February 2022 COVID blog

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.

28 February

Bangladesh: Media report on crowds of vaccine seekers at 26 centers in 12 unions of Savar, including the municipality, in a mass vaccination campaign against the coronavirus.

A garment worker told us, "I have been standing since 8 in the morning after taking a few hours leave from the factory. I have to go to the factory again after being vaccinated. However, I do not understand when the long line will end. If you are late to the factory, you will not be allowed to enter, and one day's wage will be deducted."

Sri Lanka: Media report on Sri Lanka’s apparel workers, mostly female, and how they have suffered during the pandemic. The industry provides direct employment to 300,000 people and indirect employment to 600,000. Around 350 garment factories are operating in different parts of the country, while there are around 16 textile and fabric manufacturing units.

However, after the Covid-19 pandemic, exports declined sharply as lockdowns hit production and order cancellations were high. The pandemic exposed the darker side of the industry, with workers complaining about being subject to inhuman conditions both inside and outside the factories, bringing into question the country’s hard won reputation as an ethical source of apparel and doubts whether it lives up to the slogan, Garments Without Guilt.

In her book, Garments without Guilt? Global Labour Justice and Ethical Codes in Sri Lankan Apparels, Kanchana N. Ruwanpura, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Gothenburg, explores two main topics – what institutional factors facilitated Sri Lankan apparels to evade the negative publicity unlike neighbouring countries in South Asian and how ethical trading, the codes that underpin global governance regimes formative for global supply chains, factors into the process and where are the voices of workers?

25 February

India: Media report on women workers in garment industry who share stories of gender discrimination, insensitive treatment and government apathy.

The garment industry has long been under the microscope for flouting labour codes, breaking environmental norms, violating human rights, pay structures and much more. The women garment workers who attended an orientation workshop at a hotel on Delhi-Gurugram road October 2021, headed by Society for Labour and Development (SLD), know about these flaws.

Global: Media report on how OECD deputy secretary general Yoshiki Takeuchi has spelt out how the fashion industry can bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that protects the environment and vulnerable supply chain workers.

He pointed to new and proposed mandatory due diligence laws by a number of countries and regions - including the European Union - which will make companies responsible for human rights and environmental issues in their global supply chains.


23 February

Asia: Migrant Forum in Asia releases the 3rd volume of its analysis report series, "Crying Out for Justice: Wage Theft Against Migrant Workers during COVID-19" 

This report is an analysis of the cases documented by MFA members and partners as part of the Justice for Wage Theft Campaign. As states go into crisis recovery, how have migrant workers been cast aside in the global response to the COVID-19 impact? How must stakeholders and duty bearers take action in ensuring that migrant workers achieve justice without delay? Volume 3 analyzes the wage theft cases experienced by migrant workers in the time of the pandemic since we started documenting cases, from July 2020 until December 2021

China: Media report on further regional lockdowns in China from its zero-COVID strategy have caused severe supply chain bottlenecks accompanied by concerns on supply chain security and environmental safety.

21 February

Bangladesh: Media report on H&M Foundation, the charity arm of H&M, and its training of a cohort of female garment workers in Bangladesh who are participating in workshops as part of a new initiative. The training is designed to help women rise to managerial or multi-machine operating roles.

The program began as a way to provide emergency relief for garment workers in Bangladesh affected by COVID-19. In 2020, the pandemic shutdown left some 1 million garment workers in the country out of a job. The economic impact was particularly devastating because Bangladesh is the second-largest garment and textile industry in the world after China.

But the challenges facing the industry and its mostly female employees long predate the pandemic.

France: Media report on hundreds of workers from several of Louis Vuitton’s leather-goods workshops in France staged a walkout Thursday to demand higher wages and better working hours.

The last time a similar demonstration happened was in 2017, and before that, in 2002. In all cases, workers had expressed dissatisfaction with their share of Louis Vuitton’s often stratospheric profits, which typically run into billions of euros every year.

Last week’s two-hour-long work stoppage, which was first reported in Le Monde, involved 240 craftspeople from three out of Louis Vuitton’s 18 ateliers in the French towns of Asniиres, Issoudun and Sarras. Union representatives from the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) said the workers were unhappy with Louis Vuitton’s proposal to increase wages by an average of 150 euros ($170.80) per month and reduce workloads from 35 to 33 hours per week. They further claim that Louis Vuitton wants to use to proposed working hour change to eliminate the standard day shift in favor of only morning and evening shifts.

“I think what we are seeing at LVMH is similar to that of the truckers in Canada and the rising movement toward unionizing in the U.S.,” Danziger told Sourcing Journal. “During the pandemic, a new phrase entered the lexicon: essential workers. That planted the seed among those lower-level workers who do the essential work to keep businesses going—and whose work makes senior executives, company owners and investors rich—that they deserve their fair share of the products and services they produce. The genie is out of the bottle and it isn’t going to be contained.”

Vietnam: Media report that thousands of workers staged nearly 30 strikes throughout Vietnam ahead of and over the Lunar New Year celebration, demanding higher wages and other benefits, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) said Wednesday.

