners are shuttering their businesses only to reopen them under different names. GLAA said that, while it hasn't closed any of the factories it inspected, some owners may face criminal charges.

5 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's export earnings fell by nearly 15% in 2020, according to Export Promotion Bureau data. The article reads that the decline is mostly due to lower shipment of garment products amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In the garment sector, export earnings in the second half (July-December) of 2020 were almost "back on track" but the COVID-19 second wave has "caused more woes to the exporters." Overall, garment exports unprecedentedly declined by nearly 17% in 2020. Exporters fear that the downward trend in export could continue until April this year. 

Cambodia: Media reports that a total of 6465 migrant workers have so far returned to Cambodia from Thailand over the past two weeks. Of these, about 130 workers have now returned to their homes after undergoing mandatory quarantine upon arrival.

India: Media reports that, according to the Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, India's factory sector registered rising demand in December. Despite this growth, the article reports that manufacturers continued to cut jobs.

Myanmar: Media reports that Hong Yun, a garment factory in Yangon, Myanmar, has paid its 300 workers' due wages and compensation, following the factory's permanent closure on 29 December. While the factory owner says that the factory closed due to cancelled orders, workers said that the employer wanted to start a new factory under a new name with new workers.

Media reports that the Myanmar labour attaché has urged Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand not to travel home following the COVID-19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon province. The article further reports that, according to the Aid Alliance Committee, a migrant workers' aid group in Thailand, Myanmar migrant workers are being charged 4500 baht (US$150) for a virus-free certificate, which they need in order to be able to return to work. Due to this measure,"[p]eople are losing their jobs and have to depend on donations for food", Ko Ye Min, the group's spokesperson, explained. 

Philippines: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that workers from the First Glory garment factory, which supplies J.Crew, are currently striking over their employer's refusal to reinstate 300 fired workers, including the union's president and all its officers. As previously reported on the live-blog, the factory initially pointed to losses caused by the J.Crew's bankruptcy as the reason for dismissals. J.Crew intervened but First Glory says it will still not reinstate fired workers.

Thailand: Media reports that 527 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in Thailand today, most of whom are migrant workers who were already in isolation. 

United Kingdom: Labour Behind the Label (LBL) participated in an online conversation organised by Fashion Roundtable about how COVID-19 has hit the garment industry. It can be accessed here.

4 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that unions in Bangladesh report that workers are doing much less overtime due to lack of work orders. The consequent reduction in additional income is making it harder for workers to make ends meet. The article further reports that Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) described the BKMEA's request to suspend the 5% annual increment of garment workers' wages as "illogical, unacceptable, illegal and shameful". Labour leaders warned that "tough movements" will take place if any such increment suspension is implemented.

Media reports that the central bank has once again extended the deadline for banks to disburse stimulus funds to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The deadline has been extended by three months. In the meantime, many SMEs across the country continue to struggle amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reports that a new study has found that mere months after Bangladesh's garment industry embraced digital wage payments for workers amidst the COVID-19 first wave, garment factories are backsliding to cash payouts. Presented with these results, Microfinance Opportunities and SANEM, who conducted the study, asked the question: "why are factories sliding back to cash?" They say that they need "to do more work on this", but present as a possible explanation that many factories never fully abandoned cash, simply adding digital payments to their cash processes. Their study found that many workers reported receiving some payments in cash and others digitally. "This was especially the case in July when many workers received their regular salaries digitally but other Eid-related payments in cash", the study reads. 

Cambodia: Media reports that over 3400 migrant workers have returned to Cambodia in the past week, following the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand. The article further reports that another returnee has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 17 returnee migrant workers. As previously reported on the live-blog, all workers have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

India: Media reports that a study by the Alternative Law Forum which examines the time leading up to a Karnataka garment factory's sudden closure in May 2020 suggests that a period of inaction from Karnataka's authorities enabled the factory owner to underpay staff and sidestep affording compensation. 

