Clean Clothes Campaign weekly blog: the workers behind the industry

This blog aims to collect weekly information about the conditions of garment workers around the world; wage disputes, risks to their safety at work, discrimination, the impact of the cost of living, and how 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.

Tuesday 21 June

Asia: Media report on how the Asian garment labour movement identifies urgent shifts to redistribute profits & regulate global garment supply chains.

Brands must move away from a fast-fashion model of garment production which results in poverty-level wages, overproduction, over-consumption, massive wastage, high production targets for workers and violence at the workplace. 

Brands must make legally binding commitments to close the gaps between the living wage and the country-specific statutory minimum wage suppliers are responsible for. Fashion brands must also be held legally liable for human rights violations.

'Business as usual' should not continue. 

Bangladesh: Media report that the BGMEA has warned members in advance about fires in garment factories.

The letter, signed by BGMEA president Faruque Hassan, was handed over to members on Sunday. The letter provides suggestions to factory owners.

Media report that the death of a worker while working in a factory in Gazipur has been blamed on the negligence of the factory authorities. Workers of the company staged a protest. The incident took place at the Apparel Plus Eco Limited garment factory in the Yogitala area of ​​Basan police station on Sunday. 

India: Media report on untold stories of women garment workers in Idore, India. Behind closed doors lies a vast segment of largely invisible women and girls working as informal home-based garment workers in India. Women working from home account for about 14% of urban employment in India. Gayatri, 24, a home-based worker started sewing after the Covid-19 lockdown of 2021 and earns approximately INR 500 (US $6.44) per month. 

Laos: Media report that low wages and soaring inflation push Laotians to Thailand.

Hundreds of Laotians are lining up daily outside the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Laos' national capital Vientiane to apply for or renew passports so they can go to neighbouring Thailand, where they hope to find better paying jobs and escape crippling inflation at home.

“How can we live on 1.3-million-kip salary in the current situation?” asked a garment factory worker in Savannakhet province, adding that the minimum monthly wage should be at least 2 million kip (U.S. $150) because consumer prices have doubled.

Myanmar: Media report that the number of migrants crossing illegally from Myanmar to Thailand has surged in recent months as residents of regions near the border flee fighting with government troops and outbreaks of COVID-19. Some have been looking for work after factories in Myanmar shut down, said Thida Win, who now works at a garment factory in Thailand after crossing the border in April. “Most of the factories in Myanmar were closed because of COVID and the coup, and as a result many people were left without jobs. So instead of just sitting at home they took loans and came to Thailand to work. Because we are here illegally, we don’t dare go out except to go to work and then return home. I send every penny I earn back to my sisters."

Pakistan: Clean Clothes reports on a historic victory in the Sindh province, Pakistan, as workers have won a 40% increase to the minimum wage. Sindh is a major garment-producing hub and the win comes after almost a year of fighting as employers appealed against the proposed increase and global brands did little to support workers' rights, despite public commitments on working towards a living wage in their supply chains.

Turkey: New research by the Clean Clothes Campaign Turkey (CCC Turkey) shows garment workers earn a quarter of a basic wage. 

The Clean Clothes Campaign Turkey (CCC Turkey) investigated the working and wage conditions of garment workers in Istanbul and Izmir – the two major centres of clothing assembly in Turkey. By interviewing hundreds of workers the researchers learnt that garment workers are barely able to sustain themselves, a situation that has been ongoing since Turkey became a major fashion exporter in the 1980s, and has worsened in recent years due to the pandemic and hyper-inflation of 86% in 2021 alone.

Such extreme inflation has made it even harder for workers to make ends meet. Despite hikes in the legal minimum wage, workers only survive by constantly juggling debts, holding multiple jobs or giving up education for work.

Vietnam: Media report that hundreds of Nice Power footwear workers, in Nam Dinh, went on strike. 

Workers started the strike from the afternoon of June 17, and continued to the next day.

Hundreds of workers, most of them women in yellow work clothes, went on strike by gathering in the internal aisles of the factory to make recommendations to their employers.

Media report that a worker was electrocuted on a garment company construction site. 

The incident happened at about 5pm local time on June 17 at the construction site of Minh Anh Garment Company. The victim was identified as Do Van G, 33 years old.

United Kingdom: Media report that Boohoo workers could be owed £125 million in unpaid wages for former illegal pay cases.

Representatives from CCC's Labour Behind the Label raised concerns about the impact of Boohoo’s purchasing practices on the ability of Leicester factory owners to operate legally, turn a profit and invest in their factories.

Questions follow clear evidence that illegal pay of £3.50 / £4 an hour was common in Boohoo suppliers, linked to prices.

Historic debts owed to workers from Boohoo supplier factories following years of underpayment of the minimum wage are also being raised. Activists say Boohoo could owe over £125 million in illegal underpayment of wages to workers who made their goods over the past 5-year period.

