Covid-19 and Garment Workers

The economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic are colossal in scale and global in scope. The world’s wealthy countries are poised to spend trillions of dollars to shore up the income of their workers and to rescue their corporations. A vital question remains unanswered: who is going to rescue the workers who toil in the global supply chains of many of those corporations? These workers, like ones who make the clothes and shoes we wear, are among the hardest hit by the economic catastrophe of Covid-19.

Leveraging Desperation: Apparel Brands’ Purchasing Practices during Covid-19

A July – August survey of 75 garment suppliers in 15 countries reveals shocking changes in brands' pricing and purchasing practices on new orders. The report finds that brands are using suppliers’ pandemic-driven desperation as leverage to drive down prices and impose onerous payment schedules on new orders they are placing. Many suppliers are being forced to accept orders below cost, potentially forcing them out of business and putting workers' livelihoods at risk.

Unpaid Billions: Trade Data Show Apparel Order Volume and Prices Plummeted through June, Driven by Brands’ Refusal to Pay for Goods They Asked Suppliers to Make

US and EU trade data provide considerable evidence of a significant loss in value due to order cancellations. A total of USD 16.2 billion was lost, combined, from April through June in the US and from April through May in the EU (a number that will almost certainly increase when June data are available for the EU). Assuming that wages make up 10 percent of the value (at import price), what this suggests is the loss of close to USD 2 billion in workers’ wages, based on reduced imports for the US and EU markets alone. 

During Pandemic, Universities Continue Support of Living-Wage Jobs

Despite the tremendous challenges facing colleges and universities during this back-to-school season, dozens of schools have chosen to leverage their mask procurement and licensing choices to support living-wage jobs by sourcing from Alta Gracia Apparel.

University support of Alta Gracia’s move into mask production this spring has been crucial in maintaining the factory’s ability to continue providing living-wage jobs to Dominican workers. University of Connecticut and Georgetown University are among the schools that have procured significant numbers of masks for use by the campus community from Alta Gracia. Notre Dame, University of Florida, and a number of other WRC affiliates have also supported Alta Gracia through mask procurement and licensing.

Farce majeure: How global apparel brands are using the Covid-19 pandemic to stiff suppliers and abandon workersFarce majeure: How global apparel brands are using the Covid-19 pandemic to stiff suppliers and abandon workers

This paper by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ILAW, and the Worker Rights Consortium explores the power imbalances between brands and suppliers and their contractual manifestation. It examines the law of force majeure and related doctrines and how they apply to the current circumstances. The paper explains how brands violate their due diligence obligations through canceling orders. It also calls for better access to accountability mechanisms for workers to enforce brands’ responsible supply chain practices.

Un(der) Paid in the PandemicUn(der)paid in the Pandemic

This report analyses nonpayment of wages to garment workers during the months of March, April, and May resulting from order cancellations by apparel brands, unpaid leave, and state-sanctioned wage cuts during the Covid-19 crisis. Based on a review of news reports and information from worker organizations, we estimate that across South and Southeast Asia garment workers have received 38% less than their regular income. In some regions in India, this number rises above 50%. Extrapolating these findings to the global garment industry, a conservative guess of wages lost by garment workers worldwide, excluding China, for the months of March, April, and May would amount to between 3.19 and 5.79 billion USD.

What the crisis means for the people who make collegiate apparel"My children don't have food. I can withstand this hunger, but they cannot." What the Crisis Means for the People Who Make Collegiate Apparel

The pandemic represents an unprecedented economic calamity for workers who make university logo products. Across the globe, factories have suspended or dismissed workers in the hundreds and thousands, often with little or no compensation. This includes many factories making collegiate goods. This report includes portraits of six workers at collegiate factories, drawing on workers’ own words to illuminate the impact on their families. Most of these workers are no longer able to buy sufficient food for their children.

Statement of the Worker Rights Consortium concerning the Global Union/Employer Statement on the Crisis in Garment Supply Chains

The joint statement from Global Unions and the International Organisation of Employers calls on brands and retailers to pay for all orders completed and in production, and it commits all parties to press quickly and energetically for a robust rescue package for garment workers and suppliers. The WRC welcomes this as an initial step and will continue to monitor and report on which brands have made concrete commitments to pay for orders and which brands are keeping those commitments. The WRC cautions that this is not a comprehensive solution or concrete plan of action, what matters is how and whether brands follow through. 

What Are Factories' and Brands’ Responsibilities to Laid-Off Workers?