Mexico: Media reports that concerns remain regarding Mexico's labour law reforms, as a report finds that many of the changes that promised to improve workers' lives, in terms of union democracy, freedom of association and collective bargaining, are yet to be implemented. "Most unionised workers are not yet able to democratically elect their leaders or ratify their collective bargaining agreements. The system of protection contracts, sustained by employer payments to union leaders, remains intact at this time. COVID-19 has caused thousands of deaths and millions of job losses. Workers who attempt to challenge these conditions by demanding union democracy, higher wages, or even protective equipment have been fired, jailed and – in too many cases – murdered", the report, issued by the Independent Mexico Labor Expert Board, reads.

Myanmar: Media reports that the World Bank said in its December 2020 Myanmar Economic Monitor that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic response had hit the "poorest and most vulnerable" hardest, and that poor and vulnerable households are being forced to turn to loans and cutting back on food spending to get by. The article further reports that hundreds of thousands of poor and vulnerable families missed out on the government's November COVID-19 cash handouts despite being in financial straits. In response to people's complaints, the government announced that those who are eligible for a cash handout but missed out in November could apply for one until 7 December. Despite promising a speedy resolution, all those who applied are still waiting and officials say additional cash distributions for those who missed out in November could still be months away. 

Thailand: Media reports that 470 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Thailand's Samut Sakhon province earlier today. Once again, most cases (390) are migrant workers. Media reports that migrant workers from Myanmar continue to be blamed for the re-emergence of COVID-19 in Thailand. Meanwhile, rights activists continue to stress that there is no concrete evidence that migrant workers were "responsible" for triggering the second wave of infections. Rather, they made clear, the fact that a large number of migrant workers have been infected could be the result of cramped living conditions in often unsanitary circumstances.

3 January 2021

Bangladesh: Sommoilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF) sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour and Employment urging the government to ensure that the 5% yearly increment on garment workers’ wages is maintained. This letter is sent following the BKMEA’s request to suspend the rise for two years. In their statement, SGSF further reports that wage cuts, dismissals, layoffs, forced resignations, discriminatory dismissals are still taking place in Bangladesh’s garment sector. Indeed, media reports that Bangladesh's garment exporters and workers are still facing uncertainties and anxieties amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to livelihood uncertainties amidst the pandemic, workers faced high risks of infection as the health safety measures were not adequate in the factories to prevent COVID-19. The article further reports that, while BGMEA estimates that 76,000 garment workers lost their jobs amidst the pandemic, with nearly 40% having been reinstated in recent months, labour leaders place the figure at over 100,000 garment workers. In addition, thousands of workers (who kept their jobs) suffered wage cuts. According to the president of the Bangladesh Garment Industry Workers Federation (BGIWF), many workers are suffering from physical and mental health issues due to the additional pressure of work at factories amidst the pandemic. He reports that while the government provided health guidelines for garment factories, many failed to comply.

Cambodia: Media reports that two more migrant workers who recently returned to Cambodia following the COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand tested positive for COVID-19 earlier today. Following the new cases, the cluster has been brought to 16 workers. 

Thailand: Media reports that 541 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in Thailand's Samut Sakhon province earlier today. Most cases (448) are migrant workers.

2 January 2021

Bangladesh: New Age has published an interview with Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA. Here, Huq made clear that global brands and retailers adopted an "unfriendly approach" towards garment suppliers in Bangladesh amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, severely impacting the sector and its workers. "Western buyers have apparently shown their real faces amid the COVID-19 spread. Faced with economic uncertainty, they basically tried to shift the burden to us", she said. Expressing fear over the impact of the COVID-19 second wave, Huq said that the garment sector posted nearly 18% negative growth this year, mainly driven by order cancellations, deferrals, discounts and lack of new orders. "The challenges that we face today are the uncertainties regarding the placement of orders by the buyers, (...) the bankruptcies of brands and lack of protection at our end and the deferred payments and discounts", she said. Also in this interview, the BGMEA president once again called for a fresh stimulus package from the government to pay workers' wages for four more months. "At this point of time, we would need a fresh wage support package for four months starting from January 2021 at 2% service charge with a payback period of 60 months and a moratorium of 12 months", she said. The article further reports that, as per the BGMEA, 317 of its 2282 member-factories have closed amidst the pandemic.

