June 2020 Covid blog

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.

30 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to data from the BGMEA, 1931 brands have either delayed, put on hold, or straight up cancelled their orders since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The total value of these orders has been estimated to represent around $3.7 billion. These figures include high street fashion brands, purse-friendly chain-stores and faceless buying houses. About 470 of the buyers are from the US, and approximately 280 others from the UK. Italy and Canada follow closely with approximately 180 and 170 buyers fully or partially cancelling or putting their orders on hold. Fifth and sixth in line are Germany and France, with approximately 150 and 140 buyers. Of all the brands cancelling contracts, Primark can be found at the top of the list with over $300 million worth of orders held up, postponed or cancelled. Having been highly affected by these delays and cancellations, media report that the BGMEA and the BKMEA sent a joint letter to the Finance Minister urging the government to keep source tax at 0.25% for the next five years.

Meanwhile, media report that, according to Kalpona Akter, a labour activist and founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, over 40% of Bangladeshi garment workers, which is around 1.8 million workers, will lose their jobs in the coming months. Although estimates on job losses vary greatly, it is clear that buyers have not complied with the legal requirement of contributing to severance pay expenses of dismissed workers, as a survey conducted by the Center for Global Workers' Rights (CGWR) estimates that 97.3% of buyers failed to pay. 

Media report that, amidst surging coronavirus cases and fatalities in Chittagong, the BGMEA has announced that it will set up a COVID-19 isolation centre in the city. "Apart from apparel workers and their relatives, local residents will also receive treatment from the hospital free of cost", the BGMEA Director assured.

Cambodia: According to a report that was released today by the labour rights group Central, human rights organisation Licadho and the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), tens of thousands of garment workers, who are facing slashed work hours and wages amidst the coronavirus crisis, are struggling to repay mounting micro-finance debt, which is creating a mounting human rights crisis as they struggle to feed their families and hold onto their land under immense pressure from micro-finance institutions (MFIs). Of the 162 workers surveyed, only four didn’t have any debts. Of the workers that had debts, almost every worker said that they wouldn’t be able to repay their debts if their work was suspended, adding that their lives were worse now than before they took the loan. "Garment workers have worked tirelessly to provide food for their families. Now they can barely afford to feed themselves. Without debt relief or social protections, I’m worried that things are going to get worse and worse for these workers", Yang Sophorn, CATU president, said. In a joint statement, the organisations called for immediate debt relief programs from both MFIs and the international investors and encouraged the government to expand their borrower protections and enact enforceable, sector-wide regulations.

Media report that more than 50 workers from the New Best Global Textile Co Ltd in Kampong Speu, which produces for Primark and Walmart, staged a protest in front of the Labour Ministry yesterday demanding the wages and compensation that they are owed, since their employer fled three months ago. They urged the Labour Ministry to compel the company to compensate workers as they said the factory building's owner had already rented out the property. Workers explained that they have been waiting for a solution at the provincial level for three months, but that nothing has happened. "That is why we have travelled from Kampong Speu to Phnom Penh, to seek help from the ministry because we are finding it hard to make ends meet", Nget Nak, that worked at the factory, explained. As a result of their demonstration, workers said that ministry officials accepted their petition and told them to wait for a solution. "The ministry said it is treating the case as urgent", Prum Tola, who also worked at the factory, said. Workers warned, however, that, if the situation is not solved rapidly, they will return to Phnom Penh to stage a protest with a lot more workers. Another article on the subject mentions that the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) is monitoring the dispute. 

Media report that the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) has organised soft skills training courses for over 8500 workers from different factories, in order to prepare workers for new jobs when the industry returns to normal. The two-day training courses focused on communication and negotiation skills, teamwork, labour law basics, labour dispute resolution procedures, basic workers' rights, benefits of the National Social Security Fund and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH): COVID-19 preventive measures.

Croatia: According to reports from the CCC network, a survey regarding the Croatian garment industry asked respondents about how coronavirus has impacted the overall industry and workers within the sector. It reveals that there have been no large factory closures, mass dismissals or extensive order losses. Government measures have been effective to the extent that several factories who were facing financial hardship before the current crisis have now started to work again. Respondents did point out, however, that, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, some factories failed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and made clear that there are no specific policies of labour inspection in place concerning garment factories amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

When asked about negative impacts the coronavirus crisis has had on garment workers, respondents reported that workers had been affected by:

  • Forced and unpaid leave;
  • Sickness related to COVID-19, as there was a case of COVID-19 in the Olimpias factory in Osijek, which produces for Benetton;
  • Being forced to report to work despite non-existent or deficient protection measures/equipment within factories, as workers in the Olimpias factory currently have insufficient PPE, as the company isn't distributing gloves or masks anymore and disinfectants aren't provided.

India: Media report that thousands of garment workers in Chennai have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the COVID-19 lockdown and now face uncertain futures. Factories are using excuses such as lack of public transport to dismiss workers, particularly those who are known to be 'more vocal'. "They did not call me for work even when work was re-started. Management said they can’t arrange vehicle for me so I need not come until  public transport is available. But I know why they don’t want me now; because I will ask questions. They were only waiting to throw me out", a garment worker from a factory in Chennai explained. During April and May, most workers received only half of their wages and, since then, many have not been paid. Workers explain that factories closed again in the last few weeks, due to the new lockdown, which has left workers out of work and without pay. The article further reports that this situation has pushed more workers into debt, as the costs of living do not diminish due to lack of work: rents have to be paid, groceries purchased and interests on loans keep growing. 

Media report that the High Court has asked the Central government to show details of the portal it has proposed to set-up for the registration of migrant workers and fixed the next hearing on the matter for the 22nd of July. The article states that this order is likely to accelerate the government's plan to develop Shramik Setu, an online portal that will also have an app version, to register migrants. 

According to reports from the CCC network, SAVE, a Tirupur-based NGO, is providing relief materials to home-based workers, as the COVID-19 pandemic has harshly affected these workers. 

Myanmar: SMART Textile & Garments, a European Union funded project developing capacities for sustainable manufacturing in Myanmar's garment industry, reports that the EU Myan Ku Fund has disbursed over 2 billion MMK in payments to a total of 21,690 garment workers from about 170 different factories across the country. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that, across Saudi Arabia, hundreds of Sri Lankan migrant workers are waiting to return home, after having been stranded for months. Despite calls urging for a flight to take workers back home, not a single flight to repatriate Sri Lankan Migrant workers stranded in Saudi Arabia has been scheduled. A group of stranded Sri Lankans has emailed the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Saudi Arabia with the details of migrants with exit visa status and even said that workers are willing to pay for tickets and quarantine facilities, but, so far, workers have received no response.

United Kingdom: Media report that at least five Leicester garment factories which reopened during lockdown have been forced to close again due to coronavirus outbreaks amongst workers. The article reports that one of the factories had more than 20 cases, including the owner himself. "There are many cases among the garment manufacturers. A number of manufacturers have had to close down operations", Saeed Khilji, chairman of the Textile Manufacturers Association of Leicestershire, said.  

Petitions and relief efforts

Labour behind the Label focusing on UK brands.

Oxfam Australia focusing on Australian brands.

Public Eye petition in German and French.

Abiti Puliti petition in Italian.

Traidcraft focusing on UK brands.

Remake focusing on global brands.

Garment worker Covid relief collects relief efforts.

Donate to the CCC relief fund in EUR:

Donate to the CCC relief fund in USD:


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.

International Labor Rights Forum created a resource for global solidarity during COVID19.

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.

The Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD maintains a website with partner responses.

Retail dive tracks retailers’ response to COVID19.

The US Chamber of Commerce maintains a corporate aid tracker.

Foot Wear News tracks fashion philanthropy.

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"

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

29 June 2020

Albania: According to reports from the CCC network, a survey regarding the Albanian garment industry asked respondents about how coronavirus has impacted the overall industry and workers within the sector. It reveals that many factories have less work and have reduced the number of workers amidst the coronavirus crisis. Reasons for reduced workforce have been found to be related to the closure of transportation, workers' fear of COVID-19 and the decrease in overall orders. Responses further show that around 49 companies from the garment and footwear sector have changed their production to masks. According to respondents, the government of Albania has launched several measures and two important financial packages in support of citizens and businesses, although no fiscal measures have been drafted specifically for the garment industry. Respondents further report that, according to the Exporting Producers Association PROEKSPORT ALBANIA, both the Inspectorate of Labour and Social Services and the State Inspectorate of Health, responsible for the inspection of protection measures/equipment within factories, visited 642 factories out of 760 in total. During their inspections, they imposed a lot of fines. When asked about trade unions, respondents explained that trade unions play a very little role in the Albanian garment sector, as they have some contracts only with the business/owners and do not share a close relation with workers.

When asked about negative impacts the coronavirus crisis has had on garment workers, respondents reported that workers had been affected by:

  • Forced and unpaid leave;
  • Unpaid or delayed wages or part of wages;
  • Sickness related to COVID-19;
  • Being forced to report to work despite non-existent or deficient protection measures/equipment within factories;
  • Being pushed to do unpaid overtime;
  • Being employed in less favourable conditions (i.e: lower wages, short term contracts instead of full time contracts);
  • Factory management deducting workers' wages in order to buy personal protection equipment (PPE) or forcing workers to get their own from their own salary.

Bangladesh: Media report that six garment factories in Chattogram, with about 5000 workers, are about to lose work orders worth over $3.2 million as they are based in the coronavirus red zone that has been on lockdown since the 16th of June. The factories in question are HKTG Garments Ltd, Kattoli Textile Ltd, Vanguard Garments Ltd, HB Fashion, Gartex Garments Ltd, and MN Clothing Ltd. As a result, uncertainty now looms over the workers’ payment. "I have paid the workers for April although the factory was not open. The cancellation of work orders will bring misery for my 500 workers and I am tense about paying their salaries", Enamul Aziz Chowdhury, director of BGMEA and managing director of HKTG Garments Ltd, said. "I have already been given an extension. At my factory, there are 1,800 workers. How will I pay their salaries and Eid bonus, and also cover the losses?", Nafid Nabi, managing director of Vanguard Garments Ltd, asked.

Media report that the presidents of the BGMEA and the BKMEA have signed a joint letter urging the government to allocate funds for the payment of salaries and allowances to workers for July, August and September in order to sustain the country's economy.

China: Media report that, according to a Gartner survey, 33% of supply chain leaders report either already having moved their sourcing and manufacturing activities out of China or planning to do so by 2023. 

El Salvador: Media report that the garment industry in El Salvador has cut at least 20,000 jobs this year and could lose another 5000 as production decreases by 35% due to the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.

Myanmar: Media report that at least 800 Myanmar migrants that worked at a garment factory in Jordan have been left stranded and are now facing hardships after months without work, as they were forced to resign and flight suspensions mean that they cannot return home. Ma Mar Mar Hlaing, that worked at this factory, said that she and 17 other factory workers have been stranded for four months after their contracts finished. They were due to leave in March. "I feel depressed since we have to spend our days in our rooms", she explained. Although employers said that they would provide workers with food and accommodation until they return home, workers said that they have to pay for food because the meals provided are inedible. 

Pakistan: Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement (HKM), a Pakistan-wide campaign for the enforcement of the fundamental rights in our constitution through grassroots organising, momentum and pressure, reports that 2200 garment workers from the Ibrahim Fabrics Ltd in Faisalabad have been fired and are protesting in front of the Punjab Assembly demanding reinstatement.

United States: A journalist reports that Gap is asking factories for 20% discounts on their finished goods , which basically means factories (who operate on 3% to 5% margins in Bangladesh) sewed Gap clothes for free.

28 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that economists and women leaders have criticised the proposed national budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 as it fails to reflect the challenges women are currently facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Economists explained that, although all people are at risk of losing their lives and livelihoods, the risk to women is higher and that, for this reason, the government should take steps to retain existing jobs, arrange alternative employment opportunities for women and ensure easy access to finance. Fauzia Moslem, president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, explained that the budget failed to meet women's needs and expectations because it did not include the gender budget.

Cambodia: Media report that two more migrants who arrived in Phnom Penh from Malaysia have tested positive for coronavirus. Migrants who were on the same flight and tested negative have been put under 14 days self-quarantine.

India: Media report that migrant workers, who travelled back to rural areas after being stranded in industrial cities across the country, are now returning to urban cities to get back to work, as the opportunities that are being offered to them in their home-states pay a lot less than the offers coming from urban areas. Describing this decision, the article explains that migrants have expressed that "[t]he decision actually was not very difficult to make", as the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government is offering less than Rs 225-a-day under an employment guarantee scheme and, in Mumbai, these same workers make around Rs 800 to Rs 900 a day. As described by a garment worker in another article, "If there was employment in UP, I would not return. My company has not started yet but I am returning to find whatever work I can. Corona is better than hunger. It is better for me to die rather than my children to die of coronavirus", Mr Ansary, explained. 

Iraq: Media report that thousands of South Asian migrant workers are now stranded in Iraq with no income or way to get back home, watching the economy around them collapse. "We're used to sending money back to our country, but now I had to ask my cousin to transfer me money" Sheikh, a migrant worker who has been working in Iraq for seven years, explained. According to the Bangladeshi embassy in Baghdad, of the almost 250,000 registered Bangladeshi workers in Iraq, more than 20,000 have lost their jobs amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The embassy further pointed out that the number was likely higher, as many workers work in the informal sector, which has been deeply affected by the economic impact of the outbreak. 

Myanmar: Media report that the Minister of Planning, Finance and Industry in Myanmar has announced that the government will allocate around K1.5 trillion to support those struggling from disruptions caused by the coronavirus crisis. "We will allocate K1.5 trillion in foreign loans across all sectors of the economy in the coming year", U Maung Maung Win said. 

Meanwhile, media report that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced, on Friday, that it would provide Myanmar with $356.5 million in emergency funding. "The Myanmar economy is being impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 through a sharp decline in tourism and remittances and supply chain disruptions", Mitsuhiro Furusawa, IMF deputy managing director, said in a statement. In this sense, the fund is expected to "help address Myanmar’s urgent financing needs related to COVID-19 shock".

Singapore: Media report that the Singapore government is racing to create additional housing for about 60,000 migrant workers by the end of this year, as it seeks to reduce the density in dormitories which have seen mass outbreaks of coronavirus infections. 

United Kingdom: Media report that the bosses of Boohoo, which owns brands including Nasty Gal, Pretty Little Thing, Coast and Karen Millen, are in line for a £150m bonus if shares in the online fashion retailer rise by two-thirds over the next three years. The company said on Friday that its remuneration committee had created a long-term incentive plan to "ensure that the group’s leadership team is motivated". At the same time, Labour Behind the Label reports that Bohoo workers that were still required to go to work during the UK lockdown feared for their health, that the company fails to give any assurances about its workers elsewhere in the world and that it won't even disclose where it produces its products or how it protects workers. 

United States: Social media posts expose that both Peacocks and Kylie Jenner, who have been facing critiques for failing to pay garment workers in their brands' supply chains, have been limiting and deleting comments demanding that they pay garment workers. They have also reportedly been blocking the accounts that post these comments. 

27 June 2020

Bangladesh: According to reports from the CCC network, the Bangladesh Revolutionary Garment Workers Federation (BRGWF), yesterday, provided emergency food support to vulnerable garment workers and union members through the CIRCLE emergency support fund, coordinated by CCC. 

BRGWF Relief

The Sommolito Garment Sramik Federation (SGSF), a trade union federation with over 70,000 members, took to the streets of Dhaka yesterday to protest against forced resignations and firing of pregnant women as factories shut down amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Protesters demanded that brands and buyers #PayUp, making clear that "order cancellations threaten our lives and livelihoods".

