April 2022 COVID blog
Bangladesh: We report on how nine years after the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, the struggle for safe factories continues, as some major garment and textile brands still refuse to put their workers' safety first.Several widely known brands, such as Levi's and IKEA, have over the past nine years refused to join the safety mechanism that was created in response to the collapse. This programme is now in its third iteration as the International Accord.
171 brands sourcing from Bangladesh have signed this agreement, including fast fashion giants like H&M, Inditex (Zara), and Fast Retailing (UNIQLO). By refusing to join and pay into the programme, but still sourcing from the factories that are being improved by this programme, Levi's and IKEA are freeriding on the efforts of these other brands. Our research into these factories shows how both brands have been profiting from progress made possible by the programme that they have failed to support both financially and politically.
Media report that a garment factory owner is in hiding as workers blocked a road over non-payment of wages.The owner of a garment factory in Adamji EPZ has gone into hiding by closing the factory without paying the workers in Siddhirganj. The factory workers have blocked the road to protest against the arrears.Workers of Beka Garments and Textiles staged a blockade in front of Adamji EPZ around 10pm on Thursday.
Media report that 833 factories are yet to pay March wages. The factories are located in Ashulia, Gazipur, Chattogram, Narayanganj, Mymensingh, Khulna and Sylhet. 395 factories in Ashulia Zone did not pay wages to the workers for March, followed by 252 industrial units in Gazipur and 69 in Mymensingh, according to the statistics of Industrial Police.
Media report that a garment factory called Mujahid Garments was completely gutted in a fire at Chirirbandar in Dinajpur. The fire broke out at Ranipur village in Nasratpur union of the upazila around 3pm on Wednesday (April 20).
A fire also broke out in a cotton warehouse of Jaba Textile Mill in the Brahmandi area of Narayanganj on Thursday. No one is reported injured or hurt.
Cambodia: Media report that around 300 garment workers from Canteran Apparel gathered on Veng Sreng Street in Chaom Chao commune's Trapeang Thleung village of Phnom Penh's Por Sen Chey district on April 19 to protest recent actions by the owner of the business.
The protests came after the company had transported machines from the factory without any advance notice, which made the workers suspect that the company owner might shutter the factory without offering them any severance compensation.
Nhim Chanthoeun, an employee of Canteran Apparel, said on April 19 that the trouble started because the workers feared that the company owner would run off without paying their final salaries or offering severance payments. She added that in early April the company actually made a contract with the workers to refrain from transporting the machinery from the factory, but the company violated the contract by doing it anyways and by April 19 they had even carted away a large power generator.
Haiti: Media report on garment workers pandemic experiences in Haiti. Better Work Haiti surveyed over 3,000 garment workers in 2020, and followed up with over half of them in 2021 to learn more about their experiences of life and work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
India: Media report on transport scheme Bengaluru currently has among the highest travel fares in the country, making it unaffordable to many garment factory workers. The city's transport authorities had recently introduced a scheme where the government would foot 75% of the bus pass cost of garment factory workers. But the scheme has not been quite successful as the factory owners were not keen to pay the remaining 25% required.
Media report a major blaze broke out at the Kaur Sain Spinning Mill's godown in Doraha; the fire fighting operation continued for over nine hours and the flames were doused by 6pm. No injuries have been reported.
Indonesia: Former employees at an Indonesian garment factory which closed in 2015 have written to the CEO's of fashion brands Uniqlo and s.Oliver calling for US$5.5 million in severance pay. April 22nd marked the 7th anniversary of the Jaba Garmindo factory bankruptcy in Indonesia, and 2,000 Indonesian garment workers have been fighting for the $5.5 million legally owed to them in severance pay since 2015. The workers made clothes for Uniqlo and German fashion brand s.Oliver, among others. To mark the 7th anniversary of the factory closure, the workers have released an open letter. In their letter, they say: "You claim you owe us nothing, but it's your products we made. What would it take for you to pay up? How desperate do you want us to be, before you do the right thing?"
