Live-blog: How the Coronavirus affects garment workers in supply chains

This blog aims to collect daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers' rights in supply chains around the world. It will be updated as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network. Information is posted as it comes in from the network and cannot always be double-checked.

21 January

Bangladesh: Media report that workers of a garment factory called Mercury Knitwear in Narayanganj's Sonargaon staged a sit-in protest on the highway demanding payment of wage arrears.

They staged a protest in the Kanchpur BSCIC industrial area on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway. At this time a traffic jam was created on both sides of Dhaka-Chittagong highway.

It is learned they have been in arrears for three months. The owners have promised to pay their dues at different times but they are not paying their dues. Today was the day to pay their dues. But when they came to the factory, they found out that the owner had started paying excuses. Later, around 3:30 pm on Monday, more than 400 workers started protesting inside the factory.

Thailand: Media report that workers’ rights organisation IndustriALL has written to the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, urging his government to support the former staff of a garment factory which unexpectedly ceased operations last March. 

More than 1,300 workers at Brilliant Alliance Thai Global Ltd – which supplied the likes of Victoria’s Secret – lost their jobs and subsequently went without overtime, holiday or severance pay.

Tunisia: Media report that The ITUC has expressed serious concern over acts of anti-union repression by the authorities under the control of Tunisian President Kais Saied.

The country has faced a growing crisis since Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and seized absolute power last year, with growing poverty and unemployment along with mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 25 July, Saied has banned parliament from sitting and assumed legislative power himself.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “The hope that sprang from Tunisia’s revolution is being dashed by the autocratic behaviour of the president. Having refused repeated requests from the trade union centre UGTT to work together on the problems facing the country, he has resorted to violent repression.

19 January

Bangladesh: Media report that leaders of readymade garment (RMG) workers have demanded food ration facilities for RMG workers as the prices of daily necessities continue to rise.

They made the demand at a meeting with the leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) at the BGMEA complex in Uttara on Monday.

They demanded garment industry owners provide daily commodities including rice, pulses, and cooking oil to garment workers at low prices.

Global: Media report on how how the pace of fashion and textile production picks up, but fundamental problems remain unsolved.

While economies in Europe are now growing beyond pre-pandemic levels, with Omicron seemingly little more than a blip on the radar, the demand for products is being passed to regions that are, in some key ways, in much worse shape than when they went into COVID.

Myanmar: A worker at Honor Apparel, a Chinese garment factory in Rangoon's Shwepyithar Township, told media that it had paid compensation for more than three months after the factory shut down for more than six months.

The factory worker said the compensation was paid to more than 400 factory workers and that they were not fully paid for the downtime.

Pakistan: Media report on how Pakistan’s wage struggle shows the fragility of progress in the global garment industry. A government-ordered increase on wages should have been water-tight, immovable. It should have guaranteed workers enough money to feed their families and pay their rent. However, progress in the garment industry is fragile. Now, half a year later, the promised wage increase has still not materialised.

This is particularly prominent in Sindh, one of Pakistan’s two main garment-producing hubs, second only to the Punjab region. The textile and apparel industry is the second largest employer in Pakistan and comprises 60% of all exports. But despite its importance to the economy, wages in the province have historically been at poverty levels. This, combined with high inflation in recent years, rising to 12.3% in December 2021, and significant challenges arising from Covid-19, including unpaid wages, has left many workers unable to afford the basic necessities of life (including food and rent).

“In an industry built on exploitation, the announcement of a significant wage increase in response to workers’ struggle represented hope, not just for the workers of Sindh, but for garment workers everywhere,” says author Ilana Winterstein “It was recognition that the industry norm is unsustainable, a fact not altered by brands’ over-use of the word ‘sustainable’ in efforts to sell more clothes. And if the Sindh Supreme Court ultimately comes down on the side of the factory owners, it will remain so.”

The Pay Your Workers coalition has launched worstwagetheft.org

17 January

Bangladesh: Media report that workers at the AJI Group's garment factory in Savar's Hemayetpur-based filmmaker Ananta Jalil's blockade the road demanding arrears of wages.

The agitating workers said that about 7,000 workers of the factory were in arrears for the last month of December. Protests have been staged by blocking roads this afternoon after the factory holidays to demand the arrears.

India: Media report that the Standing Committee of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation has asked the factory licensing department to submit its updated report on over 2,000 factories, which were sealed before the Covid-19 outbreak due to technical and revenue issues, with officials saying that it will consider de-sealing them.

A senior North MCD official said that the 2,000 factories were listed as “illegal factory clusters”, mainly involved in garment manufacturing, jeans dyeing, plywood work, furniture making, cardboard work and engineering/welding work, in December 2019

14 January

Bangladesh: Media report that workers at the AJI Group's garment factory in Savar's Hemayetpur-based filmmaker Ananta Jalil's blockade the road demanding arrears of wages.

The agitating workers said that about 7,000 workers of the factory were in arrears for the last month of December. Protests have been staged by blocking roads this afternoon after the factory holidays to demand the arrears.

USA\Global: Media say Nike and Columbia Sportswear are doubling down on their vaccine mandates.

According to a Wednesday report in OregonLive, Nike has alerted some employees that it will terminate them by Jan. 15 for failure to comply with the company’s vaccination mandate without receiving a religious or medical exemption.