The estimate is based on calculations from the British Retail Consortium that garment workers in Leicester at the peak of the illegal pay exposes were collectively being denied £2.1 million a week

Tuesday 14 June

Bangladesh: Media report that police arrested a man accused in a case of gang-rape of a female worker inside a garment factory in Fatullah, Narayanganj. He was arrested in a raid in the Raghunathpur area of ​​Sadar Upazila on Sunday 12 June.

Cambodia: Media report that the Ministry of Education, along with UNESCO and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), began a work-based literacy course at the Elite Factory in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Svay Rieng province on June 11.

The course will provide lifelong learning opportunities for workers at the garment factory, marking the first time that the programme has been expanded into the province, located on the border with Vietnam along the southern economic corridor of the greater Mekong sub-region.

In Cambodia, the garment sector provides formal employment to 650,000 workers. 85 per cent of garment workers are women largely coming from rural and remote areas, UNESCO said.

Illiteracy and low levels of literacy remain challenges, as many of the female garment workers have dropped out of school with a low level of basic education.

China: Media report that China dismissed the need for a United Nations mission to review its labor standards in the remote Xinjiang region, after a committee branded its policies for Uyghurs as "discriminatory."

A committee reporting to the UN's International Labor Organization said in a June 9 statement that China used "repressive" measures against the majority Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority, creating a discriminatory environment. The report also "expressed grave" concern at authorities' alleged efforts to pass "de-radicalization responsibilities" onto employers.

The statement called for China to accept an ILO advisory mission, with the support of the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organization of Employers, and asked President Xi Jinping's government to submit a report to the committee by September.

Guatemala: It is reported that in Guatemala's garment sector, freedom of association is virtually impossible and there is an immense pressure on unions. Workers are often intimidated, threatened, blacklisted and even fired, and fear that employers will retaliate if they join a union.

The government of Guatemala was invited to submit information to the CAS on individual cases concerning the application of Convention 87 on freedom of association and the protection of the right to organize.

On 6 June, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan, raised on behalf of the workers' delegation, the violations against IndustriALL's Guatemalan affiliate FESTRAS (Federación Sindical de Trabajadores de la Alimentación, Agroindustria y Similar de Guatemala).

Özkan explained that workers in Guatemala face threats and intimidation that prevent the full exercise of Convention 87.

Myanmar: Media report that almost all garment factories face closure due to power outages and exorbitant fuel prices. A garment factory owner said that if the military council does not provide electricity regularly until the end of June, almost all garment factories will shut down.

There are thousands of garment factories in Myanmar, with more than 700,000 workers dependent on the garment industry.

But more than 200,000 garment workers lost their jobs more than a year after the military takeover, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Pakistan: Media report that hundreds of garment workers in Pakistan making clothing for collapsed fast fashion brand Missguided say they have been left destitute and starving after not receiving salaries for more than four months.

In Faisalabad, one of Pakistan's textile heartlands, workers at the Bismillah factory have been exclusively making clothes for Missguided since 2017.

Turkey: Media report that the Occupational Health and Safety Assembly (ISIG Assembly) has published a new "child labor" report on the occasion of June 12, World Day Against Child Labour. According to the report, at least 556 children lost their lives in occupational homicides in the last nine years, and at least 811 children during the AKP rule.

The report looks at the lives of children, including 16-year-old textile worker Emin Halastar, 13-year-old garment worker Emine Demirel and hundreds of children who show how Turkey has turned into "Europe's Bangladesh". 

Vietnam: Media report that strikes are rarely reported by the Vietnamese government's media.

In Binh Duong province, from the beginning of 2022 to now, there have been 18 local strikes. Most of them occur in foreign-invested enterprises. Rarely are strikes mentioned, followed and reported by the local press.

Collective labor disputes are "on an increasing trend".

United Kingdom: Media report that garment factory failings in Leicester persist, according to the latest findings in a report commissioned by the Garment & Textile Workers Trust (G&TWT).

The 'Fashioning a Beautiful Future?' report was commissioned to gather insight directly from those who work in the Leicester garment industry to inform the purpose and scope of the Trust, which was formed earlier this year.

BooHoo Group found itself embroiled in a media storm following damning press coverage in 2020 regarding its supplier factories in Leicester, which were alleged to be underpaying workers and making them work in unsafe conditions.