Meanwhile, The Daily Star has published an article on #PayUp, "the new hashtag trending amidst the global movement for racial equality". The article reports that #PayUp has been slowly gaining traction over the past few weeks on social media platforms like Instagram. The article connects this hashtag to the global movement for racial equality, although acknowledging that it first emerged in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, by explaining that: "When various high street brands began posting to show their solidarity to the BLM protests taking place around the world, activists began pointing out the glaring hypocrisy of some, such as Kendall + Kylie." The article is titled: "It's time to #PayUp."

Media report that several thousand workers, most of whom are women, of the wig factory Evergreen BD Ltd in Nilphamari's Uttara EPZ, set fire to the factory and other infrastructures today protesting the long-time oppressive measures of the factory authority. Workers explained that management fired workers who attained seniority and were entitled to higher salaries and said that many workers were denied maternal leave, as per labour law, adding that pregnant women were forced to do heavy work. As their complaints went unheeded, the workers began their protest.

Cambodia: Media report that the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA) has come out in support of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC)'s call for a suspension of this year's scheduled minimum wage negotiations and that unions and legal experts reiterate that the associations have presented no legitimate reason to end negotiations. "I think it's certainly very weak as far as a legal argument goes for shutting down minimum wage negotiations and, let's be clear, that's what GMAC are trying to do here: shut down minimum wage negotiations for 2020 with the hope of avoiding another annual wage increase", Patrick Lee, a legal advisor at the human and labour rights organisation CENTRAL, made clear. The legal advisor concluded by saying that there is no legitimate reason to shut down negotiations and that if GMAC felt there should be no increase in the minimum wage, then they could demand this during the negotiation process.

India: Media report that, according to reports from the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), around 40% of garment workers in Karnataka have lost their jobs amidst the coronavirus crisis. Jayaram K.R., legal advisor at GATWU, explained that the shutdown of the Euro Clothing Company II factory in Srirangapatna, which produces for H&M, is not a one-off thing, as "[s]ome big companies have paid 70% of the workers, others only 50%. Some are paying staff only for the number of days they work, a few are not allowing people inside as they don’t want their services any more. Around 40% of six lakh garment and textile workers have lost jobs." "Some companies have kept tailors but let go of helpers. One big company has merged three of its smaller companies, leading to job losses", Jayaram K.R. added. Rukmini V.P., president of the Garment Labour Union, said that workers are being told that companies expect to get orders after August. She added that the Labour Department had categorically told them that they had received no directions from the government about relief for garment workers and that the unions would have to take it up with the Labour Minister.

Media report that migrant workers who stayed in the urban cities on assurances from their contractors are now back to work but, given the labour shortage, find themselves working longer hours for the same pay. "We thought once the lockdown ends, everything will get back to normal. But it seems that things will take time to get back to normal", a migrant worker explained. "Since things are gradually opening up now, we resumed our work slowly. But there is a shortage of workers. Earlier the work was done by 7-8 workers. Now, only three of us are doing that work. We are working two hours extra almost every day. Our work is double but the pay is same", another worker said. 

Myanmar: A union organiser who works with the unions in Myanmar who have accused their factories, who produce for Primark, of union-busting reports that Primark's statement that the company is "in contact with both the union and the supplier to determine further details" is "an outright lie". 

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, Dabindu Collective has provided emergency food support to pregnant mothers and man power workers at Katunayake FTZ through the CCC's emergency support fund. 

Dabindu Relief

The Department Labour has published its latest survey on "Covid-19 & Beyond - The Impact on the Labour Market in Sri Lanka". This relates to an e-survey conducted by the Department, which observes the multiple challenges faced by the labour market of Sri Lanka since early March 2020. The report concluded that 3.3 million workers are employed in the informal sector and that a significant art of the working populations doesn't have access to any form of social security, which makes them highly vulnerable. Overall, the survey found that over 64% of workers in Sri Lanka were "not in work" by May 2020. Regarding the manufacturing industry, the e-survey concludes that over 23% of the establishments in the industry have closed amidst the coronavirus crisis and that over 58% of the establishments that indicated that they are unable to pay salaries to their employees are from the manufacturing sector. The report can be found here.

United States: Media report that the Garment Garment Worker Protection Act passed the California Senate in a 25–11 vote on the 25 June. As previously reported, the bill will seek to guarantee a minimum wage for garment workers and end the industry standard of the piece-rate system, by which workers are paid by how many garments they produce during a shift. The bill is still in the legislative process and is scheduled to be submitted to the state assembly in July.

26 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the western retailer Global Brands Group (GBG) has cancelled work orders worth $4.61 million amidst the coronavirus pandemic, affecting the livelihood of hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers. GBG is a fashion accessories and apparel company which designs, develops, and sells products under a diverse array of brand names like Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture, Frye, Kenneth Cole, Reiss, Sean John, Jones New York, and has, along with its importer Li & Fung, according to the BGMEA, cancelled orders worth $4.61 million from 11 suppliers. As the article points out, workers are the ones who suffer the most from these unethical practices. "The decision to cancel work orders has made the workers' jobs vulnerable and they are on the verge of losing their jobs", one factory owner explained. Meanwhile, another article reports that, according to the Penn State Center for Global Workers' Rights, at least one million garment workers, representing one-quarter of the Bangladeshi workforce in the industry, have been fired or furloughed because of declining global orders amidst the coronavirus crisis. The report added that 72% of furloughed workers were sent home without pay and that 98% of buyers refused to contribute to the cost of partial wages for furloughed employees, as Bangladeshi law requires. There are fears that job losses could lead to hunger among the unemployed and their families, as about a quarter of Bangladeshis already live below the poverty line and most garment workers don't even make a living wage. 

At the national level, media report that, according to a survey of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, about 13% of workers have become unemployed in the country due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis. The survey titled ‘Coping with COVID -19 and Individual Responses: Findings from a Large Online Survey’ was conducted on 30,000 people covering all divisions and districts. The survey further found that:

  • Over 19% of participants with income less than 5000 taka reported a that their income reduced by 75% relative to last month’s income; 
  • Over 23% of participants with income between 5000-15000 taka reported an income reduction by 50% relative to last month’s income;

Noticing that low-income groups have had significant negative effects on employment, income and expenditures. 

According to reports from the CCC network, the National Garment Workers Federation, today, provided emergency food support to 105 vulnerable garment workers through the CIRCLE emergency support fund, coordinated by CCC. 

NGWF 26 June

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and GIZ FABRIC are organising a webinar titled "COVID-19 and Beyond: Making Gender Equality a Reality", which will look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers in the textile and garment sector in Asia from a gender perspective. The webinar will take place on Tuesday, the 30th of June, at 1PM (Berlin time) and will count with insights from Bangladesh and Indonesia. The confirmed speakers are Ms. Nazma Akter, Executive Director of the Awaj Foundation, Mr Scott Deitz, Founder and President, Convene Communication Strategies and Ms. Elly Rosita Silaban, President, Konfederasi Serikat Buruh Seluruh Indonesia (Confederation of Indonesian Trade Union; KSBSI). Registrations can be found here

Cambodia: Media report that a group of 158 Cambodians, who had been stranded in Malaysia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, arrived safely in Cambodia today. According to the Ministry of Health, migrants will be tested for the coronavirus and placed under a 14-day quarantine in Phnom Peng before being allowed to return home, where they will have to self quarantine for another two weeks. Meanwhile, media report that Cambodia's provincial governors reiterate that there is no current timetable to reopen the Cambodia-Thai border. "I cannot say when the border will reopen. It depends on approval from the government", governor Worapan Suwannut said. 

El Salvador: Media report that Camtex (Chamber of Textile, Clothing and Free Trade Zones of El Salvador), estimates that at least 20,000 workers have lost their jobs in the garment sector amidst the coronavirus pandemic, as a result of its economic impact. Indeed, the textile and clothing industry, which for years has led Salvadoran exports, reports a 42% decrease from January to May. 

Meanwhile, media report that the government will mediate workers denunciations regarding compliance with labour rights during the government-imposed lockdown. The Ministry of Labour will create an arbitration table for the 44,412 complaints that have already been filed. Many of these complaints denounce contract suspensions, which are considered illegal, and non-payment of wages. 

Guatemala: Media report that the Employment Protection Bond has failed to reach workers, which has created the need for a new analysis and potential changes in distribution. The reason for this has been found to be the fact that many companies have declined to enrol their workers in the government program because they must demonstrate fiscal solvency before the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT) and the payment of employer contributions to Social Security (IGSS) in order to do so and and not all comply with these requirements. Román Castellanos, secretary of the Congressional Labour Commission, however, made clear that it is a mistake for companies not to be solvent before the SAT and that the consequences will be paid by the workers when they do not receive the job protection bonus.

India: Media and social media posts reports that around 800 women workers from the Euro Clothing Company II unit, owned by Golkadas Exports, and based in Srirangapatna, Bangalore, have been demonstrating through sit-down protests outside the factory every day for the almost three weeks. Some workers have been walking for 10 kms in order to join the demonstrations, where they have been demanding to get their jobs back. "It takes me an hour-and-a-half to walk to the factory every day but I still go. It’s a question of life and death. I have to feed my children and mother. We just want the factory open, and we want our jobs back", Pavithra, who worked at the factory, explained. 

Myanmar: Media report that, according to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population (MOLIP), around 250,000 Myanmar workers have lost their jobs amidst the coronavirus crisis, both locally and internationally, as factories, shops, restaurants have closed their doors. The ministry also said, on another note, that it had managed to find jobs for many returnees in the industrial and other sectors that have managed to resume operations. "We are implementing various methods to create employment opportunities", U Myint Kyaing, Deputy Labour Minister, said.

According to reports from the CCC network, Soy Sros finally went back to work last Monday but the court, however, has not formally confirmed that the case against her has been closed. The report pointed out that the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), of which Soy Sros is a member, contacted the brands sourcing from the factory, such as Michael Kors, asking them to urgently intervene in the case and ensure the charges against her were dropped but none of the companies responded. On this matter, Carin Leffler, of the Clean Clothes Campaign states, "We are extremely disappointed that the two main customers of Superl, the luxury brands Michael Kors and Kate Spade, did not respond nor demand for the charges against Soy Sros to be withdrawn and her reinstatement. These brands portray themselves as responsible companies however consumers should know that there is a gulf between words and action in this matter." As previously reported, the Superl factory management signed an agreement with the trade union on the 13th of June stating that:

  • Superl's charges against Soy Sros will be withdrawn;
  • Soy Sros will be reinstated in her position;
  • Soy Sros will receive full back pay for time she spent in custody;
  • Superl guarantees there will be no retaliation or discrimination against her; 
  • The parties will work together to improve working conditions in the factory.

Romania: According to reports from the CCC network, Romanian garment workers' salaries have been cut way below the legal minimum wage amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which is illegal under Romanian law. Workers received as little as 140€ per month for full time work in major factories that produce clothes for international luxury brands. "Each piece of garment I have worked on is worth more than my monthly payment", says Angelica Manole, who, like many other workers, had her salary cut. Angelica works at one of the biggest Romanian garment factories, TANEX, which produces for famous brands such as Massimo Dutti, Lancome, Ted Baker, JOOP, Sandro, Max Mara and others. After going public about her salary cut, Angelica started facing harassment; a disciplinary report from factory management recommended that she should be fired. Two days ago, on the 24th of June, the Romanian Labour Minister apologised to Angelica Manole, admitting that the Ministry’s own inspection institution misled the first investigation on her case. Workers from the Tanex factory explained that they have been facing unpaid overtime, something that was already happening before the pandemic, intimidation and harassment and abusive lay-offs. Most workers agree to speak only under anonymity, as they fear repercussions. Factory management first declared that the reason behind not paying salaries was that workers did not accomplish their quotas, but then changed their justification and said that workers were not paid because they had unpaid leave - which workers denied.

Thailand: Media report that Thailand is preparing to welcome back Myanmar migrant workers who left the country after losing their jobs amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. U Peter Nyunt Maung, deputy chair of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation, said the Thai and Myanmar governments and employment agencies are negotiating healthcare coverage for the workers, as, under Thai regulations, foreigners must have at least US$100,000 in health insurance to cover the cost of any COVID-19 treatment and must also be quarantined for 14 days at their own expense. 

25 June 2020

Global: The Financial Times reports that tens of millions of migrant workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus crisis now face unemployment and poverty in their home countries, as many of these countries are not set up to reabsorb them. The article also pointed out that, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), migrant workers are among the hardest hit by the impact of the current pandemic. 

Bangladesh: Media report that some factory owners report that they are starting to receive new orders, albeit at much lower levels than usual. The BGMEA is hopeful that, by December, member factories will be getting around 70% purchase order of their capacity. Other export figures have made clear, however, that no one can predict when the situation will improve and pointed out that, overall, no factory is operating at full capacity.

Cambodia: Media report that, in response to GMAC's call for annual wage negotiations to be delayed, garment factory unions and workers have called on the government to adhere to its schedule to negotiate a minimum wage increase for workers this year. Ath Thorn, president of Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC), made clear that there is no reason that wage discussions should be postponed, since the new minimum wage would not implemented this year. "Currently, the minimum wage for garment and footwear workers is still low, so its necessary that the three parties of employers, unions and the government discuss with each other every year", Thorn pointed out. When asked about GMAC's statement, Heng Sour, Labour Ministry spokesperson said that the three-party meetings must proceed as planned because they are part of the law. The article also states that, according to Yang Sophorn, President of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union, major clothing retailers such as Adidas and H&M have recently said that they would place new orders for products from Cambodia. "This is a good sign for discussing the new wage for workers in 2021", Sophorn said. Another article reports that Ulrika Isaksson, spokesperson for H&M, said that the minimum wage talk for 2021 should be conducted and that the brands support the tripartite negotiation process. "It’s essential, particularly in these unprecedented circumstances, that regular and transparent minimum wage negotiations between workers, employers and governments are held", she said. 

Meanwhile, media report that trade union leaders have pointed out that the distribution of the government's relief efforts has been too slow and pointed out that the application process is too complicated. "People who live hand to mouth have been waiting months", Khun Tharo, program director at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said. The article also states that civil society organisations are collecting details of union suppression across the garment industry in Cambodia. Another article reports that, according to the Ministry of Labour, so far $3.9 million have been distributed, benefitting 169,161 workers. 

Media report that more than 600 workers of HANA garment factory in Phnom Penh staged a protest on Tuesday demanding their wages after the company suspended operations due to a lack of orders. You Savy, one of the workers, said that the company announced its temporary closure on Tuesday, prompting fears of wages and benefits not being paid, adding that, after a dialogue with the company's representative, they promised to pay all the workers their due. The same article reports that Cambodia's Minister of Labour, Ith Samheng, ordered committee for the settlement of strikes and demonstrations officials to take necessary measures to deter any instances of violence which threaten the safety of the people and public properties. He said that anyone caught inciting illegal protests must be stopped immediately and, in case of violence, taken to court. "While efforts must be expended to protect the security of trade union members, protests must also be conducted in accordance with the law. In case of violence, those found culpable must be taken to court", the Minister said.

India: Media report that workers from the Euro Clothing Company II, owned by Gokaldas Exports, have said that Gokaldas is exploring the possibility of relocating workers from this recently shutdown unit to another factory in the neighbouring Mysuru district. "We were told that those unwilling to relocate will be paid retrenchment compensation and let go. But the workers have not agreed to this", a worker explained. The same worker said that the factory unit in Srirangapatna was targeted to punish workers engaged in union activity, making clear that no other unit was shutdown. "Many workers in this factory unit are union members and we have struggled for our payments even before the coronavirus pandemic hit", the worker added. 

