October 2021 Covid Blog
Bangladesh: Media report that workers of Shamoli Garments in the South Salna area of Gazipur have gone on strike and staged a protest demanding salary and allowance arrears. On Wednesday (October 26), they blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway for three hours from 3pm to 6pm. Protesters smashed the windows of several cars. In the evening, police fired tear gas and dispersed the protesters.
Media report that in Savar's Ashulia, garment workers have staged a protest in front of a factory demanding three months' arrears of wages. More than 300 workers of Future Clothing Limited, located in the Durgapur area of Ashulia, staged a protest at the main gate of the factory from Monday afternoon.
The workers said that even though they had been working in the factory for a long time, the factory authorities started making various excuses even though it was time to pay them every month. It is not possible to collect the salary even after struggling for it. The pandemic has increased concerns of wages withheld and has exacerbated the problem.
Myanmar: Media report that IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll European Trade Union are demanding urgent EU action in response to the horrendous human rights abuses against workers, human rights defenders, and trade unionists in Myanmar. Trade unions insist that the EU immediately revokes Myanmar’s trade preferences under the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) arrangement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased a troubling crackdown on Myanmar’s garment workers and trade unions supporting them.
Sri Lanka: It has been reported that a collective agreement was signed, a year after a union branch of the Freedom Trade Zone and Public Service Workers Association was established at Katunayaka Next Manufacturing.
In Sri Lanka, workers in garment factories across the country have neither been paid their full wages nor the bonuses they’re counting on to supplement their poverty wages. At the Next Manufacturing Ltd (NML) factory, wholly owned by the UK brand Next, workers staged a walk out in December 2020, because the factory cancelled their new years’ bonuses.
After long and hard negotiations the union (a branch union of the Free Trade Zones and General Service Employees Union) on October 2021 finally signed a collective agreement with the factory management, winning several employee demands.
Peru: The apparel industry in Peru is growing at pre-pandemic levels after a tumultuous first semester fuelled by Covid-19 and a tight and polarised presidential election.
France: Media report on the revival of local garment workshops during the pandemic in the French garment industry in the north of France. In 1999, denim manufacturer Levi's left La Bassée, in the North, for Turkey, leaving 541 people behind. A play, Levi's Blues, came out of that process, developed by five former workers. Twenty years later, it has just been relaunched.
At the "premiere" of the show in Lens, Pas-de-Calais, the upcoming opening of an integrated workshop, was announced. It will produce jeans for 1083, a brand made in France.
Myanmar: Media report on how Myanmar garment industry, which employs about 500,000 workers has been hit hard by both COVID-19 and the military coup. More than 30 percent of Myanmar's garment industry has declined.
Daw Yin Yin Moe, an executive member of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, explained:
"In the third wave of this Covid-19, a lot of people are suffering from poor health," he said. [And then] many of us have not been able to recover from the unexpected coup d'état. In that case, all orders have been canceled since March. The situation is chaotic. Many factories closed in May. [And then in] March, clothing companies such as H&M stopped ordering from Myanmar's at the request of human rights groups.”
There are 734 garment factories in Myanmar. However, according to the latest statistics, only 445 factories are still operational. Since the start of Covid-19, 289 factories have closed. The number has declined by more than 30 percent.
Pakistan: Media report on how the pandemic lockdowns pushed garment workers making clothes for H&M deeper into poverty.
Garment workers in Karachi’s industrial area claim that Denim Clothing Company, a supplier for global fashion brands like H&M, has not been paying them the statutory minimum wage of $144 per month fixed by the provincial government. The demonstration that took place on Oct. 11 called out the factory for alleged inhumane working conditions, routine intimidation, lack of social security, and arbitrary dismissals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They've made life a hell for us. We don't have bread to eat. They fire people every day. They say, ‘We will kick out whoever we want,’” Derya Khan, who has been working for Denim Clothing Company for 15 years, told VICE World News.