The survey was carried out by the  University of Nottingham's Rights Lab and De Montfort University. The findings are based on 116 garment workers that filled in an anonymous questionnaire between November 2021 and March 2022. Key findings include:

  • 56% of respondents said they were paid below minimum wage
  • 55% said they received no holiday pay
  • 49% said they received no sick pay
  • 32% were not issued a work contract
  • 21% felt they were treated unfairly due to their gender or ethnicity
  • 23% said they were not given their wage
  • 19% felt emotionally abused
  • 13% said they were prohibited from taking breaks

Report recommendations include:

  • Improve worker access to English language provision, both at work and in community settings.
    Provide a single 'front door' contact point for workers wishing to make a complaint to enforcement agencies.
  • Establish trusted support to advocate for workplace rights, engaging with existing trades union initiatives but should also explore additional options for representation of worker voices, drawing on the experience of organisations that have experience in representing migrant workers.
  • Connect workers with sources of community-based legal advice and support, available in a range of community languages. This support should cover immigration, housing and welfare rights in addition to workplace rights.
  • Improve access to local educational services for workers and their families, particularly related to further education, and language support for younger children.

Tuesday 7 June

Bangladesh: Media report that police teargassed demonstrating apparel workers for a second day, on Sunday 5. Workers from several readymade garment factories were staging a demonstration, demanding a hike in their wages in Dhaka's Mirpur.

Witnesses said the protesting workers blockaded the area and did not allow any vehicles to move, which created massive gridlocks in the surrounding areas.

The workers from different garment factories in the Mirpur area had started the movement on Thursday, demanding that either their wages be raised or the prices of all necessities reduced.

Media report that there have been three fires in a span of 15 days at Rayan Knit Composite in Kaliakair, Gazipur. Eight to 10 workers were injured. The fire was brought under control after an hour and a half effort by seven units of the fire service.

Media report that a massive fire at a container depot near a port city in southeastern Bangladesh killed at least 49 people, including nine firefighters, and injured more than 100 others, officials and local media reported Sunday, as efforts to extinguish the blaze continued into a second night.The inferno at the BM Inland Container Depot, a Dutch-Bangladesh joint venture, broke out around midnight Saturday following explosions in a container full of chemicals. The cause of the fire could not be immediately determined. The depot is located near country's main Chittagong Seaport, 216 kilometers (134 miles) southeast of the capital, Dhaka.

At least nine firefighters were among the dead, according to Brig. Gen. Main Uddin, director general of the Bangladesh fire service and civil defense. More than 10 others were being treated for burns, he added.

Media report that the US has urged Bangladesh to take further steps to adhere to internationally recognised labour rights standards, including those developed by Bangladesh for its ILO road map.

Cambodia: Pay Your Workers-Respect Labour Rights campaign reported that over 5,600 garment workers supported a strike at the Can Sports shoe factory in Samakki Meanchey district, Cambodia, a supplier to global sports brand Adidas. Over 1000 workers rallied outside the factory on 31 May.

The workers presented a list of 35 demands which have been accumulating over several years and include payment of delayed wages and overtime, as well as a series of demands concerning access to food vendors to address hunger and exhaustion experienced by workers during their shifts. The factory has, today, agreed to some of the workers’ demands and as a result workers have agreed to return to work, but other demands, including those regarding wages, remain unresolved.

Global: Media report on whether garment workers really have freedom of association. According to the data, Private regulation of labor practices in global supply chains is—on the whole—not working. 

Data from unions and case study evidence suggest that workers in fashion's supply chains are rarely represented by unions, and are generally not covered by collective bargaining agreements. On the other hand, data from social auditing shows that the number of violations of the right to freedom of association is generally very low, suggesting that these rights are rarely violated. What might explain this disconnect?

One theory is that social audits are generally unable to detect whether factory management is actively thwarting the attempts of workers to establish labor unions for collective bargaining purposes. Audits are typically of a very short duration.

A new study on alternative models for social protection for garment workers by Cornell University validates the proposed Pay Your Workers-Respect Labour Rights agreement.

The study, undertaken by the New Conversations Project at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, lays out the key elements for a global severance fund, namely the need for it to be legally binding and to feature detailed obligations on brands and employers regarding the provision of severance. Both the Cornell research and the Pay Your Workers campaign emphasise the current lack of adequate social protection systems in major apparel production countries, and the responsibility brands have towards workers in their supply chains. Read more from our statement. 

Indonesia: Media report that a female worker of 52 years died after allegedly having shortness of breath while working at PT Yongjin Javasuka Garment Factory II.

USA: Media report on the big change coming for companies and brands that source anything from China. Within a few weeks, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) will come into effect. Passed late last year with bi-partisan support, the bill was created after several reports and investigations found that a variety of goods being produced by Uyghur workers in conditions of forced labor were being imported into the United States.

"Companies, now, should be understanding whether or not they are already in violation of the law," said Allison Gill, forced labor program director at Washington, DC-based nonprofit Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum. 

The bill will prohibit US companies to import good linked to the Xinjiang autonomous Region, the Chinese name for the Uyghur homeland in the west of the country.

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 2022-06-21