Morocco: Media report that, due to order cancellations and lack of new orders, production in Morocco’s garment industry came to a halt by the 20th of March and factory owners did not have sufficient funds to cover worker’s salaries. Now, some factories have reopened and are making personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to cope with the flood of cancelled orders that marked the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Myanmar: Media report that Myanmar’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been harshly affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis and are urging the government to relax its COVID-19 loan policies, as they currently demand that businesses repay loans in just one year. "Those rules and regulations are out of reach for retail businesses. I would like to request [the government] consider it", Daw Win Win Tint, managing director of retail giant City Mart Holdings, said. 

Nepal: Media report that Nepali migrant workers, who lost their jobs and have been stranded across different Asian countries since March, are desperate to return home. The Government of Nepal is now finally starting to bring migrant workers back home, but rights groups say that is is "too little too late". Rights groups estimate that there are around 500,000 to 600,000 Nepali migrant workers waiting to get back home in the Gulf and other countries. Workers have been stranded since March and over 100 Nepalese migrant workers have lost their lives in the process. Some workers have even taken their own lives. "I want to take the body of my husband to Nepal as soon as flights resume. Please help me", Chandra Kala Neupane, whose husband died in Kuwait on the 6th May, exclaimed. 

UK/Bangladesh: Industrial Workers of the World Bristol (Bristol IWW) reports that they will be holding solidarity pickets and leafleting in solidarity with garment workers from the Dragon Sweaters factory in Bangladesh. The management of this factory, which produces for the likes of Gap, Zara, Primark, H&M, Next, Lidl and New Yorker, recently attempted to fire 6000 workers under the excuse of economic losses caused by the coronavirus crisis. As a result, members of the Garment Workers Trade Union Center (GWTUC) have been protesting against this illegal termination since March, having attempted to engage in negotiations with the owners, who have been unresponsive and adamant on every occasion. Bristol IWW will be holding solidarity pickets and leafleting starting from outside of the Primark store (Located on Horsefair, BS1 3BB) on Thursday 25th and Friday 26th June at 6.30pm, and a further rolling picket starting at Primark on Saturday from Midday.

US/Bangladesh: Media report that Kylie and Kendall Jenner and Cardi B have faced huge criticisms on social media for reportedly refusing to pay garment workers in Bangladesh. The Global Brand Group, responsible for their clothing lines cancelled ongoing orders and cut workers in both Los Angeles and Bangladesh. Their decisions have affected as many as 50,000 workers, most of whom are women that find themselves ineligible to receive government assistance. The article also points out that comments on Kylie Jenner's social media posts are being deleted. 

United States: Media report that the US department store retailer Macy’s Inc is cutting a further 3900 jobs as it tries to bring costs in line with falling sales. The last cuts come in addition to staff reductions in stores, supply chain and customer support network, which it “will adjust as sales recover”, according to Jeff Gennette, chairman and CEO.

Vietnam: Media report that, since the second half of March, many big clients from the US and the EU have asked Vietnamese enterprises to delay deliveries or cancel contracts, and that, with demand decreasing sharply, the textile and garment industry is expected to continue facing difficulties for the time being. Another article reports that, according to the employers' organisations, garment orders in April 2020 and May 2020 have decreased by 20% and 50% respectively. In addition, most of the affected businesses and workers report that they have not been able to get access to support package of the Vietnamese Government. In total, one million workers have lost their jobs and income. In response, employers' organisations VITAS and LEFASO, Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the national trade union VGCL have signed what has been described as a "historic joint statement in the Vietnamese Garment Industry", which points out an action plan towards a sustainable industry, ratifying international conventions and compatible with the socially responsible requirements.

24 June 2020

Global: Media report that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) appealed governments to support migrant workers, who have been forced to return to their homelands due to the coronavirus pandemic only to face unemployment and poverty. "This is a potential crisis within a crisis" Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO's conditions of work and equality department, warned. The ILO called on governments to include returning workers, many of whom lost jobs overnight, in their social protection measures and make efforts to reintegrate them into national labour markets. The article further stressed that ILO data shows that nearly a million migrant workers have returned to South Asia and Southeast Asia. "There are serious problems with their eligibility for social protection, when they come back, for instance they are not able to take their social security entitlement and that is a function of the need for cooperation between the sending and receiving countries", Michelle Leighton, chief of labour migration at ILO, said. 

Bangladesh: Media report that Shanta Garments Ltd, owned by the Shanta Group and an American Eagle Outfitters, Mark & Spencer and Tommy Hilfiger supplier, has shut down due to a lack of work orders. As a result, 2200 workers have been laid off. According to Jolly Talukder, general secretary of Garments Workers’ Trade Union Centre, an agreement regarding the shutdown of the factory was signed on the 18th June at the BGMEA. Rezwan Selim, BGMEA's Director, assured that the factory owner paid workers their wages and Eid bonuses before closing the factory.

Cambodia: Media report that thousands of families have lost their jobs because of the border closure, especially workers in informal sectors. As a result, Cambodian workers are pushing for the reopening of the Cambodia-Thai border, explaining that the situation has become 'suffocating'. "[Our provincial authorities] have not imposed any pressure and allowed [Thai business owners] into Cambodia. Thai business is going well, so they don’t mind and can continue to keep the border closed, even up to a year from now (…) The Thai side is suffocating us. The poor are starving. They are forced to borrow money, so it is making them even poorer", Din Puthy, the head of the Cambodia Informal Economy Reinforced Association, said. Despite workers' urges, another article reports that the Thailand and Laos borders will remain closed to Cambodia, a decision that comes following talks with the countries' officials regarding the reopening of borders to stimulate trade after months of stagnation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "[It] will remain closed and there is no official information to confirm whether when it will reopen", the statement reads. 

Media report that fourteen representatives of trade unions and confederations in Cambodia submitted a joint petition to the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training requesting that the government cancel the 2nd of June notice that delayed 2019-20 seniority payments for workers in all sectors. "Workers are facing problems such as paying back regular loans including principal and interest, paying for medical care, assisting family members and taking care of daily essentials", the letter reads. In the letter, unions further requested that the Ministry encourage employers to pay seniority payments from before 2019 for the textile, garment and footwear sectors. 

Honduras: SITRAMAVI, the Sindicato de Trabajadores De La Empresa Manufacturas Villanueva, reports that Fruit of the Loom has decided to close Manufacturas Villanueva, in an act that the union has described as union-busting. In a statement, the union points out that the justifications provided by the corporation are not significant and that other companies across the country that do not have a union have not suffered the same fate. On the 22nd of June, the president of Fruit of the Loom, Werner Oberholzer, who has rarely had any contact with the union, called them for an emergency meeting and informed union representatives that the company is going through a difficult financial situation and has thus decided to close Manufacturas Villanueva, further stating that 75% of workers will be transferred to the company Confecciones dos Caminos located in the Zip Búfalo park and that the remaining workers will be fired. Fruit of the Loom informed workers that the closing process will start in August and is scheduled to end in December 2020. In their statement, SITRAMAVI made clear that the union strongly opposes this decision. 

Hong Kong: According to reports from the CCC network, the Hong Kong H&M union announced on instagram that H&M is requiring employees to sign a letter restricting freedom of speech outside of work.

India: The Society for Labour & Development India has published a new report titled "Garment Workers in India’s Lockdown: Semi-starvation and De-humanization Lead to Exodus". The report states that garment exporters in India, abandoned by fashion brands and with no support from central and state governments, in turn, abandoned their workers. Workers reported conditions of semi-starvation, being de-humanized, treated as bonded labour, denied means of travel, and, some, even restrained from traveling. The report concludes that this has led to an unprecedented "collective bargaining by exodus".

Media report that over 1000 dismissed workers are still protesting outside the Euro Clothing Company factory (ECC-2), owned by Gokaldas Exports, in Srirangapatna, Karnataka, weeks after the factory was shut down. The article further points out that, according to Gautam Mody, general secretary of the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), the garment factory shut down after H&M, one of factory's buyers, cancelled their orders amidst the coronavirus pandemic. "During [a] meeting, the management informed GATWU that payments of old orders were still due. H&M is the only MNC (manufacturer) for which ECC-2 has been manufacturing in 2020. In 2019, ECC-2 manufactured almost 90% production for H&M. Therefore, H&M was clearly aware that they were reducing orders leading to the shutting down of the factory", Gautam Mody, made clear. Meanwhile, H&M replied to a tweet that criticised the factory closure, and said that the company is "in dialogue with the supplier and the trade unions to resolve the conflict peacefully." To this, NTUI's general secretary replied: "H&M claims are mere words. Workers have been out on the picket line for 18 days and there hasn’t been any demonstrable action from H&M.

Myanmar: The Guardian has published an article exposing union-busting in Zara and Primark's supply chains. As previously reported, hundreds of workers at two factories in Myanmar that produce clothing for Zara and Primark were fired days after forming a union in a move workers say targeted union supporters under the pretence that layoffs were related to the coronavirus. "I see the firing as clearly union-busting under the pretext of the pandemic. The factory fired most of the union members, including myself", said Kyaw Thu Zaw, a worker at the Rui-Ning factory and president of the union. Workers called on fashion brands to "enforce decent and humane working conditions in the factories where they make their clothes." 

Union organiser reports that workers from the K-World garment factory in Myanmar are striking for the 9th consecutive days, demanding that brands for whom they produce, such as Ellesse and Westwood, ensure workers get breaks, are paid wages promised, have the right to leave the factory when needed, and have their union recognised. 

23 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), 24,860 garment workers, have lost their jobs since Eid. This led the government to reiterate its call on garment factory owners to refrain from terminating any workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, another article pointed out. The announcement was made at a meeting that was convened to review the labour situation in the country's industrial sectors, especially in the garment sector, but leaders of the BGMEA, BKMEA and BTMA did not attend the meeting. "The government does not want to see workers fired by the factories while we have requested the owners on several occasions not to cut jobs", Shibnath Roy, DIFE inspector general, said. DIFE also shared a list of 103 garment factories where workers’ wages of May remained outstanding on the 20th of June. "We are asking owners not to terminate workers. But still some workers lost their jobs as they [factories] do not have work orders", a senior labour ministry official told The Daily Star. This article also made clear that trade union leaders have warned that the number of terminated workers is actually much higher than the estimate. Amirul Haque Amin, president of National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF), made clear that "It is not logical that factory owners terminate their workers in times of crisis. During such difficult times they should protect their workers", adding that factory owners are taking stimulus money from the government on one hand and terminating workers on the other. Indeed, another article reports that more than two million Bangladeshi garment workers have been dismissed since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. The article points out that, due to cancelled and lack of new orders from the United States and Europe, more than 1000 factories have closed and more than two million workers have become unemployed. At the same time, prices of food, rents and other basic necessities have risen. 

Meanwhile, media report that the Bangladesh Trade Union Centre (BTUC) formed a human chain in front the National Press Club calling on factory owners to refrain from dismissing employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shahida Parveen, central leader of the labour body, raised an eight-point demand that included demanding that the government take proper steps, mills and factory owners save the COVID-19 infected workers and refrain from job cuts. They also called on the government to introduce low-cost rationing of food items for the workers.

Cambodia: Media report that GMAC's call to suspend the country's minimum wage of US$190 per month for garment workers during the coronavirus pandemic has been highly criticised by trade unions and civil society organisations, such as the Clean Clothes Campaign, which said reducing the minimum wage would hit workers who were already struggling to make ends meet. Another article further stated that Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said that GMAC's proposal was an "excuse" to avoid engaging in serious wage negotiations. "I understand that employers are facing difficulty during the crisis. But for workers, it's even worse; they'll die first before the employer", she added. 

Media report that, as Cambodians push for the reopening of the Cambodian-Thai border, provincial officials have started meeting with Thai officials from neighbouring provinces to discuss the reopening of the border. They discussed the reopening of the Poipet-Aranyaprathet international border checkpoint, which has been closed since March.

Germany: Media report that Germany's biggest low-price clothing retailer, KiK, has been singled out by BGMEA as being currently one of the main offenders of contractual obligations, having cancelled goods worth at least $96,000 so far, with textile shipments to the tune of $9.26 million currently being "on hold" according to data provided by BGMEA factories. KiK considers its cancellation quota as "not too bad," claiming in a statement that it had made "hardly any cancellations" in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

India: Media report that apparel giant Raymond has seen about 1100 resigning or being fired since April as part of cost-control measures amidst the coronavirus crisis. Workers explained that around 400 workers were coerced into resigning and around 700 who did not do so were fired. Workers also said that their salaries had been cut by up to 65% since April and that, before the resignations were sought, only the basic pay was being paid to those serving notice period. The Gautam Singhania-led company had 7087 employees on its rolls as of March 2019, according to their annual report. "We were even ready for the 65 per cent salary cuts as we have given everything to this company in all these years. Over 1,100 of us were sacked by a company that had won the best-place-to-work-with award just two years ago", a worker from Raymond Suitings said.

Media report that the government has announced that it is planning to launch an online portal that will also have an app version, which will help migrant and informal sector workers get details of the different welfare schemes run by the central and state governments and allow workers to apply online and avail of benefits targeting them. 

According to reports from the CCC network, 75% of home-based workers in Tirupur have been left jobless due to the impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown. SAVE, a Tirupur-based NGO that is dedicated to combatting child labour and promoting the rights of other disadvantaged persons through community outreach, has identified workers in various places and has extended relief measures to them.

Hong Kong: Media report that migrant workers have reported being poorly treated during their 14-day mandatory quarantine after arriving in Hong Kong, not having been provided with enough food or safe accommodation.  

Myanmar: The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that Inditex, MANGO, BESTSELLER and Primark were invited to respond to the allegations that Myan Mode, Rui Ning and Huabo Times factories in Myanmar, who are their suppliers, are using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to target and dismiss unionised workers. All brands indicated they were investigating or in dialogue with the factories. Yesterday, Primark shared an update on the Huabo Times factory and Inditex provided an update on the Rui Ning and Huabo Times factories. BESTSELLER and MANGO, however, did not provide any further update. The workers' unions have published a response to the statements from the brands they supply, stating that the companies have failed to conduct adequate due diligence - which they say must involve unions. "We called on you for help but you ignored us as our union member and union leaders were targeted for permanent dismissal as a means to destroy unions… Your descriptions of diligently upholding your codes of conduct are dishonest", the statement made clear. 

Meanwhile, union organiser reports that the sit-down strike organised by garment workers at the K-World factory is still taking place, now for eight consecutive days, as workers demand higher wages, union recognition, an end to verbal abuse from managers, and the right to leave the factory if needed during work-hours.

Media report that Myanmar’s government has requested Malaysia's assistance in repatriating undocumented migrant workers as more suicides are being reported amongst Myanmar migrant workers amidst the coronavirus crisis. 

22 June 2020

Global: Media report that, according to the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF), global textile orders are down by more than 40% compared to the same time last year, largely due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Data shows that the knitting sector is experiencing the worst hit and that, in average, companies are expecting their turnover to plummet by 32% this year.