Three months into the pandemic in 2020, 81 percent of Pakistani garment workers were pushed below the poverty line, according to a report by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance. The study found that 244,510 workers across 50 garment factories in Pakistan suffered wage losses totaling $85 million in 2020.
Vietnam: Media report that businesses in Ho Chi Minh resume production as workers return. Phạm Xuân Hồng, Chairman of the HCM City Association of Garments, Textiles, Embroidery and Knitting, said 80 per cent of workers at Saigon 3 Garment Joint Stock Company are back at work
Bangladesh: Media report that the country's ready-made garment sector is facing a “labour crisis” due to a percentage of workers who returned to villages during the Covid-19 epidemic not returning to work. Factories are not getting enough workers even with repeated recruitment attempts. Factory owners claim they have to run factories with at least 15 percent less workers even though they have received orders from abroad.
Syed Nazrul Islam, first vice-president of BGMEA, said 10 to 15 per cent of workers who went to the village during the epidemic period did not return to work.
Cambodia: Local media report on a garment factory worker now selling coconuts because of the pandemic.
Hing Neath is a former garment factory worker. He said that during the Covid-19 outbreak his factory closed, causing him to lose income, so he decided to sell coconuts, despite the fact that there are many coconut sellers today, almost everywhere. Every day, he carries tender coconuts by truck to sell everywhere. Although the income from this business is irregular, it alleviates the difficult circumstances for the family after his factory closed.
United Kingdom: Media report on major retailers have called for the British government to introduce mandatory due diligence laws that would protect human rights within the supply chain.
In a joint letter, Tesco, John Lewis, Primark, Asos and others are calling on the government to introduce a legal requirement for companies to carry out human rights and environmental checks on their global supply chains. Particularly in light of COVID-19 and scandals, such as the poor treatment of workers in Leicester factories supplying the fast fashion group Boohoo uncovered last year.
“The COVID-19 crisis is demonstrating the fragility of global supply chains, and the vulnerabilities this creates and exacerbates for workers, communities, indigenous peoples and businesses around the world,” says the letter. It goes on to say:
“As we recover and rebuild, we recognise the need for new binding standards which benefit all and promote sustainability. Mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence is key to ensure that efforts by companies that respect people and the planet, both during and after the COVID-19 recovery, are not undercut by the lack of a uniform standard of conduct applying to all business actors.”
India: It has been reported that workers' rights in the garment industry hub of Tiruppur - dubbed the "t-shirt capital of the world" - are reportedly declining amidst increasing demand as COVID-19 restrictions ease in western countries.
The Social Awareness and Voluntary Education (SAVE) non-profit reports an increase in "informalised" employment including child labour and workers being paid piece rates instead of a regular wage.
A new report from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which partners with SAVE on labour issues in Tiruppur, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, says many of these workers are women who are paid "considerably below" the minimum wage.
Thailand: Media report that Thailand’s labour minister promises to assist laid-off garment workers, in response to a protest staged by workers from a lingerie factory. The Ministry of Labour said a legal case has been filed with the court to request compensation from their employer.
Delegates from the Triumph workers association representing some 1,000 workers laid-off without notice from a lingerie manufacturing plant ‘Brilliant’ gathered once again at the government house to follow up on their demands.
Vietnam: Media report that, according to official statistics, almost 1.3 million migrant laborers returned to their hometowns between July and Sept. 15.
Le Minh Tan, head of the HCMC Department of Labor, last Friday said over 143,000 individuals have returned to the city after HCMC lifted some Covid restrictions earlier this month.
Officials at provincial checkpoints also noted that the number of individuals returning to southeast provinces has increased sharply from Oct. 3, with more than 1,400 people per day. In addition, about 1,000 people from Central Highlands provinces returned to Ho Chi Ming City’s neighboring provinces of Binh Phuoc and Binh Duong daily.
Tens of thousands have already fled Ho Chi Minh City and the adjoining provinces of Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An, stoking fears of a reverse migration that could see as many as 2.1 million of the region's 3.5 million workers depart, authorities said.