Media report that TJX Companies, the parent company of Marshalls and TJ Maxx, also followed Nike and Columbia Sportswear in mandating vaccines.

UK: Media report that High street retailer Next has confirmed it has cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are self-isolating due to Covid exposure.

The company, which employs around 44,000 people, said all employees who test positive for Covid-19 – regardless of whether they are vaccinated – will be paid in full.

12 January

Cambodia: Media report that the Labour Ministry has drafted standard principles for safety and health in the workplace in accordance with the Labour Law and guidelines released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Sri Lanka: Three of IndustriALL’s affiliates in Sri Lanka, The Free Trade Zone & General Services Employees Union, Sri Lanka Nidahas Sewaka Sangamaya, and the National Union of Metal and Migrant workers in Sri Lanka, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to advance workers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, together with the National Union of Seafarers and the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF).

The agreement contains provisions for bipartite health committees with equal representation from workers and employers in every garment/apparel factory to improve health and safety, mitigate risks posed by Covid-19 and ensure adherence to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health at the workplace.

10 January

Bangladesh & Cambodia: A new report published by Action Aid details the experiences of garment workers two years on from Covid. This research focused on impacts in Cambodia and Bangladesh and features a case study on one of the affected women garment workers concerning Nike and Violet Apparel. 

It found that workers were forced to put their health at risk due to the high rates of COVID-19 in garment factories. Workers have also been forced to take on more debt just to cover basic household costs. 

Cambodia: Media report that malnutrition is rampant among garment workers and their children because of diet and their desperation to get back to work leading to the replacement of breastmilk with instant powdered milk

7 January

Global: Covid-19 Law Lab is collecting legal documents from the Covid-19 response. The COVID-19 Law Lab initiative gathers and shares legal documents from over 190 countries across the world to help states establish and implement strong legal frameworks to manage the pandemic. They are calling for contributions of legal documents to their database.

Myanmar: Media report that factory managers in Myanmar are suppressing workers’ rights, with mandatory overtime and late payment of wages now routine.

One worker at a foreign-owned garment factory in Yangon told RFA she now works 11 hours a day but receives no pay for overtime work. Managers have now “taken the upper hand” in their dealings with employees, she said.

“They’ll give you overtime pay, or they may not. This is the sort of situation that we’re in,” Hnin Hnin said. “A typical work day is eight hours, and if we work for 10 hours, those extra two hours should be overtime.

USA: Media report that the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Friday to determine if the Biden administration can enforce a vaccine-or-testing requirement for large employers as well as a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers.

If held up, the rule would require companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations or weekly tests across all staff. 

5 January

Bangladesh: Media report that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has signed an agreement with online healthcare provider Digital Hospital which will offer ready-made garment (RMG) workers quick access to medical services.

Sri Lanka: Garment worker unions in Sri Lanka have signed a ground-breaking agreement with employer association Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) in which both parties reached an understanding about how to address vital workplace issues for garment workers, especially during the pandemic.

Clean Clothes Campaign, Labour behind the Label, Maquila Solidarity Network, Solidarity Center, War on Want, Workers United welcome the important progress that this union-employer agreement represents.

Through our research, solidarity statements, public reports and letters to brands and factory owners, we have supported the struggle by Sri Lankan unions and worker groups for better working conditions, effective protection for workers during the pandemic, and an end to anti-union harassment.

This historic agreement lays out and confirms joint support for fundamental steps towards improving working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic and importantly towards respect for freedom of association in Sri Lanka’s garment industry.

3 January

Bangladesh: Media report that on Tuesday December 27, from 9 am to 10 pm, factory workers protested at the Mauna crossroads rural power area on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway. The workers left the highway after an hour and a half on the assurance of the police.

Some of the factory workers including Nargis, Sujan and Kamal said that the workers of ASR Group's Golden Times Sweater factory, including the officials, are in arrears for the last three months.

China: A number of districts in Ningbo, Zhejiang, have been listed as medium-risk for Covid-19, including the location of three factories and adjacent dormitory areas belonging to the giant Ningbo Shenzhou (the main enterprise of which is Ningbo Shenzhou Knitting), the largest garment producer in China with clients such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Fila, Champion, and others.

Vietnam: Media report on how Asia’s factory workers at the sharp end of the west’s supply chain crisis. Migrant workers ate and slept in factories swarming with Covid, sealed off from outside world. Each worker had a tent, set one or two metres apart, containing a foil mat, pillow, blanket and a box to store their belongings. No workers were permitted to meet anyone from outside the factory; even speaking to a visitor over the gates was forbidden.

A Covid wave that spread across the industrial areas of Vietnam earlier this year placed intense pressure on the country’s manufacturing sector – just as factories were churning out products destined for shops ahead of Christmas.

Media report an online seminar spotlighting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on textile, footwear and garment workers and trade union activities. It was held by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL)’s Institute for Workers and Trade Unions (IWTU), and the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation in Hanoi on December 28.

According to Linh, although the textile and garment industry recorded growth again after major markets such as the US, the EU, and Japan re-opened, many enterprises, especially those in the southern region, still have to refuse new orders due to lack of labourers, and high costs for production and pandemic control.


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 2022-01-21