Bangladesh: According to reports from the CCC network, garment workers have held a symbolic hunger strike calling for the reinstatement of 3000 retrenched workers of the Windy Group, which supplies H&M and ZARA, and against union busting. Three thousand workers have been retrenched among eight factories under the Windy Group, such as from the Saybolt Tex Ltd, Windy Wet & Dry Process Ltd and Tanaz Fashions Ltd. The National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) made clear that the retrenchment has been done intentionally and with the purpose of busting workers' union and union forming process. For example, when workers from Saybolt Tex Ltd tried to bring back union activities, all 1600 workers were retrenched by management. At Windy Wet & Dry Process Ltd., 200 workers were dismissed after submitting the union papers for registration to the Labour Ministry. At Tanaz Fashion Ltd., 1200 workers were dismissed after starting to unite in order to form a union. NGWF also points out that the 300 workers were not also paid fully according to law and agreement with management. In response to these actions, representatives of garment workers' from the three mentioned factories organised a hunger strike, yesterday, in front of National Press Club.

NGWF hunger strike

Media report that, according to Industrial Police (IP) data, as many factories failed to follow health and safety guidelines when reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic, a total of 417 workers from 174 factories in six industrial zones have tested positive, and five workers have died from COVID-19. On the 1st of June, data showed that the number of infected workers was 251. Of the 417 workers, 311 are garment workers from 99 factories registered with the BGMEA, BKMEA and BTMA. Data from the state-owned Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), however, only showed that 280 workers had been infected with the virus so far. The Department launched a special inspection at the beginning of May that would inspect factories in order to ensure that they were following the health guidelines provided by the health ministry. As of the 18th of June, DIFE had inspected a total of 3,403 industrial units, including RMG, and concluded that big factories were abiding with health and safety measures, but also found some violations, particularly in small and sub-contracting factories. 

Media report that a new survey report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has found Bangladesh amongst the world’s ten worst countries for workers in 2020. "Workers in Bangladesh were exposed to mass dismissals, arrests, violence and state repression against peaceful protests. In the garment sector, strikes were often met with extreme brutality by police forces", ITUC’s Global Rights Index 2020 reads. It also made clear that workers in Bangladesh could not exercise their basic rights at work without fear of retaliation and brutal repression, and face three major issues, including violence, mass dismissal and regressive laws in the country.  As previously reported, others on the list of the ten worst countries for workers in 2020 include Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Turkey and Zimbabwe. 

In an article for The Nation, Taslima Akhter, photographer and activist who has been documenting garment workers’ lives and struggle for 12 years, explains how the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the severe vulnerability of the workers whose labour stocks the shelves of international brands. As the article points out, "[t]he coronavirus crisis has sent the world economy shuddering to a halt, and Bangladesh’s garment workers have been left particularly vulnerable: Over $3.5 million worth of international orders have been lost in the country’s garment industry as a result of the global downturn, and more than 1 million workers are at risk of losing their jobs, a fate that has already befallen about 12 thousand workers." The author explains that, despite the lockdown, garment workers have continued to protest, as workers are still losing their jobs, still struggling to be paid what they're owed and still fighting for health care. During one protest, a worker said, "The government has locked down everything, but they didn’t lock down our stomachs. We don’t have any alternative except coming into the street doing this protest. We don’t even have the possibility to maintain social distancing. We are hungry. We don’t know anything about coronavirus. We want food and wages first."

Bulgaria: Media report that, although Bulgaria has not exhibited as high COVID-19 positive figures as many Western European countries, "the pandemic has revealed in even starker relief the near-complete absence of any labour protections." The article reveals that the government created the "60/40" scheme, which had the goal of saving jobs by absorbing 60% of businesses’ labour costs on furloughed employees. The government earmarked half a billion euros for this purpose but, instead of saving the pompously promised 200,000 jobs, the measure reached only around 84,000 people. Meanwhile, the only pandemic relief for the unemployed workers which the government came up with was €750 interest-free loans for three months and a one-off child benefit of €200. Besides, the conditions for getting this help are very restrictive. In addition to these underwhelming social benefits, the article reports that factories have emerged as COVID-19 hotspots. At the end of April, an outbreak in a power plant and at a garment factory in Pleven made headlines. One-fourth of the workforce at that particular garments department contracted the virus. This resulted in a minor spike of infections in the town. The factory closed operations for two weeks, making it the first to do so since the beginning of the outbreak. The factory owner predictably blamed the outbreak on a worker. 

Cambodia: Media report that Ken Loo, the secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturing Association in Cambodia (GMAC), has said that the guaranteed $190 per month minimum wage should be temporarily suspended in order to "ensure that the sector remains competitive until the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved". "Because of the current [COVID-19 pandemic] situation we should temporarily suspend the minimum wage and allow flexibility for employers to negotiate wages with their workers directly. When the situation normalises, then we can reinstate the minimum wage", he said. In response to these claims, union leaders warned that suspending the minimum wage would possibly lead to worker exploitation. 

Media report that the Government of Cambodia has announced that it will launch a cash relief programme for the poor and vulnerable families during the coronavirus crisis. The cash fund aims to assist locals whose job has been suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, especially the poor in remote areas who are facing food shortage. Poor families in the countryside will receive 80,000 riel in assistance. Vulnerable people at Level 1 will receive 24,000 riel assistance and poor families in Level 2 will receive 12,000 riel a month, the Prime Minister explained. Meanwhile, media report that NGOs and other organisations have expressed that they fear that many low-paid workers living in Phnom Penh, away from their hometowns or villages, will not benefit from government-assistance programs since they may not be included in the reports and statistics that are being compiled. Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), expressed concern that there might be large-scale protests to request the government's help if the authorities fail to come up with ways to help informal-economy and vulnerable workers. 

Hong Kong: According to reports from the CCC network, the Hong Kong government has announced a bail-out plan to corporations, on the condition that the recipients must not dismiss their workers. Three subsidiaries of the Li & Fung group have received HKD20m, even though the group is dismissing its workers, having announced a global redundancy of 10% of its workforce. The Employment Support Scheme is under heavy criticism for its loophole and lack of enforcement.

India: Media report that, according to the Ministry of Commerce, textile and apparel exports declined by 73.1% during the months of April and May, compared to the same period last year. The article explains that this is mostly due to buyers in the U.S. and European Union (EU), the two major destinations for Indian textiles and clothing, cancelling orders or invoking 'force majeure' clauses within their contracts. 

Maldives: Media report that the Maldives have "sent back" 2499 undocumented migrant workers, who have been identified as one of the most vulnerable groups during this time, to Bangladesh. "So far, we have sent back 2499 undocumented workers to Bangladesh, after successful discussions between the Maldivian and Bangladeshi governments. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has spoken to Bangladeshi foreign minister on three occasions on this matter and the talks were very successful, so far, we have been able to send this number [2499] undocumented workers as a result of these talks", Miuvan Mohamed, Communications Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said. 

Myanmar: Media report that over 300 workers from World Jin Garment Factory are facing financial difficulties after their Koran factory owner has reportedly run away. The owner told the workers that the factory would close on April 3 and reopen on April 18. However, the factory has not yet resumed operations, the workers said. As the factory closed without paying any compensation as per the law, workers and their families are facing financial difficulties. "We are in great trouble. I was driven out of my hostel because I could not pay rent. Being unemployed now, our family has difficulty with living conditions. We don’t know when the factory will reopen. The Labour Department didn’t give us any assistance", Kyaw Lin Oo, who worked at this factory, explained.

Media report that the Government of Myanmar has announced that it will provide cash relief to 5.4 million households across the country in order to counter the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A government's spokesperson pointed out that "Tens of thousands of Myanmar workers lost their jobs when factories closed due to shortages of raw materials and cancelled orders due to the economic slowdown triggered by the disease" and that these payments aimed to aid workers that had been impacted by these shutdowns. 

Nepal: Media report that data shows that that 90% of the coronavirus cases reported in Nepal are migrant workers who returned from abroad, mostly from India, as the country's tally inched closer to the 10,000-mark, with 421 new cases.

Philippines: Media report that The 2020 Global Rights Index by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has placed the Philippines amongst the top 10 most dangerous places for workers because the country shows "no guarantee of rights" and "systematic violation of rights". The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU) said they stand by the list, making clear that "actual circumstances on the ground, the current state of labour relations policy during the quarantine allowing wage reductions and suspending labour rights inspections, the anti-labour and the anti-consumer program of our economic managers to raise a new excise taxes and opposing security of tenure, as well as the dangerous political slide towards authoritarianism evidenced by passage of the Anti-Terror Bill."

Thailand: Media report that, according to the Department of Employment in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar have signed an agreement with Thailand in order to allow more than 100,000 migrants with expired employment permits to continue working until the end of next month. Migrant workers had four-year work permits and visas which expired during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the countries concluded that it would be safer for workers to remain in the Thailand for the time being. 

21 June 2020

Bangladesh: The Guardian has published an article on how order cancellations by UK brands have impacted suppliers in Bangladesh. "As high streets across England opened this week and hundreds of people jostled through the doors of clothing shops, thousands of miles away in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Mostafiz Uddin is worrying about how to pay his workers’ wages", the article reads. The article points out that Arcadia group (Topshop) wasn’t the only brand that cancelled orders at Uddin’s factory. Peacocks, owned by Edinburgh Woollen Mill, refused to accept shipment of 15,100 pairs of jeans or pay for another 30,000 items of clothing that were already in production. In total, 80% of orders from this factory were gone with no compensation. "My life has turned into a disaster movie", Uddin expressed. In Bangladesh alone, fashion brands have cancelled an estimated £2.5 billion of orders, with the country’s garment industry seeing an 84% decline in orders. Indeed, "the pandemic has exposed the way in which fashion suppliers like Uddin carry much of the risk in the global garment production model".

Media report that, so far, more than 15 million families have received government relief aid across the country, both in food assistance and through cash aid. Tk123 crore worth of cash aid have been allocated for purchasing relief items, the article reports. 

Media report that experts and economists have said that the budget is not responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic and recommended that it be reviewed every two to three months to correct the measures and meet the utmost needs of saving lives and livelihoods of people. Policymakers also echoed with the recommendation made by the experts to review the budget at throughout the year. 

Cambodia: Media report that, according to the Ministry of Health, one of the 204 Cambodian passengers who returned from Malaysia on Tuesday has tested positive for COVID-19. The other 203 passengers who tested negative are being quarantined at Hun Sen Champuvorn High School in Phnom Penh and at quarantine centres in their respective home provinces, as they are not allowed to quarantine at home. In the meantime, the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia confirmed that 115 of the 204 passengers on board the flight had been stranded there since 7 April. 

India: The Guardian has published an article titled "Mumbai discovers life isn't so sweet without the workers it once ignored", portraying how urban areas are reacting to the return of migrant workers to their native places. "Before their mass exodus, well-heeled residents had never noticed them. (...) Now their absence is felt", the article reads. "Most of them aren’t coming back. First they were treated like slaves by employers and then they were treated like stray dogs by society during the lockdown. Some, perhaps, may return. But only if they are starving", DL Karad, national vice-president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, said. 

Malaysia: Media report that the hostels in which migrant workers live are "time bombs for infectious diseases". "Will governments take heed of Noor Hisham’s professional advice on overcrowding in the hostels, or will they continue helping hostel operators to reap maximum profits?", the journalist asks. The article explains that there is an issue with auditing and private hostels, where most migrant workers in Malaysia live. As hostels are private property and guarded with no access to members of the public, audits and other inspectors are required to give prior notice before inspections. As a result, workers will be informed of the inspection and warned to clean up. The hostel operator will ensure it is spruced up and meets the health and cleanliness requirements just for the day of the visit and the audit will leave the establishment impressed with the results. In addition, any workers interviewed would have just one standard answer: that the hostels are good and they are happy to stay in them, as they would not dare tell the truth considering the serious repercussions. The writer suggests that, for health and safety inspections purposes, these hostels should be classified as "public places" as, right now, they are simply a time bomb for infectious diseases, such as the coronavirus. 

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that garment workers at the K-World factory in Myanmar have conducted a sit-down strike demanding that the factory owner respect their union agreement.. As demonstrations are forbidden under COVID-19 laws, workers have been sitting at their sewing stations all day without working, for six consecutive days. 

Singapore: Media report that, of the 40,197 COVID-19 cases in Singapore, 37,488 were cases found in migrant workers' dorms, representing 93.26% of national cases. It is clear that migrant workers have been disproportionately affected and that health and safety measures in the dorms must be reviewed.

Thailand: Media report that the Immigration Bureau (IB) is gearing up its efforts to prevent thousands of migrant workers from Laos and Cambodia from entering Thailand illegally in search of jobs in the country. As of today, migrant workers are still not allowed to enter Thailand, as the country's borders are still shut due to COVID-19.  

20 June 2020

Bangladesh: The Guardian has published an article on how garment workers in Bangladesh were hit twice by COVID-19, once when their factories closed, and again when global retailers cancelled orders. "They told us that the foreign buyers are cancelling all our orders. That’s why there’s no new work. We haven’t had our salaries for two months now", Nazmin Nahar, who worked for Magpie Knitwear, said. She is now living on borrowed rice because her wages to pay for food or rent haven't been paid for more than two months. Rojina Begum, who worked at the Ultimate Fashion Ltd factory, and was fired along 300 other workers at her factory, explained that, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, protesting layoffs is also more complicated. "If the fear of the virus wasn’t there, we could have protested strongly, but because of the coronavirus, we couldn’t gather our workers and make a strong protest. Whenever four or five workers gathered in front of the factory, they dispersed us. And you can’t build a strong protest alone", she said. Akhi Akther, who worked at Sterling Styles, a factory supplying Gap, said she was dismissed when she fell ill with Covid symptoms, and now is finding it impossible to find a new job. She says she is yet to be paid two months of owed wages. Campaigners say that, now that shops have reopened, it is crucial that brands honour their financial obligations to their suppliers. "We all saw the pictures of queues outside fast fashion stores last week, but these are the same companies that abandoned their workers when they needed them the most", Meg Lewis, from the Clean Clothes Campaign, said. 

Media report that The World Bank approved a grant of $1.05 billion to aid Bangladesh in creating quality jobs, accelerating the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, as well as building resilience to future crises. "These projects will help the people and the economy to bounce back by creating more and better jobs and promoting direct private investment in specialised economic zones while enhancing the foundations for a digital economy", Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, said. 

Meanwhile, media report that, according to the Rapid Impact Assessment report released by World Vision Bangladesh, nearly 95% of Bangladeshi households' income has been impacted during the three months general holiday observed by the government. The reports found that:

  • 78.3% of daily wage earners report that their income has decreased;
  • 94.7% households have no or very limited food stock; 
  • 38.5% of children and 58.9% of adults reported having a maximum of two meals per day, with 58% of households reporting that they are passing days with a lesser number of meals;
  • Almost 34% of households do not have safe and clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning;
  • 50% of households are unable to abide to hygiene practices such as hand-washing with soap due to lack of access and availability of hygiene kits and inadequate water sources.

China: Media report that, after the lockdown was lifted, migrant workers returned to global textiles hub of China, expecting to return to their jobs but, instead, found a garment industry reeling in the the aftermath of COVID-19, with scarce orders, low wages, and closed factories. Unable to make rent on their apartments or garment workshops, many decided to leave. In just the last two weeks of April alone, nine buses transported nearly 1000 people back to Hubei each day. "There are still orders. It’s just that the numbers have dipped and the prices are lower. Many workers who used to earn around 700 yuan to 800 yuan a day now only earn 100 yuan to 200 yuan a day. They think staying is a waste of time", a landlord in Guangzhou said. 

Haiti: Media report that garment workers in Haiti were asked to sign a document that held them "legally responsible for their illness." According to Tula Connell, with Solidarity Center, workers and their unions also reported that employees were being required to sign documents stating that "they will take precautionary measures while at work" and agreeing that, if they get sick, the company is not legally responsible for their illness.