Bangladesh: It has been reported that workers from Sinha garments in Bangladesh have been protesting for their unpaid wages since the beginning of the pandemic, as brands cancelled orders, reduced orders or demanded clothes at a cheaper cost. Following the most recent protests demanding four months worth of wages, last week the workers decided to begin a hunger strike.
In response it was agreed that workers would be paid by 17th. Whether this happens or not will remain to be seen.
Myanmar: Media report that the Embassy of Denmark in Myanmar says it is trying to save jobs and fight the pandemic in Myanmar.
Through the Danish ‘Responsible Business Fund’, Denmark has throughout the Covid-19 crisis helped local garment factories to reorganize their facilities for the production of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) – medical grade masks and isolation gowns. The Embassy of Denmark in Myanmar says it has placed orders worth USD 1.500.000 for the production of medical-grade masks and isolation gowns at 11 local garment factories in Myanmar.
France: Media report that employees at H&M Logistics GBC France have been on strike and blocked trucks from entering the group's warehouse in Le Bourget (Seine-Saint-Denis). They are protesting the announced closure of the site and the elimination of 153 jobs.
The announcement of the closure was a surprise when "the company is making profits and management assured us that despite the Covid, everything was fine," explains Fatima, representative of the CGT. It is a worrying announcement, especially for employees who fear losing their job overnight, while no closing date has yet been communicated by management.
Bangladesh: Media report on a feature look at how Bangladeshi garment factory workers felt scared at the beginning of the pandemic and await vaccination.
Cambodia: Media report on how many garment workers are worried that Covid-19 has driven up the price of goods for living. They fear the recently announced $2 minimum-wage rise will not meet growing expenses.
Ms. Sokha, who has been working in the garment industry for almost 10 years, said that raising the minimum wage by $2 would not help with her family's expenses because the price of goods has gone up in almost everything since the pandemic hit.
India: Media report on how Covid crippled a particular part of the garment industry.
Handloom weaving, among smallest components of textile MSMEs, took a massive hit due to the lockdowns, which saw consumer demand plummet, crippling garment industry as a whole. Karnataka accounts for 20 per cent of the country’s total garment production.
But the garment factories in the state have had to lay off a significant amount of the workforce due to the pandemic troubles. According to a study by the Bengaluru-based Alternative Law Forum (ALF), many smaller units with barely 500 to 1,000 employees have folded, unable to bear the financial losses. This has had a trickle down effect on the entire supply chain, from textile traders to the loom owners and weavers.
Pakistan: Karamat Ali, Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, (below) says the burden of the Covid related global recession in garment production has been pushed onto suppliers & workers from the Global South, not helped by the race-to-the-bottom culture promoted by brands.
Cambodia: Media report that according to Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, 434 factories had tested nearly 70,000 workers after returning to work from last week's Pchum Ben holiday. According to test results from 08 to 12 October, 375 workers tested positive.
India: Media report on how Covid-19 has put the clock back 20 years on child labour in Indian t-shirt factories. The garment hub of Tiruppur in India employs 700,000 and exports up to US$4 billion annually to global brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, and Gap. Until recently, it had been making progress in eliminating child labour. Then Covid-19 came along, bringing with it a resurgence in child labor.
Vietnam: Media report on how workers in Vietnam forced to work to maintain profits of US companies. Put bluntly, highly exploited Vietnamese sweatshop workers are being effectively imprisoned by the profit demands of US corporates.
Steve Lamar, president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, has admitted that some US companies were keeping manufacturing at their Vietnam suppliers going through a “three-in-one place” policy, “where workers eat, sleep and work at factories”.
Jason Chen, owner of the Singtex garment factory, said: “This year in the USA, everybody wants to go shopping. Some goods cannot be delivered in the right time. So it really will affect the holiday.” The company’s 350-person factory in Binh Duong Province is operating with 80 people who live permanently on the premises, which is allowed by the government in a bid to minimize the hit to exports."