Read more on the Clean Clothes website.
Sri Lanka: Media report that around 327 employees of a garment factory in the Koggala Free Trade Zone have been admitted to hospital due to food poisoning. The employees fell sick after taking their breakfast at the factory on April 20. The Police said the employees complained of vomiting, severe headache, and diarrhea this morning and sought treatment at hospitals. The doctors say a meal with chicken is suspected to be the cause for food poisoning. The police are conducting further investigations into the incident.
Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers have demanded full salary for the month of April before the Eid vacation, saying depriving them of the full salary would be an "injustice".
Protesting Monday's government instruction to factory owners to pay 15 days' wages, rather than a full month,before the vacation, they said the directive might create unrest among the apparel workers.
"We have repeatedly called for clearing the due wages, providing Eid bonus equivalent to basic salaries, and salary for the month of April within 20 Ramadan (21st April)," said Khairul Mamun Mintu, organising secretary of the Garment Workers Trade Union.
"Workers are now coming to us to ensure their full month salaries as they will work until 28 April before the Eid," he said, adding that the factory workers should pay that on humanitarian grounds.
"Frustration will grip the workers if they get salaries of only 15 days," said National Garment Workers Federation Vice-President Mohammed Kabir Hossain.
In a recent media interview, Bangladeshi labour activist Nazma Akter, spoke about the price garment workers paid for Covid-19 in Bangladesh. She says that if a garment worker has a cold, a mild fever, or other flu symptoms, "she keeps it to herself, takes paracetamol and goes to work. What else should she do? There is no sick leave, she needs the money and really does not have a choice."
The monthly minimum wage in the RMG sector was raised from 5300 taka to 8000 taka at the end of 2018 after a long period of labour unrest, firing of workers and arrests. But she believes manufacturers are dragging their feet over a new pay rise and fears for garment workers as the cost of living rises.
"According to the law, the government has to convene a new minimum wage board every five years. It can be done earlier than that, but the manufacturers do not want it to happen, even though they are running huge orders at the moment. It is very hard for workers to survive on 8000 taka. Everything is so expensive. One kilo of rice costs 70 taka; one kilo of beef is 620 taka. Housing eats up a large part of their salary," says Akter.
"Then there is education and everything else. Many garment workers are supporting rural relatives who are even poorer. In countries that lack good social protection, extended families have to look after all members of the family, and garment workers play their part."
She also commented on the work in the field of safety done by the Accord since 2013, which since 2021 is covered by the International Accord. She said it is good that "it is legally binding, and the brands are being held accountable" and added that brands needed the international outrage over the Rana Plaza collapse to start making real changes in factory safety.
India: Media report that four people were killed on Thursday when a fire broke out at a sari factory in Varanasi.
Police say the incident took place in the Ashfaq Nagar locality, when the workers were cooking food in the factory and synthetic materials kept nearby caught fire.
Media report that a massive fire broke out in a cotton factory on NH 11 in Fatehpur (in the Sikar district of Rajasthan) last Wednesday (13th April).
Goods kept in the factory were burnt, too. Fortunately, ten factory workers were evacuated in time. The fire was brought under control in around three hours.
Jordan: Media report that 16 workers in a clothing factory in Der Abi Saeed, Irbid, were injured as a result of a boiler explosion inside the building.
The injured factory workers - all women - were taken to Princess Raya Government Hospital after the boiler, used to iron manufactured clothes, exploded.
The workers left the hospital, except for one person.
Myanmar: Media report that garment workers are caught between COVID-19 and the coup.
The coup introduced political pressures that place garment workers in a difficult position as they weigh political activism with economic and physical security considerations. For many, the commute by motorbike or on foot to factories located in industrial zones requires navigating conflict zones or military checkpoints in areas under martial law.
Moreover, unions have emerged at the forefront of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), which encourages workers to forgo income-earning opportunities to participate in general strikes. These unions' outspoken criticism of the junta has meant garment workers become targets to factory raids and arrests by security forces attempting to quash anti-coup resistance.