India: Media report that migrant workers have started to return to the urban areas where many used to work before the COVID-19 outbreak, but are doing so on their own terms. Indeed, desperate to get their projects off the ground, contractors have given them assurance that they will be taken care of this time around: their transport to the city is fully paid for, meals and accommodation are being provided for free at or near worksites, and some have even promised to arrange for their transport back, were a lockdown to return. Workers have said that these new terms will allow them to save 25% more than they used to. The article also reports that many workers have also been paid in advance.

Media report that the Madras High Court directed the State government to announce if garment manufacturers and exports with units in Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu districts would be exempt from lockdown. The question was posed in response to a petition filed by the Apparels and Handloom Exporters Association, which represents over 400 major garment manufacturers and exporters who employ over 1.5 lakh workers. "It is at this juncture, the lockdown to be imposed in the four districts for 12 days from June 19 to 31 has come as a death knell to the garment exporters who would once again face the threat of suffering losses to the tune of several crore of rupees", Senior Counsel P.S. Raman, appearing on behalf of the Association, said. 

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that the Rui-Ning factory in Myanmar, which produces for Zara, is yet to reinstate the 300 union members that were fired. Earlier today, workers were told by management to keep working as a fire broke out in part of the factory. Garment workers protested and showed that they are 'fed up'. "Zara, where are you?! It's been months", Andrew Tillett-Saks, union organiser, wrote. 

Thailand: Media report that, earlier today, Thai authorities arrested three Thais and 31 Cambodian migrant workers that crossed the border in three pickup trucks. Migrants in four other vehicles managed to flee. The three Thai nationals were charged with assisting illegal migrant workers. 

United States: Media report that Kohl's, a US retailer and member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, used tightly worded contracts to cancel orders with no liability. Many of the apparel goods had already been manufactured, leaving suppliers massively out of pocket and forced to lay off workers. "Kohl’s exercised its right not to pay for the goods to improve its financial position", Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), said. As previously reported, in addition to failing to pay suppliers, Kohl's went forward with a large dividend. "In a more sane world that would legally count as robbery – Kohl’s effectively stole money from workers and suppliers to pay dividends to shareholders", Scott Nova exclaimed. He further pointed out that Kohl's had already rewarded executives over the last three years with $2.4 billion worth of dividends and stock buybacks. 

Vietnam: Media report that, as Vietnam’s National Assembly approved a free trade agreement with the EU earlier this month, the garment and footwear industries, which account for roughly 20% of Vietnam’s exports, are expected to show "particularly strong growth". However, the article also points out that many companies in the garment industry had their contracts with partners in the EU and the US cancelled, delayed or scaled down and that 70% of manufacturers reported that they had to layoff workers in March, April and May.

19 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that Mostafiz Uddin, Bangladeshi factory owner, has warned that he will go out of business within days, leaving 2000 workers facing “destitution”, unless Sir Philip Green's Arcadia group (Topshop) honours contracts for thousands of items of clothing. Uddin explained that, right now, he is spending $25,000 per day in costs but has no income. As a result, he fears that, without an urgent resolution, his factory will have to close doors for good. "I have paid my workers up till now, but if [buyers] do not pay me this month I will have to close down and 2000 people have to go home", he said. An Arcadia representative has contacted Mostafiz Uddin but no agreement has been reached, as the company said it could pay what it owes for some of the goods, but not until August. As the article makes clear, "Mr Uddin is one of hundreds of suppliers to the fashion industry facing imminent closure after months of unpaid orders." According to the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), Arcadia has cancelled as much as £100m. "By refusing to pay up, brands like Philip Green’s Burton Menswear are putting thousands of workers, mainly young women and their families at risk of destitution. Philip Green is a millionaire. Like other fashion brand owners, he can easily afford to pay for the finished clothes that they have previously ordered, and the fabric bought to make future orders for them", Fiona Gooch, senior policy advisor at Traidcraft Exchange, said. 

Media report that, of the 1926 ready made garment factories under the BGMEA, 1858 factories have paid their salaries for the month of May, which means that workers from 189 factories have not yet received their salaries.

Media report that, according to the Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, 13 million people, particularly part-time and temporary workers, are at risk of losing their jobs due to the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. Debapriya Bhattacharya, the platform's convener, added that many people have already lost their jobs and that these figures represent an underestimate, as it does not take into account the new entrants who have come into the labour market since 2017 or the agriculture sector. The article also states that the Centre for Policy Dialogue has said that the "incidence of indecent jobs and jobs in the informal sector with no wage structures and regard for human rights will dominate the labour market in the immediate future."

Cambodia: Media report that, according to Khun Tharo, program manager at labour rights group Central, the incitement charge against Soy Sros has not been dropped and the case is still pending before an investigating judge. The article also points out that, shortly after being released, Superl factory withdrew its complaint and, 10 days later, Sros signed an agreement with Superl’s general manager, Chan Dao Zen, to drop the company’s criminal complaint to the Kampong Speu court and present the agreement between the company and union leader if Sros is called to court. The document grants Sros almost all of her demands: she resumed work, was given back pay and was promised that the company would not discriminate against her, though she did not receive damages. However, as William Conklin, Solidarity Center’s country director, made clear, getting her job back and back pay does not address what she had to go through, according to Conklin. "The fact that [the dispute] has seemingly been resolved is a good outcome, but she spent two months in jail and she had health issues, and it would be a traumatic experience for anyone", he said. 

El Salvador: Media report that the number of laid off or suspended garment workers in El Salvador is close to 70,000. As reported back in March, the El Salvador government promised payments of $300 to low-income workers mostly in the informal sector. However, on the 4th of May, the FEASIES union federation reported that 1.5 million citizens eligible for this relief were yet to receive it. Alexis De Simone Pereira, Senior Program Officer at the Americas Region for Solidarity Center, shared that only about 749 garment workers who had been furloughed or suspended received due compensations and benefits. Many factories are providing compensation to workers during the shutdown with payments that are being called ‘bonuses’, which are only a little higher than half of the minimum wage. “Most factories have made payments to workers. A lot of those are bonuses of $100 to $150 to help workers make it through the quarantine period. This amount is 50 to 65 percent of the minimum wage. These are all coming from factory owners”, De Simone Pereira said. “The vast majority of factories have suspended work contracts. This is technically illegal because according to the law this is a firing and no one is allowed to be fired during the time of quarantine, so there’s going to be thousands of cases that are filed denouncing this”, De Simone Pereira added.

Hong Kong: According to reports from the CCC network, workers are protesting against Li & Fung's, a major supply chain management company, mass dismissal and redundancy. Around 1700 jobs are at risk in Hong Kong and the company is also dismissing long-time employees in its offices in Bangladesh. The garment giant, who produces for Nike, PVH and other global brands, spent $1 billion for its privatisation, but it cut wages, cut jobs and failed to provide a reasonable severance pay. An employee, mother of two said: "I worked here since I graduated, and I have two minors to support, why are you (Li & Fung) doing this to me?"

India: Media report that workers employed at Arvind Mills, India’s largest denim maker which produces for the likes of H&M, Gap Inc. and Levi's, are yet to be presented with actual solutions from the company, but make clear that they will continue to fight alongside the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU) in order to force management to reinstate the company bus service for all workers. The article states that "the women of Arvind and their trade union representatives say they are determined to continue the fight." 

Media report that a survey of migrant workers in Gurugram, Haryana has revealed that the prolonged lockdown has left most migrant workers without any savings and forced many to take loans. Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch (GNEM)'s report also highlighted how delayed implementation of the public distribution system and withdrawal of cooked meal facilities compounded the food distress during the last two weeks of May. "Jab se community centre mein khaana batna band hua hai, ab bahut zyaada dikkat hai. Ration ki zaroorat hai (We are in deep trouble ever since the community centre stopped giving out cooked meals. We need rations)", Meena Devi, a 25-year-old woman and mother of three children, who lived close to a government-run feeding centre and who ate at least one of her meals there, said. 

Media report that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the government will launch a Rs 50,000 crore employment scheme to provide income support to migrant workers who returned to their home states during the coronavirus lockdown. This massive rural public works scheme will empower and provide livelihood for 125 days to the returnee migrants, Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister, said. 

Kenya: Media report that Kenya’s garment industry has been “punched hard by COVID-19’s devastation of its main export market”, the United States. Already more than 100 garment units across the country have had to temporarily close, while others are struggling to stay afloat. According to Zachary Mwangi Chege, the director of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, job losses in the sector have been high. Indeed, Meshack Mwangangi, from Kenya’s Textile and Tailors Union, estimates that about 40,000 garment workers in export processing zones (EPZ) have been temporarily laid off since March. EPZ companies that have temporarily laid off workers include Africa Apparels Ltd, Simba Apparels Ltd, New Wide Garment Ltd, Bedi Investment Ltd and Alpha Knits Ltd.

Myanmar: A union organiser reports that workers from the Amber Stone factory in Myanmar, which produces for Primark, hired men to assault workers in an attack that took place earlier today and resulted in brutal injuries on union leaders. The factory fired thirty union leaders recently, workers demanded justice and this is the company's response. In the meantime, Primark remains silent. 

Media report that the country’s new minimum daily wage is expected to be set in November. U Ye Win Tun, from the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar, said that most regions and states in country had submitted their proposals for the new minimum wage, but made clear that the Yangon region was yet to submit theirs, as it has been the busiest region during the COVID-19 outbreak. "If there are no objections within 60 days, the rate will be confirmed. If objections are raised, we have to discuss it again, and it should be in place by November," U Ye Win Tun, said. 

Media report that 23 out of 35 Myanmar migrants, who had been held at an immigration detention centre in Southern Thailand and were later deported to Myanmar have tested positive for COVID-19 earlier today, in the country’s highest daily increase in coronavirus cases so far. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis is being felt in Sri Lanka’s textile and garment sector, with exports forecast to plummet 30%. Truly Cooray, Secretary General of Sri Lanka’s Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), estimates that, as a result, there will be nearly 100,000 job cuts in the sector.

18 June 2020

Global: The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has just launched a series of six action-oriented guides for garment factories in Asia to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and to build business resilience. With simple and easy-to-implement recommendations, checklists and additional templates, the guides help factories take action to improve resilience. The guides have been designed primarily for second tier and subcontracting factories. Topics include: managing your cash flow, reducing costs and communicating with your workers. Guides will shortly be available in local languages, including Bengali, Chinese, Khmer and Thai. 

Media report that, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)'s Global Rights Index, violations of labour rights have hit a seven-year high as a rising number of governments have prevented workers from forming unions, striking and collectively bargaining. ITUC warned that the coronavirus crisis could lead to further setbacks, as labour rights are being eroded worldwide. In the Index, which ranked 144 nations on the degree of respect for workers' rights, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt and Honduras were rated as the 'worst countries'. Overall, "[t]he index exposes a breakdown in the social contract that governments and employers have with working people", Sharan Burrow, secretary general of the ITUC, said in a statement.

Bangladesh: Media report that a total of 21,331 workers, mostly from the garment sector, have lost their jobs after Eid-ul-Fitr due to the cost-cutting measures adopted by factory owners on the excuse of the COVID-19 outbreak. Of the total terminated workers, 16,853 are from 86 factories of the BGMEA, 2298 from 16 factories listed with the BKMEA and 258 from four mills under BTMA. According to Industrial Police data, out of 21,331 workers, nearly 11,000 were retrenched in the last two weeks. Labour leaders, however, have warned that the number of workers who lost their jobs after Eid is actually much higher than the official data shows as there are hundreds of industrial units that fall out of the jurisdiction of industrial police. Nazma Akter, president of Sommilito Garments Shramik Federation, demanded lawful compensation for the retrenched workers and alleged that the wages of May sill remained unpaid in a significant number of factories.  

Media report that, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bangladesh's economy is suffering a triple blow due to COVID-19. Indeed, Bangladesh's economic impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt in three main avenues - a drop in domestic economic activity after announcement of shutdown, a decline in exports of garments and a fall in inward remittances. 

Cambodia: IndustriALL reports that, on the 13th of June, Youli International (Cambodia) Garment Co. Ltd fired 724 garment workers, including 11 pregnant women. The Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) reports that the factory is now hiring new workers. In May, the Chinese company furloughed 2000 workers until the end of June. A month later, 724 workers were dismissed. The majority of the workers are women, and the dismissals affects their take-home pay and their dependent children. The contract of local union leader at Youli, Por Rado, has been terminated as he is accused of exploiting working hours for union work. The CUMW has condemned Youli and Shuangli for union busting and violence against workers. "On several occasions, supervisors have kicked and twisted the arm of women workers and thrown pieces of garment at them. These violent and insulting acts must be stopped. Our members have been repressed, intimidated and discriminated by factory management just because they are unionists; the company is trying to destroy the union movement in the factory. The union busting is evident; after dismissing 724 workers, the company is now recruiting new workers", Pav Sina, CUMW president, said. 

Media report that about a third of the 600 garment factories in Cambodia are shut, which has cost tens of thousands of workers their jobs and left them struggling to survive as state aid has been slow to materialise. As a result, workers are being forced to accept worse conditions. Indeed, many laid off garment workers have recently joined the predawn gatherings where factories send brokers to find women for off-the-books daily shifts to augment their regular labour force. Workers explain that they have no choice, as they have a family to feed and bills to pay, but Thy, a garment worker who was laid off in March, expressed that she felt frustrated at having to deal with brokers as they were known to play the women against each other and go back on their word. "Why is my fate is in the hands of these despicable brokers? What do they know about my skills, about the industry? It’s an insult that I would have to beg to them", Thy said. Han Nang, a garment worker who was also fired in March, explained that she was promised a week of work but had not been picked up by the broker from the market on the final day. "Did I get paid? No. Do I have time to chase him for my money? No. It would be useless anyway", she said. John Ritchotte, an officer with the International Labour Organisation, expressed that “[t]here is great concern about the impacts of the crisis pushing workers into unsavoury, unwanted areas of the economy."

Media report that the Cambodia's Minister of Commerce has called on Adidas and H&M, Cambodia's biggest global apparel and textile product buyers, to continue ordering garment products from Cambodia. The call was made during a meeting on Tuesday between Minister Pan Sorasak, representatives from Adidas and H&M’s production manager for Cambodia and Vietnam. "We would like to ask the companies to join the government to support the Kingdom’s garment sector after the end of COVID-19", the Minister said.

Lesotho: The Solidarity Center reports that tens of thousands of garment workers in Lesotho waged a successful one-day strike for unpaid wages, returning to work after the government agreed over the weekend to honour the agreement it made in April to pay workers during lockdown. Some 50,000 workers, represented by the United Textile Employees (UNITE), National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers’ Union (NACTWU) and the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), will now receive the $47 pay they were promised in April when their unions negotiated three months’ salary with the government. Unions also report that the government deployed special forces in the capital, Maseru, and surrounding areas, with police shooting one worker three times with rubber bullets, and beating and arresting others.

Malaysia: Media report that migrant workers working in Top Glove factories in Malaysia, which produce PPE for NHS hospitals, have been exposed to labour abuses and COVID-19 risk in 'squalid' accommodation as their employer's profits triple. Channel 4's investigation has concluded that:

  • Migrant workers are paid £1.08 an hour for gruelling 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week;
  • Payslips reveal some workers clocking up 111 hours in overtime, in breach of Malaysian law;
  • Top Glove has been accused of making illegal deductions from workers’ salaries;
  • Workers live in appalling conditions in hostels with up to 24 workers per room;
  • Workers fear catching virus because of poor social distancing arrangements;
  • Top Glove reported a 366% increase in quarterly profits because of PPE demand.