Bangladesh: Media report that protesting RMG workers left the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway after 4 hours
The garment workers’ protest was a direct response to the sudden closure of two RMG factories in Gazipur.
Workers of both factories found notices of closure hanging on the main gates when they came to work in the morning, stating that they will remain closed till October 24.
Although the management of said factories could not be reached for comment, the notice said the authorities were closing the factories as they faced huge losses due to the pandemic and were not in a situation to continue operation.
Sri Lanka (1): Media report on the success of the clothing sector’s Covid-19 policies.
The country’s vaccination programme has proved a success with 90% of its employees having been jabbed with a single dose and 70% double-jabbed since June, helping drive its clothing export sales.
“At the current pace of vaccinations, we anticipate that the entire workforce will have received both their doses by latest mid-October 2021,” said Yohan Lawrence, Sri Lanka’s Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), adding however that “a small percentage, say around three to five percent would be a recurring one given new recruits etc.”
Industry good Covid-19 practice (such as weekly PCR testing and push for vaccinations) and contribution to setting up 11 intermediate care centeres nationwide have helped achieve this growth and the JAAF has additionally released a five-point framework of policies in August. These are: ensuring a safe working environment for employees; enhancing backward integration (through textile parks like Eravur); working with the government on improving export market access (such as a proposed free trade agreement with the UK); positioning Sri Lanka’s apparel industry as a global hub and premium exporter by attracting talent for design into the sector; and developing the competitiveness of small-and-medium-sized players in the sector.
Sri Lanka (2): According to information from the CCC network, the National Labour Advisory Council unions have submitted a joint letter to the Minister of Finance demanding an increase of wages by Rs.1000 per month.
The letter cited private sector export manufacturing employees’ contribution to economic growth despite hazardous circumstances (which led to increased export revenue in 2021 despite the pandemic, especially in the garment sector) as well as the rising costs of living. It pointed out that although the export manufacturing sector was declared an essential service, employees did not receive any special allowance adequate with the service.
The gross loss of wages and other benefits to garment workers from March to May 2020 alone is estimated as the US $ 24 million. The number of job losses is also significant, with the amount of jobs falling from 500,000 to 350,000.
Two suggestion were given:
1. Setting the minimum Daily Wage of all private-sector employees at Rs. 1,000 and increasing the existing National Minimum Wage of Rs. 16,000 inclusive of existing budget relief allowance up to Rs. 26,000.
2. Proposing to extend the salary increase to include workers who are currently entitled to a minimum monthly salary of Rs. 60,000.
Bangladesh: Media report that a study found drastic negative Covid impact on women RMG workers’ working and living conditions
A study conducted by a research team from the University of Aberdeen (UK) has found that the working conditions and living environment of female RMG workers in Bangladesh has been drastically impacted by the pandemic and needs to be improved.
One of the main actions mentioned was the need for educating female RMG workers on their human rights and labour rights, incorporating RMG women workers in the government’s social safety net programmes, a wide dissemination of the welfare and service provisions of relevant organisations, and skill development for employment generation.
The team has found that workers are being forced to do unpaid overtime to meet unachievable production targets or paid overtime to earn enough to survive, while factories which closed for the lockdown terminated the contracts of pregnant women.
Dr Shamima Haque, member of the team, said, ‘’Our findings show that Covid-19 has widened the already existing gender inequality, and that there is limited protection available for women.
“The exploitation of women in the garment sector during Covid-19 era demands credible mechanisms from both the UK and Bangladesh governments, including forming independent and multistakeholder ‘watchdog’ bodies to hold retailers and their suppliers accountable.”, said Professor Muhammad Azizul Islam, another member.
Global: Media report that Human Rights Violations Are Increasing in Fashion’s Manufacturing Hubs
A new report published Thursday by risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft found that for many workers in fashion’s global supply chains, the last 18 months have been a period of crisis due to labour rights abuses which did not start with the pandemic but did grow worse.
