Global Survey: Garment Workers Report Widespread Hunger during Covid-19
Leading apparel brands urged to avert destitution for workers who sew their clothes
As a result of falling income and job loss amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, garment workers across the supply chains of major brands and retailers report growing hunger and food insecurity. These are the findings of a global survey of garment workers conducted by the Worker Rights Consortium, in collaboration with Professor Genevieve LeBaron of the University of Sheffield.
Surveyed were nearly 400 garment workers across 158 factories in 9 countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Lesotho, and Myanmar). Survey respondents report that they are increasingly unable to obtain adequate food for their families—a crisis that most workers expect will grow worse in the months ahead.
“Before the pandemic, I bought fruit for my child regularly. But after losing my job, I cannot buy even fish or meat. Egg is a luxurious food for us now,” said a Bangladeshi worker who reported formerly producing apparel for Mango and Primark.
The rising wave of hunger illuminated by the survey is the result of chronically low wages in brands’ supply chains, which left workers with no economic safety net entering the pandemic, compounded by brands’ response to the crisis, including the retroactive cancellation of in-process apparel orders by many brands.
77% of garment workers surveyed reported that they or a member of their household have gone hungry since the beginning of the pandemic. A worker from Myanmar reported that she is planning to eat rice soup for all of her meals in order to be able to afford her rent.
80% of the respondents with dependent children said they are now forced to skip meals or reduce the amount or quality of food they eat in order to feed their children.
88% of garment workers surveyed reported that diminished income has forced a reduction in the amount of food consumed each day by themselves and members of their household. “Potato is the only vegetable we can afford now; this is the cheapest to buy,” said a Bangladeshi worker who reported producing for Orsay.
75% of workers reported that they have borrowed money or accumulated debt in order to buy food since the beginning of the pandemic. An Indonesian worker who said she sews clothes for Nike reported that she made the decision to reduce her food intake because she was already in debt and was afraid to accumulate more debt.
“When we [buy] food for one week, it needs to last for two weeks,” a Burmese worker who reported producing for Kiabi and Next told researchers. 80% of the workers anticipated they would need to further reduce the amount of food they eat or purchase for their family if the situation does not improve.
The widespread incidence of hunger revealed by the survey exists despite the fact that a majority of surveyed workers have received some degree of government assistance, indicating that resource-poor governments in apparel exporting countries were not able to protect supply chain workers from the economic ravages of the pandemic.
“The high levels of hunger reported by workers in our survey are alarming, especially since so many of these workers are still in employment. Hunger and food insecurity appears already to be widespread and is growing across the supply chain,” said author Genevieve LeBaron, Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield.
Report co-author and Director of Strategic Research at the Worker Rights Consortium Penelope Kyritsis noted, “Several apparel companies cited by workers responding to the survey are owned by billionaires: including Bestseller, C&A, and Zara. Mass market retailers, like Amazon and Target, are thriving during the pandemic. These companies, and the industry as a whole, are more than financially capable of ensuring that the workers who sew their clothes are able to feed their families.”
The new report, Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain: Survey findings on workers’ access to nutrition during Covid-19, is available at https://www.workersrights.org/hungerincovid.
Article in the Guardian about the report: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/03/garment-workers-going-hungry-as-fallout-from-cancelled-orders-takes-toll-report