Brands have committed through their codes of conduct to require suppliers to pay workers legally owed compensation when factories shutdown. Workers’ ability to get their families through the current crisis will depend substantially on whether brands make sure suppliers pay laid-off workers their legally due compensation. The WRC has compiled a detailed summary of these legal requirements in major apparel exporting countries, as well as changes to these obligations under new laws or policies enacted by governments in response to the crisis.

Effective Infection Control Practices and Policies for Operating Apparel and Textile Factories

Many garment factories worldwide have closed or suspended production—either as a result of shutdowns ordered by governments as a public health measure or due to cancellations of orders by brands. The WRC and occupational health experts from the the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network (MHSSN), have developed recommendations for protecting garment workers from transmission of Covid-19 in those factories that remain in operation during the pandemic, including those that are now producing personal protective equipment (PPE). The recommendations were developed by MHSSN coordinator Garrett Brown, a former top official of California’s division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).

Also available in Spanish. Disponible aquí en español.

Also available in Bangla. বাংলায় সহজলভ্য (translation by Bangladesh Accord)

Abandoned? The Impact of Covid-19 on Workers and Businesses at the Bottom of Global Garment Supply Chains

This report, authored by Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights, in collaboration with the WRC describes the results of a survey of more than 300 garment suppliers in Bangladesh and has just reported the results. The survey found that 80 percent of apparel suppliers have been forced to slash employment as a result of buyers canceling orders—with nearly 60 percent reporting they have shut down most or all of their operations. Meanwhile, four out of five fired workers have not received the severance pay mandated by law. The survey found that almost none of the buyers had offered suppliers any financial support to help pay workers.

WRC WHITE PAPER: Who will bail out the workers that make our clothes?

Co-authored by WRC executive director Scott Nova and the CCC’s Ineke Zeldenrust, this white paper explains how brands and retailers are shoring up their own finances by refusing to honor contracts with apparel suppliers, forcing suppliers to the brink of bankruptcy and causing large-scale dismissals of workers. The report calls for brands to pay suppliers what they owe them, for the swift mobilization of international financial resources to provide income support to garment workers, and for deeper reforms to address the supply chain inequities that Covid-19 is laying bare.

Also available in Spanish. Disponible aquí en español.

Also available in Bangla. বাংলায় সহজলভ্য

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

This live-blog by the Clean Clothes Campaign aims to collect daily information about how Covid-19 is affecting 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.

Media:

Online tracker lists apparel brands’ response to Covid-19

Just-Style | April 17, 2020
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Research contributes to policy changes to support workers amid COVID-19 pandemic

Penn State News | April 17, 2020
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Who’s Paying Garment Workers, Who Isn’t and How Can People Help?

Sourcing Journal | April 17, 2020
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Arcadia Group cancels ‘over £100m’ of orders as garment industry faces ruin

The Guardian | April 15, 2020
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US fashion wear giant Primark criticised over supplier wages offer

Khmer Times | April 15, 2020
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Is the Covid crisis the catalyst for more sustainable supply chains?

Just-Style | April 14, 2020
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Workers Rights Consortium Launches COVID-19 Brand Tracker

Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) | April 14, 2020
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The Coronavirus Is Exposing Holes in Our Current Fast Fashion Model

Teen Vogue | April 9, 2020
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Fashion Social Justice Advocacy in the Time of Coronavirus

Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) | April 8, 2020
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Brands urged to follow through on order payments

Ecotextile News | April 8, 2020
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Primark criticised over supplier wages offer

Ecotextile News | April 7, 2020
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Brands heeding calls to help garment workers

Ecotextile News | April 6, 2020
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Retailers tell suppliers they won’t cancel orders. The reality is more complicated

Vogue Business | April 6, 2020
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Primark wage pledge draws sceptical response

Financial Times | April 4, 2020
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“It’s Collapsing Violently”: Coronavirus Is Creating a Fast Fashion Nightmare

GQ | April 2, 2020
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Fashion brands’ cancellations of £2.4bn orders ‘catastrophic’ for Bangladesh

The Guardian | April 2, 2020
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More than a million garment workers are out of work because of coronavirus

Quartz | April 1, 2020
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Bangladesh garment makers say $3B in orders lost to virus

Associated Press | March 30, 2020
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Garment workers going unpaid as fashion labels cancel orders

Associated Press | March 27, 2020
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Consumer brands’ global worker army faces financial shock from lost orders

S&P Global | March 26, 2020
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Coronavirus threatens the livelihoods of garment workers around the world

Quartz | March 20, 2020
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Garment workers face destitution as Covid-19 closes factories

The Guardian | March 19, 2020
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