New WRC Survey: Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova
Date:December 7, 2020
Re:Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain

The WRC is closely monitoring the economic impact of the pandemic on workers in the collegiate supply chain and beyond. Today, I want to share the results of a global worker survey we conducted to assess Covid-19’s effects on workers’ ability to feed themselves and their families. A short summary of findings is below. Our full report is here. You can review media coverage here and here.

We will also be discussing the survey on our webinar from 1:00 to 2:00 (EST) tomorrow; please join us if you can.

Survey Method: We conducted interviews with 396 workers, across 158 factories, in 9 countries—including 16 factories making university logo apparel for 20 different licensees.

Key Takeaway: The survey shows widespread hunger among garment workers and their families, at collegiate and non-collegiate factories, with a large majority of workers reporting that they have experienced hunger during the pandemic. For example, 80% of workers with children have had to skip meals themselves in order to feed their kids. Hunger affects many workers who are still employed, because of reduced hours and wages, as well as those who lost their jobs.

Analysis: Chronically low wages across the apparel supply chain left most garment workers with no savings at the outset of the crisis. This explains why the pandemic-driven loss of income had such a swift and severe impact on the ability of garment workers to support their families financially. The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, with most workers anticipating increased hunger in the months ahead. The partial but substantial success the WRC and other organizations had in convincing brands to pay suppliers for goods produced before the crisis prevented the situation from being even worse, but it is still a deep crisis.

Response: The WRC is working with other organizations to urge major brands and retailers to mobilize public and/or private funds to sustain garment workers’ income. This is an uphill battle, but it offers the best prospect of ameliorating hardship at both collegiate and non-collegiate factories.

Important data points:

  • We interviewed workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Lesotho, Myanmar.
  • 27% of workers surveyed have lost their jobs; those still employed have seen wages drop by 21%.
  • 77% say members of their household have gone hungry since the pandemic began.
  • 75% have had to borrow money to buy food.
  • 80% of parents have had to skip meals themselves so their children can eat.
  • Many workers have received some government assistance, but it has not been enough.