Malaysia/Myanmar: Media report that six undocumented migrants from Myanmar have committed suicide in Malaysia in the past month after being stranded in the country for several months without any job opportunities and fearing arrest amidst an immigration crackdown. Indeed, thousands of undocumented Myanmar migrants in Malaysia who lost their jobs due to lockdowns now find their hardships exacerbated by a crackdown against illegal foreign workers. "Even if they can find the money to cover the cost of travel, undocumented workers lack opportunities to return home. Many suffer from depression while stranded in their rooms", U San Win, chairman of the Kuala Lumpur-based Kathpone Free Funeral Service Society (KFFS), explained. 

Myanmar: According to reports from the CCC network, a lot of factory closures, lay-offs and union busting has been taking place in garment factories across Myanmar since March 2020. As an example, a Korean-owned garment factory, World Jin Garment, that employed 302 workers, was shut down on the 4th May. In order to help workers who have been fired illegally and workers who have faced other violations amidst the coronavirus crisis, The Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association (YCOWA) has been implementing co-operative work with dismissed workers in order to support union members, their families and other workers by making and selling masks and liquid soap. The Association is also donating masks to community quarantine centres. 

IndustriALL reports that the Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) is urging Jia Hao Fashion Industry to immediately engage in social dialogue over the dismissal of 79 workers. The dismissed workers include the factory union president and all the executive committee members. The company says that the redundancy plan was necessary as there was a lack of raw materials and new work orders had dropped, but the dismissals happened after local union leaders filed a complaint to the Labour department over unpaid wages. Factory management has refused to negotiate with the local union leaders and locked down the factory for more than 400 workers. "IWFM wants an urgent intervention from the government and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to resolve the dispute. The company has committed numerous violations of labour rights and the current safety and health practice might expose 400 workers to the risk of COVID-19. The company should explore other options, such as applying for the EU Myan Ku fund. For companies affected by the pandemic and forced to shut down, the fund will pay workers at least half of the minimum wage", Khaing Zar, IWFM president, made clear. 

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, the twelve workers from the Kassim Textile Mill factory who had been arrested during a protest were released on Wednesday, the 16th of June. Also according to reports from the network, negotiations at the Denim Clothing factory, which produces for H&M and C&A, have started to take place. 

17 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that, on Monday, garment workers from Fakir Knitwear Ltd staged a demonstration to protest allegations of false cases against two of their colleagues and also to demand their reinstatement to work. The protesting workers said that they demonstrated for their full wages before Eid-ul-Fitr, which the factory management promised to clear in time, but, instead of doing that, the factory filed a false case of vandalism accusing 100-150 of its workers of damaging valuable factory property. As a result of these accusations, the police arrested two workers. Workers rejected accusations of vandalising factory equipment and premises, challenging the authorities to show proof of such misdeeds. 

Media report that, according to BGMEA data, the number of fresh orders dropped to 172 in March-May period, compared to 454 in the same period last year. Nearly 62% of orders shrank in the last three months due to slower demands in export destinations and supply chain disruption. "If the buyers ethically respond to our call and follow the best buying practices, it will help the sector to sustain manufacturers and help thousands of workers retain their jobs", Sharif Zahir, managing director of Ananta Denim Technology Ltd, made clear. 

Media report that manufacturers and exporters of leather goods and footwear products have said that they have been able to pay their workers' wages of April, May and June from the government-announced Tk 5,000-crore stimulus package, but that another Tk 10,000 crore is needed for July, August and September, as the export-oriented industries have been harshly affected by cancellations, partial or delayed payments of orders from global brands. "We are now in talks with buyers about some cancelled work orders. We do not see any fresh or big work orders from them", Saiful Islam, president of the Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association of Bangladesh, said. As global brands fail their suppliers, they call on the government for help. 

Media report that according to the 'World Investment Report 2020' of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow, of which the export-oriented garment industry of Bangladesh remains an important recipient, is projected to plunge by up to 40% in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis, as factories across the country close down and global demand for apparel falls. 

Media report that the Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGAPMEA), in representation of Bangladesh’s garment accessories sector, has urged the government to provide them with the same incentives that have been offered to the ready-made garment industry in the proposed 2020-21 budget, urging reduction in corporate tax rate for their sector to 12%. The apparel sector now pays 12% corporate tax, while it is set at 35% for the accessories and packaging makers. 

Cambodia: Media report that a special flight carrying 115 migrant workers who had been stuck in Malaysia since April, most without work and unable to afford rent and food, landed yesterday evening at Phnom Penh International Airport. Although migrants were grateful that to have been allowed to return home, they pointed out that the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia had not covered the ticket cost. "I think it is not suitable to require them to pay for flight tickets because the state has prevented their return, so they should pay instead", Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central), said. "We are also disappointed that the government has failed to provide them with a food allowance while they were stuck in Malaysia", he added. Another article reports that the same plane also flew 159 Malaysian migrants back to Malaysia the same day. 

Media report that, according to the Phnom Penh Municipal Labour Department, 121 out of the 706 garment factories have suspended their operations in the capital since the beginning of the pandemic. As reported on previous days, across the country, mass suspensions have displaced around 135,000 garment workers. The article reports that the government has said that more than 110,000 of the affected garment workers have so far received their allowances with the fourth round of payments disbursed late last week, which means that around 25,000 garment workers are yet to receive allowances. 

India: The Alternative Law Forum (ALF) reports that a survey conducted by ALF and Garments Mahila Karmikara Munnade last month on the situation garment workers in Karnataka are facing in the aftermath of the lockdown & labour law reforms reveals that workers received no wages in April and that only a few received half their wages in May. The survey further revealed that:

  • 55% of respondents said they got no support from the State during the lockdown;
  • 96% of respondents said that they got no food, rations, advance payment of wages or loans from their employers.

Myanmar: Media report that the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation and Myanmar Insurance have began talks on the 15th of June aimed at providing insurance coverage for the hundreds of thousands of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand. "If workers test positive for COVID-19 abroad and decide to be treated there, who would pay? Free medical treatment is available only in Myanmar, so we are negotiating for insurance coverage there", U Peter Nyunt Maung, vice chair of the Federation, said. 

Union organiser reports that upon demanding non-sweatshop work conditions, such as clean drinking water, no wage-theft, social distancing, and a union, workers from the Amber Stone factory in Myanmar have been fired. Amber Stone produces for Primark, which, despite releasing pro-equality PR statements, is yet to respond. 

Netherlands: Media report that four political parties in the Netherlands' House of Representatives, led by the ChristenUnie, will submit a proposal for mandatory due diligence legislation in parliament today, which would oblige companies to operate responsibly in global supply chains. The article points out that "It did not work voluntarily, so it is mandatory." Also relating to the Netherlands, another article reports that the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile is calling on brands and retailers to comply with their international social responsibilities during the coronavirus crisis, saying that the basic principles should be to protect the income of workers in the garment and textile sector, to guarantee their health and safety, and to make the supply chain future-proof.

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, the Esquel factory in Yakkala, Sri Lanka, has, since the 8th of June, relocated many workers to a new factory, where workers have not been provided with work assignments. Some workers, including the branch secretary, have been asked to stay at home in order to comply with the government's social distancing rules and are only receiving 50% of their wages, despite the fact that Esquel, in a meeting with the union on the 26th of May, agreed to pay for full wages. This also goes against the government's directive, as the Sri Lanka Government announced, today, that employers should be paid 100% of their wages, even while staying at home. The original Yakkala union president was provided with a stool to sit after GAP intervened, but, instead of returning to her original trimming work-station, management has assigned her to a work position that requires heavy lifting work. Furthermore, the Ekkala factory, despite having undergone 30% redundancy in April and May, has reintroduced the VRS scheme. Management extended the second VRS scheme to Yakkala workers and, as result, two workers have already resigned. It is believed that management was forcing the workers to resign by not providing work assignment. A Union office has not been provided.

Thailand: Media report that migrant workers stuck in Thailand since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March are facing unclear immigration status and mounting bills even as the government provides some aid for unemployed workers in the country. On the 23rd of March, Thailand shut down all border checkpoints and announced social security benefits for all workers who were affected - both Thais and foreigners. The qualifications required to receive the aid, however, such as having to have a Thai bank account and at least six months-worth of contributions to the government fund, have resulted in the exclusion of the most vulnerable, including millions of migrant workers from neighbouring countries. Aid workers have suggested that more information and less complications by both the Thai and Myanmar governments would be a good step forward, as the process to getting government assistance is too complex. "The labor attaché and the embassy should provide the translator to go to the different camps, to provide translators and translation so that the worker will understand better about the government assistance to get their social benefits", Johny Adhirika, from Metta Charity, a Thailand-base aid group, explained. The article also reports that many migrant workers have filed claims with labor advocate organisations due to substandard treatment and unfair pay based on their nationality. "When the COVID first hit, the government was only concerned about tourism and the Thai people, but no-one brought up the migrant issue and they treat the migrants with double standards", Sukarn Ta Sukphat, from the Human Rights Development Foundation, made clear.

16 June 2020

Cambodia: The Guardian has published an article on Soy Sros, who was jailed for a Facebook post. The article reports that the criminal charges filed by the government against Sros currently still stand and that the treatment of Sros at the hands of the factory and the Cambodian government on the basis of one social media post – as well as the silence of the brands the factory supplies – is striking terror into the Cambodian garment worker community and adding to fears among labour rights activists, as COVID-19 is being used as a cover for an industry-wide suppression of workers’ voices across the garment sector. The article also made clear, however, that this was not unique to Cambodia. "Workers in at least three factories making clothes for Zara, Primark and Mango have told the Guardian that managers are using COVID-19 disruptions as an excuse to dismiss hundreds of union members at different factories across the country", the author wrote. 

China: Media report that garment factories in Guangzhou are "holding on by a thread", as, after years of fast growth, the Chinese economy shrank in the first quarter of 2020. As a result, tens of millions of people are estimated to be out of work. Manufacturers report that, after lockdowns were lifted in China, orders have been hard to come by. "In the past, I would always complain that I have too many orders to fulfill, but this year there’s nothing to brag about", Jiang Jiashun, the owner of a factory in Guangzhou, said. Describing his factory, he said: "Look at my workshop now: There are only six people working, and they don’t have much to do."

India: Media report that protests attended by over 1300 garment workers from the Euro Clothing Company II (ECC II) in Srirangapatna, Karnataka, continued yesterday for the ninth consecutive day as the management of the factory did not agree to resume operations of the unit after abruptly laying off all its workers on 6 June. The article reports that a second tripartite meeting was held yesterday among workers’ union leaders, ECC II management and the district authorities, and that management refused workers’ demand of restarting the unit. "Most of the workers are the sole breadwinners of their households. It is illegal to suddenly lay off all the workers without even having any dialogue. We have no other option but to continue the protests until the manufacturer gives our jobs back", Saniya, one of the workers, said. The article points out that it is not yet clear why Gokaldas has chosen to shut the ECC II unit in the first place. "For the last two years, ECC II has been mainly manufacturing for H&M (Hennes & Mauritz), world’s second biggest clothing retailer. It is not clear whether H&M has reduced its orders or it is an act of union busting by Gokaldas company" Jayaram KS, treasurer of Karnataka-based Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), said. 

Myanmar: According to reports from the CCC networkMyanmar families living abroad are providing solidarity financial support to local factory workers affected by COVID-19. According to the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association (YCOWA), about 30 skilled factory workers - most of whom are women, mothers coming from remote areas of Myanmar - who became jobless amidst the coronavirus crisis are now making masks and hand soap using YCOWA's office, located in Yangon, as a product centre. This is a temporary coping strategy for their family and their livelihood, in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Masks are donated and distributed to designated quarantine centres in Yangon.

According to a union organiser based in Myanmar, as strikes have been outlawed in the country due to COVID-19 emergency measures, K-World factory workers 'sit-in' at their stations all day doing no work in protest of management's violation of their union agreement. Meanwhile, the same source reports that 29 women garment workers have been fired from the Amber Stone factory, which produces for Primark, for organising a union. 

Meanwhile, The Guardian article mentioned above, reports that unions from the Huabo Times factory in Pathein, supplier to Zara, Primark and Mango, say that 107 workers were dismissed under the guise of COVID-19, 26 of which were members of a union that had only started a few days earlier. Of the other 81 workers, the majority were openly supportive of the union. Thitsar, a worker from this factory explained that "The employers don’t want the union here because they think they will demand workers’ rights. Three days after we registered a new union they dismissed the staff. They used the excuse of the impact of COVID-19 and said they had to reduce the workforce but a few weeks later they transferred the workers from another factory into Huabo Times." The article added that the factory management at Huabo Times could not be reached for comment.

Netherlands: The Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) reports that C&A, owned by the richest family in the Netherlands, has asserted that it is now paying for well over 90% of the original orders. Reports from suppliers, however, contradict this announcement, indicating that reinstated orders, while sizable, represent a smaller percentage of the total. The WRC concludes, therefore, that "the exact percentage is unclear". "Overall, it is clear that C&A has reinstated hundreds of millions of dollars in orders, for which the company deserves credit. It is also clear, however, that a significant percentage of C&A’s orders remain cancelled—or postponed for so long that they might as well be cancelled—which is why the company remains on the negative side of our Tracker", the WRC made clear in their update. 

15 June 2020

Bangladesh: According to reports from the CCC network, H&M and Zara supplier WINDY group has put 3000 garment workers at risk after illegally closing a factory amidst the coronavirus crisis. They have failed to pay legal compensation and workers are now unemployed, struggling to find a new job and facing hunger. The National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) reports that the WINDY group has done this in order to "clean up" the workers from the union and the unionisation process, a clear case of union busting. Yesterday, workers blocked the head office of the Group for two hours, where Amirul Haque Amin, president of the NGWF, Salauddin Swapon, president of the BRGWF, Kamrul Hasan, general secretary of the AGWF, and Faridul Islam addressed the gathering. They urged management to stop the factory closure, layoffs, retrenchment, and union busting. 

NGWF demo

Media report that more than 500 workers from KAC Fashionwear Limited demonstrated yesterday in front of their factory in Gazipur, demanding payment of their wages for the last month. More than 6000 people work at this factory and only 500 of them are said to be working now, while the rest of the workers are on "holidays", with the promise of a minimum salary from the company. However, workers stated that the company is only paying  workers who are currently working, while others have been denied pay. "After paying the salary of April, the company told us to stay at home since many orders have been cancelled. They promised the workers who were sent to layoff that they will pay them a minimum salary. But now they are paying only to the 500 workers who are working currently", Bokul Hossain, a worker at the Quality Control department of the company, said. "The company took our identity cards while paying the last salary saying they need it for so-called official documentation. They are denying now to give our ID cards back, which means our jobs are not secured here anymore", Bokul added. According to the Industrial Police, factory management said that they are unable to pay salaries now due to  lack of funds, but that they would pay all the dues in the coming weeks. 

Media report that apparel exporters and textile millers are demanding that the government accommodate more measures in the proposed budget to recuperate exports and increase job creation. Garment manufacturers confirmed that they get some sort of incentive from the government every year, but argued that the support should have been extensive this year, given the coronavirus crisis. "We see a grim picture in work orders at least for the next three months as most Western retailers did not reopen their outlets to the full. So we need support to stay the course", Fazlul Hoque, managing director of Plummy Fashions, said. 