The holiday known as Tet is the most important festival in Vietnamese culture. It fell on Feb 1 this year. VGCL, Vietnam’s main trade union, said businesses and factories closed for nine days, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, to celebrate.

Workers in Vietnam often receive a holiday bonus and pay raises for the new year before Tet. But if they are not happy with the modest bonus and new salary, they post their grievances on social media or take to the streets waging strikes.

The 28 strikes took place in 12 provinces, including Thai Binh, Ninh Binh, Bac Ninh and Nghe An, from Jan. 1 to early February, the VGCL said.

Besides seeking higher pay, workers demanded more allowances for food and fuel and new benefits like seniority pay and support for workers who have contracted the COVID-19 virus.

18 February

Global: Open Democracy looks at how women workers experienced more verbal, physical and sexual violence under COVID-19 in Six Asian countries.

It cites a new in-depth survey that documents an alarming rise in Gender Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH) against garment workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It examined six countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

A Stitch in Time Saves None’, by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), says that while the global garment industry has promised to reduce poverty and uplift the status of women, in reality it has delivered rock-bottom wages, extreme hours and unsafe, often violent conditions. As a result, the AFWA now terms the harm inflicted on garment workers as the “Garment Industrial Trauma Complex”.

Haiti: Media report that thousands of Haitian garment workers protested in Port-au-Prince on Thursday to demand higher wages following weeks of similar demonstrations over pay and working conditions at firms that export to U.S. clothing retailers.

For decades, Haiti has promoted itself as a center for clothing manufacturing thanks to low wages and proximity to U.S. markets, but has faced consistent complaints that wages are too low to cover the cost of basic goods in the Caribbean nation.

16 February

Vietnam: Media report that Hundreds of garment workers strike for fair wage increase.

After the lunch break, hundreds of workers of Nam Thuan Nghe An Joint Stock Company (located in Dien My commune, Dien Chau district, Nghe An) refused to go back to work.

The strike took place at the beginning of working hours on the afternoon of February 15, at the company's sewing line. Initially, 14 recommendations of employees were submitted to the management department, including the following issues: Unfair salary increase between different departments, request to increase fuel allowance and more.

14 February

Thailand: On Valentine’s day, 14 February, more than one hundred members of IndustriALL Global Union in the Asia Pacific region took lingerie brands Victoria’s Secret, Torrid and Lane Bryant to task, urging the brands to take responsibility for the workers in their supply chains.

The regional day of action was held in support of members of IndustriALL affiliate Confederation of Industrial Labour of Thailand (CILT), who were fired without notice in March 2021 as the factory suddenly closed. The workers, mostly women, were left in dire conditions in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, the workers have yet to receive wages, overtime, holiday and severance pay owed.

Unionists from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines and Thailand participated in store action, a social media campaign and sending protest letters to the brands, demanding that the workers are paid immediately.

Vietnam: Media report that Vietnamese factories making everything from shoes to smartphones are expected to continue production despite record COVID-19 infections, reversing a policy of sweeping lockdowns last year that hobbled global supply chains for Western retailers. 

11 February

Bangladesh: Media report that emergency assistance of Tk 25 lakh [$29,049] has been provided from the Bangladesh government to pay the arrears of salaries and allowances of the workers and employees of Binni Garments.

India: Media report that top U.S. brands like Walmart, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Nike source their clothes from Indian factories that refused to pay workers nearly $60 million over the course of the pandemic, a labor-rights watchdog says. The crisis left some households unable to buy basic staples like rice, meat, and vegetables, or pay off their debts.

In total, more than 1,000 clothing factories in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, a garment-producing hub in the country, failed to give their laborers a legal monthly minimum wage increase of 417.60 rupees—or about $5.60, according to the Worker Rights Consortium.

Vietnam: Media report that nearly 4 days have passed, but thousands of workers of Viet Glory stationed in Dien Truong commune, Dien Chau, Nghe An have not returned to work.

After testing for COVID-19 did not enter the factory to work anymore, but went outside the gate to ask the company to solve problems such as increasing wages, increasing allowances, and social benefits for them.

9 February

Listen to our brand new podcast. In the first episode of Clean Clothes podcast we explore how organisations in different countries from across our network supported workers in the time of COVID.

Jordan: Media report on how did the Jordanian government fail its workers during the pandemic?

On June 1, 2021, Madian Al-Zubaidi became unemployed, after he was informed of the termination of his services from a textile and spinning factory in the Jordanian governorate of Irbid - a distance of 91.6 kilometers from Amman. According to him, personal differences between him and his supervisor at the factory led to his expulsion, especially after he was unable to communicate with the Chinese factory manager to complain because the translator was prevented from clarifying his words.

Al-Zubaidi filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labor's office because of his dismissal. A month later, the Ministry of Labor informed him that it found out that he had signed a document termination of his services and had not been arbitrarily dismissed, while he was certain that he had not.

Cambodia: Media report that with Cambodia is considering mandating vaccinations for employment. Khmer Times reporters Yim Sreylin and Nang Veasna and photographer Chor Sokunthea hit the streets to ask people their thoughts about vaccinations and the new ‘No Jab, No Job’ policy.