The report compared the company’s 2017 and 2021 human right index scores of major sourcing and manufacturing hubs, finding violations (including forced labour, modern slavery, child labour and low worker health and safety) have increased between the two periods, pointing to a steady-trend of labour rights degradation since before the pandemic. Covid-19 has however compounded the issue, the report said, with garment workers in some cases expected to continue working amid outbreaks without being prioritised for vaccination.
Although workers and activists in the industry have had some wins (such as The Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh), author of the report Sofia Nazalya noted that progress does not necessarily reach the informalised and under-regulated corners of the industry. “The complexity of the supply chain, and the number of informal workers within [that] supply chain, makes it difficult to guarantee that across the board, [workers’] occupational health and safety is guaranteed.”
India: Media report on major gains made by West Bengali workers through CITU-led festive bonus movement
The yearly bonus for the autumn festive season, a standard practice in West Bengal, has taken a blow due to the pandemic, forcing workers to take up a fight to reclaim it this year. While garment workers in the organised sector are still getting a bonus this year, those in the unorganised sector (making up most of the workforce) have been denied the bonus this year as it would mean workers being laid off despite having government directives as backing.
Laos: Media report the government has begun to allow garment factories that meet COVID-19 prevention and control requirements to resume operations.
To open factories must be assessed by the National Committee for assessing pandemic control and the level of risk of COVID-19 infection. Factories in the red zone that want to reopen must have dormitories for workers right on the factory premises.
Some factories had to close due to new outbreaks and COVID-19 cases. According to the Lao Garment Industry Association, factories that are allowed to reopen this time must ensure measures on labour safety and epidemic prevention according to regulations of the Ministry of Health and bear full responsibility in case of an outbreak of COVID-19.
To date, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Laos has reached 26,876, including 23 deaths.
Bangladesh: Media report that 300,000 new RMG jobs mask a the reality about employment growth in the sector
As previously reported in this live-blog, according to Vice President of BGMEA, Shahidullah Azim, increased orders from the EU and US have created 300,000 additional jobs in the RMG sector.
However, this surge has likely been driven mainly by better health conditions and preparedness against the pandemic in the West, bringing back business as usual. Coupled with the move of orders from Vietnam to competing companies in other countries, including Bangladesh, has created a surge in orders that while real is most likely only temporary, a potentially unsustainable short-run response.
This raises the question: will this create long-term changes in exports growth and employment in RMG sectors?
What is more, the RMG industry is incorporating more automation into its production process, leading to increased production. According to economists, this is one of the reasons behind slow recovery in terms of job loss.
Global: Media report that brands still fail to pay workers fair wages during pandemic, as unions & campaigners call for more transparency
All the brands included in research conducted by Fashion Checker are still failing to guarantee the workers in their supply chain living or even pre-pandemic wages, breaking their promises to respect labour rights in their supply chains, confirming the need for binging agreements such as a Wage Assurance, which the global Pay Your Workers coalition has urged them to sign.
The data, collected in collaboration with Fashion Revolution, highlights the need for transparency, showing that 60% (159) of the studied brands do not comply with the Transparency Pledge while only 17% (46) disclose information about their supply chain.
“I have to pay debt, water, and electricity bills monthly, but my wages are not enough. I don't want to see high production targets with a decreasing number of workers to meet them. We don't have enough income to pay for our basic living costs.” said a worker from Cambodia who produces for Primark.
Vietnam: Media report that Ho Chi Minh City companies support workers amid closures to keep them
Many HCMC companies have been providing financial and other support to their workers to keep them in the city amid the long closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
For example, one of the companies, Thanh Cong Textile Garment Investment Trading, has seen most of its employees return to work since October 4th, a success amid the labour shortage in HCMC. According to a representative, this can be attributed to its policies aimed at offering workers security, such as it continuing to pay a minimum salary and offering assistance with paperwork for government relief.