India: Media reports that monthly wages in India's manufacturing sector have actually increased by around 8% due to labour shortage. In addition, the article reports that a slight increase in additional benefits, like transportation, food and accommodation can be seen. These benefits, however, are being provided by employers informally (non-contractually) or through short-term contracts – indicating that these are likely temporary changes.

Myanmar: Media reports that government authorities report that, since January 2020, 29 factories in Yangon temporarily closed, 70 permanently closed and 170 laid-off workers, leaving over 65,000 workers unemployed. Most of them are garment factories. Government authorities said that labour cards would be issued to the laid-off workers so they could be prioritized if other factories need new employees. 

Media reports that Hong Yun (Myanmar) Garment Factory in Shwe Pyi Thar, Yangon, shut down on 29 December 2020 due to lack of orders. While the factory owner has signed the agreement to pay wages and compensation as per the law, workers are worried that the owner may flee before doing so, as has happened in other factories. In order to make sure this does not happen, workers are watching the factory day and night and "keeping a watchful eye on him." According to the article, the owner should pay workers their dues by 5 January. One of the workers expressed that they have been severely impacted by the closure, as it is difficult to find new jobs amidst the pandemic. The article further reports that another factory, MP Garment Factory, in Hlinethaya Township, closed down on 24 December 2020, citing COVID-19 impact and "inadequate order" as the reasons for closure. 

Media reports that U Aung Kyaw, co-founder of the Bangkok-based Migrant Workers Rights Network, reports that discrimination towards Myanmar migrants in Thailand has started to decline. "After the Thai PM put the blame on us, Thai people started to bar us and refuse to sell us food", U Aung Kyaw reported in an interview. Following campaigns and actions against this sort of discrimination, however, discriminatory actions started to decline.

1 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that garment exporters in Bangladesh hope that the sector will start to recover from June 2021, after vaccines come into effect. They also warned, however, that the recovery would likely be slow - particularly for small and medium enterprises, which have been disproportionately affected and received little to no financial assistance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Also in this article, exporters made clear that the COVID-19 second wave has hit the sector, with the president of the Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh reporting that orders for next season decreased by 30% in the leather sector.

Cambodia: Media reports that the Ministry of Health announced 12 new cases of COVID-19 among Cambodian migrant workers who returned from Thailand following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Media reports that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has approved for a new garment factory to be built in Sangkat Svay Rolum, Takhmao town. The factory, owned by Jiayuan Hengrun International Textile Co. Ltd., is expected to create a total of 1929 jobs in the area. 

Ethiopia: Oh So Ethical has updated the Call to Action targeting The Children's Place after a recent article on COVID-19 and garment workers in Ethiopia exposed inaccuracies in the brand's statements. While the brand insisted that it has been working with suppliers in Ethiopia to pay for all orders, the article shows that very little has changed for garment workers, who are still struggling - facing forced overtime and wage cuts, while enduring the constant fear of catching COVID-19 in unsafe workplaces. 

Myanmar: Media reports that an announcement lifting restrictions on three Yangon townships (Seikgyikanaungto, Twante and Kungyangon) has caused widespread confusion, with many instead thinking much of the city was no longer under stay-at-home orders. After a few days of confusing statements, it seems that only the above-cited townships have been released from stay-at-home orders.

Philippines: Partido Manggagawa (PM) reports that employers have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny workers their rights and benefits. They also make clear, however, that workers are fighting back. As previously reported on the live-blog, the First Glory labour union has voted to go on strike to demand the reinstatement of 300 unfairly dismissed workers. PM further reports that workers in four big garment factories in the Mactan Economic Zone have organised into unions as a result of recent grievances over lack of aid amidst the pandemic and long-running issues over wages and benefits. Certifications elections are due to be held soon.

published 2021-01-24