Youn Nhoeun, 38, garment worker in sewing factory, vaccinated with third dose.

I hesitated at first to receive the Covid-19 jab.

Due to the Omicron variant, we can expect a rapid surge if we don’t vaccinated. Without a vaccination card they will not allow us to work in the factory.

So, I left the hesitation behind and got my jab.

7 February

Cambodia: Media report an announcement from the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) that member factories can contact it to receive free masks from February 16 to March 31, after it received more than nine million masks from Fast Retailing, the parent company of the Uniqlo brand in Japan.

“These masks represent the ongoing efforts of GMAC and Uniqlo to help our industry cope with Covid-19. We will distribute nine masks to each worker. Please make arrangements to collect the masks from our office and help distribute them to your workers,” it added.

Vietnam: Media report on how young people have gone back to the countryside to create new jobs in the garment industry. 

The Covid-19 epidemic caused Linh to lose his job and return to his hometown. Supported by loans from policy banks, he opened a garment factory, creating jobs for many workers, especially laborers repatriated due to the epidemic.

In September 2021 the Covid-19 epidemic broke out strongly in the south, and the company where Mr. Linh worked closed. He and many other employees struggled because they had to stop working. With no other choice, he had to return to his hometown.

While not knowing what to do, Mr. Linh read information that Thanh Hoa province has a policy for workers returning from epidemic areas to get business loans.

4 February

Laos: Media report that more than 20,000 clothing workers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in Laos have received emergency income support worth LAK18.6m (US$1.8m) from the German government.

The funding, channelled through the International Labour Organization (ILO), paid out LAK900,000 (US$85) to each of 20,698 employees at 47 clothing factories between March and October last year.

India: The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) is urging factory owners in the Indian garment hub state of Karnataka to honour a hike in the minimum wage which has gone unpaid since April 2020.

More than 400,000 garment workers who make clothes for global companies, including Puma, Nike, Zara, Tesco, C&A, Gap, Marks & Spencer and H&M, has lost out on nearly US$58 million so far, according to workers' rights campaigners.

Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the AAFA, which represents US brands and retailers, has now written to the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) president Rajesh Masand urging factory owners to pay up.

2 February

Bangladesh: Media report on how almost all garment factories in Bangladesh, especially, the small and medium-sized ones, are suffering from an acute shortage of skilled labourers as the industry is recovering from the severe fallouts of Covid-19 on the back of a higher flow of orders from international retailers and brands as economies reopened.

Many workers have not returned after they went home following the outbreak of Covid-19 in Bangladesh in March 2020.

Fakir Apparels Ltd appointed 400 new workers last month after training them for three months at its training centre as the Narayanganj-based garment factory has received 25 per cent more work orders this season compared to the last season.

The factory has established a separate training centre to turn fresh workers into sewing machine operators to meet the emergency need of workers. Moreover, it is offering increased fringe benefits to retain them.

India: Media report on a study examining the impact of the Covid-19 Lockdown on the traditional weaving industry.

The detailed analysis and data contained in the report reveal how the artisanal weaving industry as well as the Zardozi industry, that has been in a state of crisis for decades given the ambivalent, if not hostile policies adopted by the government, slid into further despair due to the sudden and unplanned Lockdown. 

It caused severe economic and structural blow due to the work stoppages, and led to acute distress, indebtedness, beggary and hunger that any society and state should be ashamed of.

Neither the state government of Uttar Pradesh nor the Centre have shown any sensitivity to the plight of hundreds of thousands of weavers and their families so far, and have failed to respond to the crisis. 

The estimated loss stands at a staggering Rupees 3,000 crores (crore = 10 million) to eastern UP’s handicraft, handloom and power loom business during and after the Lockdown.

Myanmar: An estimated 220,000 garment workers - most of them women - lost their jobs in Myanmar last year because of the combined effects of the military coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The figure is revealed in a new report from the ILO on the anniversary of the coup, on 1st February 2021, which says that a total of 1.6 million jobs have been lost in the troubled country over the last 12 months.

Information and campaigns

General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry

PayYourWorkers campaign

Resources

Demands, recommendations, proposals

CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.

Global union and employer joint call to action.

WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.

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

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

Information trackers

WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders

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

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

Labour Start collects materials coming in from trade unions around the world.

The International Trade Union Confederation collects trade union news on the COVID-19 crisis.

ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.

Omega research foundation tracks excessive use of force by law enforcement during the pandemic.

HRDN resource on business, human rights, digital rights and privacy.

Background and position papers

WRC's white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?"

WRC and Penn State University on cancelled orders in Bangladesh "Abandoned?"

OECD's paper on COVID-19 and responsible business conduct.

ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"

ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.

AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.

Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"

ECCHR-WRC paper "Force majeure"

COVID-19 Report by Decent Work Check: Indonesia and Ethiopia garment industry.

UN Special Rapporteur report "Looking back to look ahead"

WRC and Penn State University paper "Unpaid Billions"

WRC and Penn State University paper "Apparel Brands' Purchasing Practices during COVID-19"

ILO research brief "The supply chain ripple effect"

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

BHRRC report "Wage theft and pandemic profits"

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

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

published 2022-02-28