However the Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Le Minh Tan has also said: "Cash support is a short-term solution. In the long run businesses need to quickly stabilize operations so workers can have security. This is the best way to keep workers in the city".
Cambodia: Media report that the The Ethical Trading Inititative (ETI) is calling on garment factory owners in Cambodia to regard the new minimum wage settlement as a "floor not a ceiling".
The ETI says the new minimum wage, which has been set at US$194 per month following tripartite talks between employers, unions and the government, is not enough to meet garment workers' basic needs.
"Minimum wages are a floor, not a ceiling," it said in a statement. "ETI would expect responsible brands to work with their suppliers and local unions to establish a clear plan to progress all wages towards a living wage.
Vietnam: Media report that workers are fleeing Ho Chi Minh City as long lockdown eases.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, left Ho Chi Minh City over the weekend as it has eased its lockdown measures, triggering fears of labour shortages and more disruption to manufacturing. This comes at a point where the city and its nearby industrial provinces are experiencing a labour shortage and resultant slump in GDP due to Covid-19 curbs.
We left our home behind for the city in search for better jobs but now we are tired," said Tran Thi Them, 32, as she queued for a compulsory Covid-19 test before leaving. Them lost her job at a garment factory in July, when the city began imposing curbs, and has been confined to her 10-square-metre rented room amid restrictions on leaving the house.
Vietnam has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Southeast Asia, with less than 11% of its residents having received at least two doses, with nearly half of all cases and 77% of all deaths due to COVID-19 taking place in Ho Chi Minh City.
Global: Media report that fashion brands are increasingly shifting away from global supply chains and low-cost manufacturing hubs in Asia
The catalysts for this shift have been the COVID-19 pandemic and real wage growth, which has narrowed the cost gap. One of the brands making this move is the Italian brand Benetton, which hopes to halve its production in Asia by the end of 2022 in order to be less dependent on the ever-changing transport costs and uncertain delivery times. Numerous other brands are planning a similar shift in order to bring production closer. Due to the investments involved, such moves are likely to become lasting rather than just temporary.
Vietnam: Media report that Ho Chi Minh City has begun lifting COVID-19 restrictions
Today, according to city officials, HCMC has started easing its pandemic restrictions which have been in place for four months and heavily impacted commercial activity. From now on the city will be free of checkpoints and travel permits. However, while over 98% of the city’s adults have been vaccinated, the overall vaccination rate in Vietnam is just 9.8% due to vaccine shortage.
Nearly 35 per cent of textile-garment factories in the country were forced to close down due to the pandemic, according to the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS).
Information and campaigns
General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry
Demands, recommendations, proposals
CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.
Global union and employer joint call to action.
WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.
ILO's COVID-19 business resilience guides for suppliers.
The Circle has created a guide for suppliers in the garment industry on 'force majeure'.
WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders
Business and Human Rights Resource Centre maintains a continually updated live-resource of articles on the influence of COVID19 on supply chains and is tracking brand responses to the crisis in dealing with their orders.
Business and Human Rights Resource Centre's created a COVID-19 Action Tracker, monitoring industry responses, government actions and workers’ demands.
Labour Start collects materials coming in from trade unions around the world.
The International Trade Union Confederation collects trade union news on the COVID-19 crisis.
ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.
Omega research foundation tracks excessive use of force by law enforcement during the pandemic.
HRDN resource on business, human rights, digital rights and privacy.
Background and position papers
WRC's white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?"
WRC and Penn State University on cancelled orders in Bangladesh "Abandoned?"
OECD's paper on COVID-19 and responsible business conduct.
ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"
ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.
AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.
Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"
ECCHR-WRC paper "Force majeure"
UN Special Rapporteur report "Looking back to look ahead"
WRC and Penn State University paper "Unpaid Billions"
WRC and Penn State University paper "Apparel Brands' Purchasing Practices during COVID-19"
ILO research brief "The supply chain ripple effect"
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
Covid blog archive:
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