The Daily Star has published an article written by Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Denim Expert Limited and founder of the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE), expressing the need for global suppliers to work together and agree on some minimum acceptable standards that brands must abide to. "Together, we are stronger, there is no doubt about that", he wrote. "Can we not agree at a global level that the kind of behaviour we have seen from some brands—such as cancelling ready orders then ignoring all contact from beleaguered suppliers—will simply not be accepted?", he added. "Suppliers globally are stronger working together; conversely, they will be greatly weakened if they spend these turbulent times arguing among themselves. To this end, we need to stand up as one", he concluded. 

Media report that the High Court of Bangladesh has judged that denying treatment is a criminal offence. Hospitals cannot deny treatment to any potential patient, infected with COVID-19 or not, said the High Court. 

Cambodia: Media report that the government of Cambodia has started to implement austerity measures, reducing expenses in all sectors and government institutions. The government announced that its 'strategic plan' would include said that vocational training for workers, support for workers whose factories have been suspended, cash transfer programmes, and social support for vulnerable people. Hong Vanak, an economic researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that the tourism sector has been the hardest hit during the pandemic and expressed hope that the manufacturing sector will experience a big leap towards recovery in 2022. Meanwhile, media report that the Government of Japan is providing over $6 million emergency assistance to Cambodia through the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). The assistance aims to contribute to international efforts in containing the COVID-19 outbreak and especially to prevent the spread of the virus in the country. 

Ethiopia: IndustriALL reports that the Industrial Federation of Textile Leather Garment Workers Trade Union (IFTLGWTU) is carrying out COVID-19 awareness campaigns aimed at its members in garment and textile factories. "COVID-19 is a global pandemic that is spreading at an alarming rate causing huge social and economic disruptions. As a union, this is the time for joint efforts to minimise the impact. When workers get sick, the consequences for them and their families are dire as the pandemic increases job insecurity and slows down economies", Angesome Yohannes, IFTLGWTU president, said. The update further reports that the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, to which IFTLGWTU is a member, signed a COVID-19 workplace response protocol with the government and employers in March, which outlines how factories should respond to the pandemic. IFTLGWU has expressed, however, that it is concerned by the slow pace at which some factories are adhering to health and safety standards. 

India: Media report that, although the official narrative says most migrants have returned home, a new report by the the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) says otherwise. The SWAN report, ‘To Leave or not to Leave: Lockdown, Migrant Workers and their Journeys Home’, carries the findings of an automated phone survey of 1963 migrant workers, reveals that: 

  • 67% migrants are still stuck in the same place since the lockdown was announced; 
  • Of those who are stuck, 55% want to go home immediately. The figure was lower (33%) when the same set of workers were asked this question in the end of April;
  • More than 85% of migrant workers who returned had to pay for ‘free’ travel;
  • About 80% of respondents have taken loans during the lockdown period and about 15% have had to take more than Rs 8,000 as loans.

Despite these figures, the government claims that most migrants have returned home and that Shramik trains are no longer needed.

Myanmar: SMART Textile & Garments, a European Union funded project for sustainable manufacturing in Myanmar's garment industry, reports that the EU Myan Ku Fund has distributed 20,450 emergency cash support payments to 17,670 workers from about 135 different garment, textile and footwear factories. So far, a total of 1.6 billion MMK have been distributed. SMART further reports that most of the workers enrolled in Myan Ku are women, particularly migrant workers from villages across the Ayeyarwaddy Delta Region and that most of the factory workers enrolled were employed in Yangon. 

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, Kassim Textile Mill, a garment factory in Pakistan, which produces for Tom Tailor Jeans (Germany) has fired 35 workers today. As workers protested against their dismissals, factory guards opened fire upon them. As a result, four workers were injured and twelve arrested, who are now locked up at Shah Latif police station. The National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) has filed a complaint with the labour department and has made contact with police department officials. 

Media report that the lockdown has disproportionately affected Pakistan’s small-wage earners, particularly women workers in the informal sector. "Pakistan’s informal economy comprises 74% of it, with a majority of women working invisibly as home workers, domestic workers, contract workers in factories, and labour in rural economy", says Ume Laila Azhar, executive director of HomeNet Pakistan, a network of organisations formed to raise awareness about the working conditions of female home-based workers. Iftikhar Ahmad, a comparative labour law expert and founder of the Centre for Labour Research, put forward the case that the solution is making social protection a fundamental right. "The state can initiate contributory social protection schemes for all workers, irrespective of their employment status or type of sector they are engaged in (formal or informal)", he said. In the meantime, home-based workers, most of whom are women, are in a very difficult situation. "Coronavirus is a disaster; it has spread in my area. We have no food, no money and no work is coming our way. We are waiting for all this to be over”, Naz, a home-based worker (HBW) from Karachi, expressed. 

Philippines: IndustriALL reports that over 20,000 workers in the Philippines’ textile, garment and leather goods industries have been laid-off amidst the coronavirus crisis and that, in the absence of an industry recovery plan, many more workers fear further job losses in the coming three to six months. According to Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines, an employers' organisation, more than 30% of employees have been retrenched due to factory closures, as many contracts and orders have been canceled by buyers. Unions are demanding that the government and employers come up with immediate and appropriate measures to prevent more job losses and preserve workers’ income. "We need a roadmap for the textile and garment industry, taking into account the impact of COVID-19 on the sector and with the participation of different the stakeholders. It is important to engage with unions in this process to be able to integrate labour and social rights", Eva Arcos, from the Associated Labor Unions, said. 

14 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that thousands of garment workers in Gazipur have been passing days in uncertainty as 52 factories have remained closed for more than two months amidst the coronavirus crisis. Left without work, many workers are struggling to buy food, pay house rent and meet other needs of their families. Md Yousuf Ali, deputy inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) in Gazipur, said that these 52 units employed 40,000 to 52,000 workers before the present crisis. Several thousand workers have also been dismissed in the face of financial losses being incurred by the factories due to cancelled orders and lack of new orders from global brands. "These days, all of us, including my in-laws, are having little to no food. We are starving", Mithila, a garment worker from Gazipur, said. Even though the ministry asked factory owners not to dismiss workers or go for any layoffs ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, trade union leaders and workers' rights activists have pointed out that many factories dismissed workers, violating the ministry's notice. Indeed, Fazlul Haque Montu, a joint coordinator of Shramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad, a platform of workers and employees, made that clear: "We repeatedly requested factory authorities not to go for lay-offs, but the reality is many workers have lost their jobs."

Meanwhile, media report that social protection schemes’ expansion in the next fiscal year's budget falls short on needs, having failed to respond to calls to make social safety net programmes better targeted, increase allocation and include the new poor amidst the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Also regarding the budget, another article reports that the Bangladesh Chamber of Industries has received the proposed budget as lacking a proper outline to to overcome the ongoing economic crisis. The Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) added that it would be challenging for the textiles and  garments sector to survive in the international market in the present context as the government proposed 0.5 per cent withholding tax on export, urging the the government to set the rate of source tax at the previous rate of 0.25 per cent. Media also report that the BTMA has also urged the government to increase the existing alternative cash assistance from 4% to 10% for six months to compensate for the losses faced by export-oriented textile mills. 

Cambodia: Media report that the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia has said that it is attempting to repatriate at least 150 Cambodians stranded in Malaysia to Cambodia but are unable to mount a flight due to absence of flights as well as failure to secure aid to charter the flight after the Cambodian Government asked their citizens to stay put wherever they were. The same article reports that, in the meantime, Cheuy Vichet, the Cambodian Ambassador to Malaysia, has been distributing food kits to Cambodians in several states in Malaysia.

India: Media report that "India’s garment industry is hanging by a thread". In May, the apparel sector witnessed an 84% drop in sales. Low demand coupled with rent and overhead store charges is driving businesses into the ground. Apparel brands and retailers have stopped ordering fresh stock and put orders of fall-winter collections on hold as they try to get rid of excess items from previous collections, which has put garment producers in an even more vulnerable situation.

Media report that caste discriminations might force disadvantaged communities to migrate for work again. A report by the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) found that almost eight out of ten workers had not been paid at all during the lockdown and that, according to the Azim Premji University COVID-19 Livelihoods' Survey, half (49%) of the households they spoke to reported that they did not have enough money to buy even a week’s worth of essential items and two thirds (67%) of workers reported having lost their employment. Indeed, another article points out that, among migrant workers who have returned to their homes in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the common refrain is, "Jab majboori saamne hai toh jaana hi padega" (When we are faced with no other option, we will have to go back). Garibdas, a migrant worker now in Panipat, explained: "If we get work, then why would we want to go to the city? But if we don't, we have no choice. If not Panipat then we will go somewhere else, because I don't have enough to survive on for even three or four months if I sit at home."

Myanmar: Media report that, according to the government, foreign investor interest in the garment manufacturing sector is still strong despite a clear fall in the volume of garment exports. Data from the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) shows that, of the 178 foreign enterprises permitted to invest in Myanmar between 1 October and 31 May, more than three quarters channeled capital into the manufacturing sector, including garment manufacturers. The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) said that it will prioritise investments in garment manufacturing going forward as these are labour intensive industries likely to create a large number of jobs. The article also points out, however, that the garment sector has been facing many problems since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, as the sector is yet to receive any major new orders from the EU. Nonetheless, U Khin Maung Lwin, assistant secretary of the Ministry of Commerce, affirmed that the industry is now showing signs of recovery. "We are hearing news of orders that were previously cancelled being revived again. There is also some export revenue coming from the Myanmar-Thai border, where garment businesses in Myawaddy have exported around $71 million worth of products to Thailand", he said. 

United States: Media report that Kylie and Kendall Jenner's line, Kendall + Kylie, that is owned by Global Brands Group, is refusing to pay its garment suppliers for orders that have already been produced. "Given the unpredictability of the situation, our retail partners have cancelled orders, and existing inventory and product in production may have no sell-through. Consequently, we have no choice but to make the difficult decision to cancel all S/S 2020 orders from all suppliers (without liability)", Rick Darling, CEO of Global Brands Group, announced in a statement. 

13 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that Li & Fung, a Hong Kong-based clothing supply giant which supplies retailers such as Walmart, is going through a massive downsizing in Bangladesh and has allegedly fired more than 100 of its employees unlawfully. As of today, reports show that Li & Fung has already terminated 25% of its staff members and that mid-level workers are facing a 15% salary cut. According to company sources, the layoff began before Eid and the company will have cut off 50% of its workforce in Bangladesh by July. "People are being suspended without any prior notice. The company is not even paying its dues. (...) The company is not following the Labour Law which stipulates four months’ payment and other benefits for termination", a company official who got terminated said. 

Media report that business leaders in Bangladesh are worried that the government's ambitious revenue collection target and the plan to borrow a huge sum from the banking sector to finance the budget deficit may leave the private sector and individual taxpayers in a difficult situation. 

According to reports from the CCC network, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) is providing emergency food support to vulnerable garment workers and Union members.

NGWF relief

India: Media report that 19 workers have been rescued from a garment company in Thirumuruganpoondi and are now being allowed to return to Jharkhand in a special bus. More than 300 workers were employed by this garment factory and, even after showing interest to return to their home states, management “did not budge and allegedly asked the workers to wait for a Shramik special train to Jharkhand to be announced”. The Police have registered a case against the company’s Human Resources manager and booked him under Section 342 (wrongful confinement) of the Indian Penal Code.

Media report that the West Bengal government has announced earlier today that it will set up 200 'safe homes' to provide temporary shelter to the large number of migrant workers returning to the state, as many do not have enough space within their homes to be able follow self-isolation norms. According to a government official, migrant workers will be provided shelter in safe homes irrespective of them being asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic if they do not have enough space in their homes to follow the isolation norms. Asymptomatic migrants will be allowed to go back to their homes after a week or ten days and those with mild symptoms will have to stay in safe homes until they are certified, he further added. 

Media report that the coronavirus crisis is likely to change India’s labour force dynamics, as migrant workers return home and more people are forced to accept informal jobs and lower wages. Experts predict that the ongoing crisis will likely put a pause on the already shuttering pace of urbanisation in India, likely leading to a further drop in the proportion of urban workers. Indeed, data shows that a little over a tenth of the urban workforce has already migrated back, and, in previous days, media has reported that many do not intend to return to urban areas. Radhicka Kapoor, senior fellow at ICRIER, however, has pointed out that it is "fairly complex and hard to determine how migration patterns will change and the permanence of these changes", as how quickly migration reverses will also depend on whether home states are able to absorb labour or not. Another concern is that the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis might also be marked by a rise in informal work, a sector in which workers have no access to social security. 

Indonesia: Media report that the Industry Ministry plans to impose safeguard measures in order to protect the national garment industry. It intends to do so by preventing low-priced, imported products from dominating the domestic market. "The high import value in the sector should be accorded serious attention by the Industry Ministry. High imports could block domestic market potential as imported products are relatively cheap", Gati Wibawaningsih, the Ministry's Director General of Small, Medium and Various Industry, pointed out. 

Myanmar: Media report that Myanmar has signed the Minimum Age Convention 138 under the International Labour Organization (ILO) requiring it to set a minimum labour age as well as set up national policies in abolishing child labour. "As we fight the impacts of COVID-19 together, we must provide additional protection for children so they are not put in a situation where they are forced into the most dangerous forms of labour, that push them to miss school and impair their health and well-being", Alessandra Dentice, deputy representative of UNICEF Myanmar, made clear. 

Nepal: Media report that 1000 protested earlier today against Nepal's coronavirus response, demanding better conditions in quarantine facilities, more tests and transparency in the purchase of medical supplies to fight the crisis. "Quarantine facilities lack water, sanitation and safety. They are becoming the breeding centres for the coronavirus. This must be improved", a protester explained. During these protests, the Police arrested 10 people, including seven foreigners "for interfering in Nepal's internal affairs". 

United States: Media report that, according to the Garment Worker Center (GWC), a local grassroots labour group, several workers at one chain of factories, Dov Charney's Los Angeles Apparel, have fallen ill since late May, and two workers have tested positive within days of each other. "GWC member Francisco then fell ill shortly after beginning to work there in May. He received his positive COVID-19 test result on 20 May, and was hospitalised for almost three weeks. The next day, 21 May, a second GWC member tested positive and has not been able to return to work. Management has not reached out to either employee, and they are unclear whether paid leave will be offered to them", the GWC made clear. Los Angeles Apparel, however, insists that it is following safety guidelines and offering testing to workers. "We just passed an audit by Cal OSHA, I don’t know what higher authority there is. If the Garment Worker Center wants to make a visit, they can. We haven’t heard from them", Charney replied. Marissa Nuncio, director of the GWC, however, replied by saying that "They haven’t been doing COVID testing, they asked the employees last Monday to go after work to get testing on their own, and they required them to come back with the results the next day."

Meanwhile, another article centred around the same story, also points out that garment workers in Los Angeles have expressed that their biggest concern is losing their jobs. A garment worker explained that she had to take several weeks off of work because she started to develop symptoms and that, during that time, she was unable to pay rent or buy food. Now that she has returned to work, she has found her factory in what she described as "unsanitary, rat-infested and cramped, with workers stationed dangerously close together". The factory has shifted its production to face masks and hospital robes, but workers have to bring their own masks to work. The article also points out the injustice of being paid by the piece, particularly when making face masks, as workers need to make "2000 pieces to make $200". The worker interviewed in the article called on garment workers in Los Angeles to organise: "We all need to organise so that we’re not always humiliated by the bosses".

Media report that US garment imports from Central America have "fallen off a cliff" in April, with Central American countries such as Honduras and El Salvador recording the sharpest declines in shipments. 