Netherlands: Protestors in Amsterdam held a rally in front of a Nike store in the middle of Amsterdam to ask attention for the Ramatex workers in Cambodia, who have been waiting for their legally owed severance since July 2020 after making Nike product for years.
Sri Lanka: Approximately 1,500 workers employed at two factories – Koggala I and II - owned by Esquel Sri Lanka are facing imminent closure of their workplaces with no assurance that they will be reemployed when the factories are sold to another company.
The closures are taking place at a time of severe economic crisis in Sri Lanka in which people, including garment workers, are facing a rapid rise in their cost of living, shortages of electricity, food and other necessities, and a declining value of the national currency. "Many of these workers have been employed by Esquel for decades. Over the past 1.5 years, we have tried to negotiate in good faith for an agreement to ensure fair compensation and a re-employment plan with both Esquel and their buyers, who continued to profit while workers suffer," says Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary, Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union.
Read more on the statement issued by Clean Clothes here.
Australia: Activists gathered outside the Nike store on George Street in Sydney demanding Nike to pay its workers.
1200 women garment workers of the Violet Apparel factory in Cambodia are still waiting for Nike to pay over US$1.4m in owed wages, severance pay and benefits.
Bangladesh: Media report that leaders of the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre on Friday at a rally called on the garment factory owners to pay the wages and festival allowances of the garment workers by Monday 21st April (20th Ramadan), before the upcoming end of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr.
President of the organisation Mantu Ghosh said that the garment workers got poor wages and they would not be able to enjoy Eid festival if they did not get the wages of April and the festival allowances by Ramadan 20.
General secretary of the organisation Joly Talukder said that the wage board for the garment workers was announced about four years ago and now they were getting the minimum wage of Tk.8,000 per month only.
She demanded revision of wages by the wage board and Tk. 20,000 as minimum wage for a garment worker.
Media report that a sweater factory called Fashionit in Dhaka's Ashulia has laid off 110 workers and declared an indefinite shutdown.
The manager of the company Abdul Malek has claimed the workers were laid off because they went on strike.
Workers at the factory have been on strike for several days to fight for higher wages. They have expressed anger after being suddenly fired.
Fiji: Media report that after months of consultation and dilly-dallying the much anticipated new minimum wage rate has finally been passed by Parliament.
The minister for economy in his budget address announced that Fiji's NMW will increase from $2.68 to $4 an hour.
Presently the livelihood of close to 8000 workers and their families are dependent on our garment industry.
Jordan: Media report that at least 65 women working in a garment factory have been poisoned after inhaling a chemical after it was leaked in a factory located in Al-Sarhan District, in the Mafraq Governorate, northeastern Jordan.
The poisoning is suspected as a result of a spill of cleaning chemicals with the injured transferred to Al-Mafraq Governmental Hospital and King Talal Military Hospital.
Myanmar: Media report on labour rights abuses in Myanmar have been on the rise since 2021. In addition to the closure of factories without pay, there are more and more businesses in industrial zones that do not even want to pay even the basic salary.
Workers are no longer entitled to holidays and social security benefits.
Freedom of assembly is not allowed. Workers say the cancellation of existing agreements is a clear violation of International Labor Organization (ILO) provisions. Workers also say the rights of Burmese workers are lower than international standards and that they are being violated again.
Media report that workers at Tianjin Fashion Milestone say they are forced to work a half-day each Sunday but receive no overtime payment.
The factory, which employs around 1,000 people, does not provide workers with official holidays and vacations.
Sri Lanka: It is reported that the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union has written a letter to the president of Sri Lanka urging the government to intervene in the cost of living crisis. It requests for essential consumer items to be put to January 2020 prices for low income households.
There is a 60 percent hike in transport hosts, while the cost of food is up by 21 percent.
"We do not see any practical programme with the government to even manage this major crisis. It is thus the private sector employees in the export manufacturing and plantation sectors, those in the informal sector and daily wage earners in the rural society including Agri-labour who suffer he most," says Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary of the Free Trade Zones Union.
Sri Lanka: Media report that unions demand a wage increase amidst Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.
Heavily dependent on tourism, Sri Lanka’s economic situation worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prices of essential commodities like fuel, medicines, milk and wheat, as well as public transport fares, have shot up and unions are calling for wage increases for workers to survive.
IndustriALL says there should also be a wage increase LKR10,000 (US$34) for workers whose monthly salary is below LKR60,000 (US$206). In addition, the minimum wage should be raised from LKR16,000 (US$55) to LKR26,000 (US$89) per month.
Lesotho: Media report on how the women garment makers of Lesotho have suffered under the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit the world two years ago, the global fashion industry crumpled. Faced with collapsing demand, brands canceled orders worth billions of dollars, and factories across Africa and Asia went belly up. Few felt the effects as harshly as the tens of millions of workers, most of them women, who stitched the world’s clothes.
In Lesotho, a mountainous speck of a country nestled inside South Africa, the pain was especially widespread. Although small compared with global garment-making giants Bangladesh and China, Lesotho’s clothing industry is the country’s largest private employer, and more than 80 percent of its workers are women, according to government officials.
Sri Lanka: The Free Trade Zones and General Services Employee Union has written a letter with an urgent proposal for the government, calling on them to introduce a minimum wage increase with immediate effect.
This includes an increase of LKR 10000 to all workers who receive less than LKR 6,000 per month.
Sri Lanka is facing Asia’s worst inflation. The rise in the cost of living will have a “disproportionately disastrous impacts on private sector workers relying on minimum wage to survive. If these proposals are not met, workers will ace a humanitarian crisis.”
Sri Lanka has fallen far behind in ensuring that the minimum wage for workers in the export garment industry is sufficient to meet basic needs, says Anton Marcus, joint secretary of the union.
Global: The Pay Up campaign reports on how, despite returning to profit by 2021, many brands are still refusing to PayUp.
In the first months of 2020, as the knock-on effects of Covid-19 were catapulting the global fashion industry into free-fall, dozens of mass-market apparel brands made a catastrophic decision: They canceled an estimated $40 billion worth of apparel orders that, in many cases, were already in the works or had been completed and shipped.
In the current supply chain, factories front huge costs for fabric and wages, and only months later they are reimbursed by the brands. Thus, by canceling the orders, brands were refusing to compensate for countless hours of completed work. As a consequence, over a million garment workers — the majority of whom are women, many are single mothers — were immediately laid off or fired, many without pay, and plunged into a grave economic crisis with zero financial support. Canceled orders impacted almost all supplier countries, from Bangladesh to Myanmar to Cambodia, Vietnam, the U.S., and beyond, and triggered a corresponding increase in hunger and food insecurity, union-busting, and gender-based violence that is still unfolding, two years later.
Over the summer of 2020, the #PayUp campaign went viral. Hundred of thousands of citizens around the world began using the #PayUp tag on social media.
In the two years since #PayUp started, it has helped to recoup approximately $22 billion in money owed to garment factories and workers from 25 major clothing brands and grown into a global movement for brand accountability.
Bangladesh: Media report that hundreds of workers of Rupashi Garments blocked Dhaka-Narayanganj link road, demanding their due salaries.
The blockade started around 11am on 31 March in Shibu Market area of Narayanganj Sadar upazila.
According to the workers, the authority of Rupashi garments promised to pay their pending salaries on March 20. However, they did not pay. They later said that they would pay the salary today, but they did not either. If employees demand pay, the authority beats them up and even fires them, they alleged.
The workers further said that they will not leave the road until they are paid.
Vietnam: Media report that on March 31, about 1,600 workers from KD Sports Vietnam Co., Ltd (Bac Giang) stopped working collectively and proposed to increase the basic salary by 300,000 VND/person/month, after two years with no wage increase.
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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