Uruguay: The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has announced that Uruguay has become the first country to ratify the ILO's Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190), a year after it was adopted by the ILC. With only two ratifications needed for Convention No. 190 to enter into force, this first ratification represents an important step in the process. "Uruguay considers that the cross-cutting nature of Convention No.190 makes it a very useful tool to improve the legal and labour relations framework already existing in the country. These instruments correlate with the challenges of the future of work", Ricardo González Arenas, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva, said. This particular Convention applies to the public and private sectors, formal and informal economies, and urban and rural areas. It protects everyone in the world of work, irrespective of their contractual status.

Vietnam: Media report that Vietnam has ratified a free trade agreement with the European Union that will cut or eliminate 99% of tariffs on goods traded between them and provide Vietnam with a much-needed post-pandemic boost. "Such benefits are particularly urgent to lock in positive economic gains as they country responds to the COVID-19 pandemic", the World Bank said.

12 June 2020

Global: The Guardian has published an article titled "Racism is at the heart of fast fashion – it's time for change", exposing how the fashion industry makes huge profits from the exploitation of black and brown women. Indeed, of the 74 million textile workers worldwide, 80% are women of colour. "It is the millions of black and brown people making our clothes in factories thousands of miles away who bear the heaviest burden", the author, writing from the UK, points out. "Brands have created a production model that keeps garment workers poor and working in unsafe conditions to maximise their own profits. The buying practices of fast fashion include turning a blind eye to illegal subcontracting and allowing forced and unpaid overtime", Kalkidan Legesse, ethical fashion activist and author of this piece, makes clear. 

Bangladesh: Media report that Kohl’s order cancellations could cost thousands of jobs in Bangladesh. Kohl's is not, however, the only brand that has cancelled orders. Indeed, the article states that up to 500,000 garment workers in Bangladesh could lose their jobs in June, if brands like US clothing retailer Kohl’s do not live up to their commitments to pay for ordered stock that was in production when the COVID-19 outbreak struck.

Cambodia: Media report that the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has allocated $60 million to $100 million for suspended workers and re-training programmes as part of its COVID-19 stimulus plan. The Ministry's spokesperson informed that, in the first round, 33,231 workers from 111 factories received compensation, followed by 25,588 workers (67 factories) in the second round, and 49,960 workers (165 factories) in the third round. Khun Tharo, Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights programme coordinator, pointed out, however, that the government should have clear policies to ease lending terms by micro-finance institutions in order to reduce the debt burden on workers directly affected by the suspension. Tharo also made clear that the government should also cover other vulnerable sectors, besides the garment and tourism sectors, as many workers have lost their jobs and do not have social protection. Meanwhile, another article reports that Ith Sam Heng, the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training, has announced that internal negotiations for the 2021 minimum wage for workers in the textile, garment and footwear industries will begin next month. After August wages are paid, union representatives, employers and government officials will come together and start having official discussions on the matter. Unions have expressed fear that the negotiations could be tense as the coronavirus crisis has caused major disruptions to the global economy. "We know that the previous negotiations, even though there were no serious problems, there were some assertions from employers which caused a stir. The negotiations this year will be more tense than in other years", Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, explained. 

Media report that the coronavirus crisis has severely impacted the major contributors to Cambodia’s GDP growth - the construction, tourism and garment industries. The article states that, as previously reported, 180 domestic factories have suspended operations, resulting in temporary work suspensions of over 150,000 workers, and that numbers are likely to rise in the near future, as more factories are at risk of closure. It has also been estimated that, as result of this crisis, Cambodia's GDP growth could register a negative growth rate, potentially falling between -1 and -2.9 per cent.

Media report that the European Union, in a statement issued yesterday, said it will be mobilising about $504 million in grants and loans to work alongside Cambodia in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and to help mitigate its socio-economic effects in the country. Carmen Moreno, EU Ambassador to Cambodia, explained that the support of the European partners to Cambodia focuses on three essential priorities, in line with the country’s COVID-19 Master Plan: 1) supporting health, 2) supporting livelihoods and employment, and 3) supporting economic recovery. "We have to work together to ensure a sustainable and strong economic recovery, and to help mitigate the impact of this pandemic on human lives, jobs and livelihoods", she said. 

India: The Asia Floor Wage Alliance, an Asian labour-led global labour and social alliance addressing poverty-level wages, gender discrimination and FOA in global garment supply chains, reports that the Karnataka Government has withdrawn the notification which increased work hours in factories from 8 hours to 10 hours. They further report that trade unions in Karnataka, in particular the garment unions, played a major role in the withdrawal of this notification. 

Media report that Raymond, one of the largest manufacturers of textiles and major fashion retailer in India, has retrenched 800 of its 7000 employees. The retrenchment was preceded by a steep salary reduction - with workers facing pay cuts by 20, 50, or 65 percent. "I was told to resign within 48 hours, failing which my employment contract would be terminated", Mishra, that worked for the company, explained. "It couldn’t have been more devastating. I had worked in the company for almost three decades", he added. The labour employment ministry has taken up their concerns and has asked the states to look into their complaints urgently. "The action can be legally challenged on the grounds that there was a steep salary reduction before retrenchment. The court will have to determine whether it was a bona fide/mala fide intent to reduce the liability of the firm towards retrenchment", a labour economist said.

Media report that the Central government has been passing off invoices generated by the employment officials on the ground as evidence for payments made on time, even though the actual bank transfers haven't reached the workers. By doing so, the government has been concealing the extent of delayed payments and avoiding the possibility of having to pay unemployment allowances. Suresh Rathaur, a lawyer and activist of the NREGA Mazdoor Union in Varanasi, "As soon as the details are entered in the MIS, money should come the very next day". Such delays are unacceptable, he made clear. As a result of these delays, most people are now trying to survive on borrowed money.

Media report that the Supreme Court has directed that no coercive action should be taken until July against private companies which have failed to pay full wages to their employees during the coronavirus-induced lockdown period. 

Indonesia: According to reports from the CCC network, members of the CCC network organization Federasi Buruh Lintas Pabrik (FBLP) Indonesia are making face masks and distributing them to marginalised people. The masks say #reformasidikorupsi (corrupted reformation) as a protest against the Government, who seems to have forgotten the spirit of the '98 Reformation Movement. The distribution of the masks is under the campaign #rakyatbanturakyat (People Help People). 

Media report that hundreds of workers were prevented by the police from holding a protest against PT Tyfountex, an integrated textile mill in Gumpang Village, in demand of their salaries, holiday allowances (THR), severance pay, and old-age insurance - all of which have not been paid by the factory in question. 

Media report that, according to the Suharso Monoarfa, the National Development Planning Minister, wage losses from mid-March in the manufacturing sector have reached Rp 40 trillion. Indeed, around 10 million workers in the manufacturing sector have lost half of their work hours since the beginning of the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. 

Malaysia: Media report that, according to a Myanmar Embassy official in Malaysia, the Malaysian government intends to deport more than 3000 migrants currently held in its immigration detention centres to Myanmar after hundreds of detainees tested positive for COVID-19. Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has said that migrants are Myanmar nationals, currently detained in 11 immigration detention centers across the country. The Myanmar Embassy, however, has expressed that they are not sure that migrants are Myanmar nationals. "We have to process them to determine whether they are in fact Myanmar nationals", U Ko Ko Lwin, chief of chancery at the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, said. On a previous occasion, Myanmar authorities found that half of the 200 detainees at a Malaysian immigration detention centre who registered as Myanmar nationals were not from the country, he added. Activists have explained that the government's inactions have left undocumented migrants in a situation in which they are struggling to survive, after having lost their jobs during the coronavirus crisis. 

11 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that around 1000 garment workers from the Dhaka Export Promotion Zone held a protest near Bangladesh's Labour Ministry on Tuesday, demanding their overdue wages and the reopening of factories. Workers urged the Ministry and the Prime Minister to aid them. "The factories are not paying our salaries and bonuses. We are now very much helpless. We are unable to pay our house rent and our children’s tuition fees. There’s no money to buy goods from shops. Now I am requesting our prime minister to take steps so that we can get our due salaries as soon as possible", Mina Akhtar, one of the garment workers present at the protest, explained. 

Media report that additional 1% cash incentives against exports of apparel goods with the existing incentives will continue for the next year. This continuation was proposed by AHM Mustafa Kamal, Finance Minister, taking into consideration the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis. The finance minister also proposed source tax for exporters at 0.50 percent, up from the current 0.25 percent source tax rate. Although he originally proposed the source tax at 1 percent in the outgoing fiscal, it was reduced to the current rate through a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO).

Media report that the government has decided to suspend the countrywide relief distribution programme it has been running for the past three months. "There is no need for distributing nationwide relief anymore as people resumed their works after the withdrawal of the general holiday from this month", Md Enamur Rahaman, State Minister for Disaster Management, said. However, informal sector workers have expressed that these relief measures didn't even reach them, even though they have been jobless since March. "I didn’t get any relief and am surviving with the family with the aid of some philanthropists and by borrowing money", said Abdul Halim, recently unemployed. The article also states that experts have expressed their concerns regarding the suspension of the relief distribution programme. 

Media report that the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), in association with the ILO, has prepared a COVID-19 health guideline which suggests that employers should allow paid sick leave or special leave for workers with coronavirus symptoms. The guideline also said that the employers must adjust and expand access to paid sick leave, sickness benefits, and parental/care leave and inform all the workers in line with the national standards. The Department urged all employers of factories and establishments to comply with the measures identified therein to protect workers and safeguard their respective industries while running the wheels of the economy. 

Media report that the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) stated that the government's stimulus package for export-oriented sectors hardly benefitted the country's garment workers, as there were irregularities in wage payment and retrenchment. The CPD made the observations in its assessment titled "Early Assessment of Tk5,000 Crore Incentive Package: Will the Target Groups Get the Benefits?". The CPD made clear that "Workers need regular payment of their wages; otherwise, it is difficult to ensure food security and minimum livelihood standards. To this end, public monitoring agencies should strictly monitor the payment of workers' wages on a regular basis." Their assessment concluded that:

  • 63% of respondent workers mentioned that they could not pay house rent;
  • 39% of respondent workers mentioned unpaid utility bills;
  • 36% of respondent workers mentioned unpaid school fees;
  • 85.5% of total interviewed workers reported that they received full payment for March;
  • Only 14.8% of respondents reported receiving full payment in April, while about 27.3% received 50% or less of their gross wages.

Cambodia: BuzzFeed News has published an article focused on the case of Soy Sros, a worker who makes bags for Michael Kors and was sent to one of the most crowded prisons in the world for a Facebook post. Soy Sros was crammed into a tiny cell with 72 other women and children, without masks, hand sanitisers, proper food, or even any room to lie down. "I’m sorry if I seem distracted, I’m not fully myself yet", Soy Sros told the journalist, less than a day after she was released from prison on bail. On 4 April, Soy was sent to prison for a Facebook post in which she wrote about her concerns that workers from her factory would be laid off in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The initial charges that Superl Factory, that produces for the likes of Michael Kors, places against Soy claimed that she had posted fake news and defamed the factory. The court that was looking into her case, however, also charged her with two criminal offences, relating to provocation and discrimination. If Soy were found guilty, she would face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 6 million riels (approximately $1,500). A week after being released from prison, Superl agreed to withdraw the complaint against Soy, but the criminal charges invoked by the court against her could still stick. Despite requests by BuzzFeed News and labor rights organizations, Superl has not indicated whether Soy can return to work, when that might be, or whether it will pay her for the days of work she missed, or compensate her, as Soy wants, for "harm to her reputation." Superl Factory and the brands that it supplies also failed to respond to repeated requests for comment for this article. 

Media report that Kuoch Chamroeun, provincial governor of Preah Sihanouk, announced that there are 20 suspended factories in the province, affecting 8675 workers. "As per the government’s policy, all suspended workers must receive out-of-work allowances but, due to a large number of workers furloughed, there could be delays in the payment process", he said. "I hope that my company will soon open again after the virus situation is better because my livelihood and that of other workers’ depend on the wages from these factories", Yi Soknang, that worked in a factory, explained. Meanwhile, media report that the government has announced that it will release another $12 million in assistance for jobless workers as factories remain closed due to the coronavirus crisis. The article further stated that the crisis has affected hundreds of thousands of workers in the garment and service sectors.

India: According to reports from CITU Tamilnadu, about 200 workers have been laid off from the Cotton Plaza India Pvt Ltd, in Tiruppur. Workers have also not received wages for the COVID-19 lockdown period that started in March.

According to reports from the The Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU), the bus passes issued by their factory, Arvind Ltd., have been refused by government buses this morning. "What is the use of bus pass if workers aren't allowed to board buses?", the Union asks. "Yesterday, Arvind Company bought bus passes for us. Today, we have been waiting in the bus stop since 6AM. Because it is a general pass, they are not allowing more than two workers at a time to board the bus. We have not had breakfast and have been waiting here. The company is not responding to us now. If we had company buses like before we would be able to travel to work and have our breakfast as well”, a garment worker explained.

Media report that, after being left stranded in India's industrial cities during lockdown and travelling home in poor conditions, migrant workers, including garment workers, are refusing to go back. Garment factory owners explain that, as a result, one of the biggest issues they are facing is workforce shortage. "Most of the workers at garment factories have returned to their home towns. When we ask them to resume their jobs they refuse our offers and prefer to be with their families. We have been allowed to operate with the full workforce now, but only two lakh workers have started working in garment factories so far", Manoj Sahu, who runs a garment export company in Noida, explained. "Some workers are so adamant about not coming back that they have now started refusing our offers of higher wages as well", Roshan Baid, another garment exporter, added. 

Media report that initial data on reverse migration triggered by the national lockdown has shown that more than 67 hundred thousand migrants have already reached their home across 116 districts from various urban centres. "The final numbers would be much more as the data available so far doesn’t include West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, two major destinations for returning migrants", Ministry sources said. 

Macedonia: According to reports from the CCC network, Macedonia is witnessing a significant number of COVID-19 cases in the garment industry, with many garment workers testing positive. This is due to a combination of the government's hasty decision to loosen up the tight regulation and employers rarely implementing necessary medical regulation such as masks or gloves and ensuring a safe distance between workers is maintained. The worst situation is in Štip in eastern Macedonia where a core of Macedonian garment industry is located. Media report that at least six garment workers tested positive for COVID-19, but workers are afraid that the number is probably much higher than this. Media also report that, in the wake of this incident, several factories been ordered to close in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. In the meantime, mass testing of workers has started to take place but it is apparent that Macedonia – and especially its garment workers – will be facing a difficult time ahead. Media report that, as of yesterday, 125 new cases have been confirmed.

Thailand: Media report that Thai authorities have demolished the building of a Myanmar migrant aid group in Bangkok on earlier this week, claiming that the group was illegal. According to U Hla Khaing, the group’s chair, the authorities also took into custody around 60 Myanmar migrants who were staying in the office of the Aid Alliance Committee (AAC), including pregnant women and workers who had been injured in workplace accidents and were awaiting compensation from their employers. "They must take responsibility. We will continue to seek justice under the law. We have sought the help of the Myanmar Embassy", U Hla Khaing, said. Ko Ye Min, a member of the group further explained that "Thailand does not give official licenses to organisations like the AAC. We applied several times, but were denied. Now they have destroyed our building."

10 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers have dismissed BGMEA’s figure that only 299 among around 4 million workers of the industry have contracted the coronavirus, when more than 70,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in three months in total. Trade union representatives have said that factory owners are simply hiding information to evade liabilities and give the impression that all is normal in the industry. The owners are "bluffing the nation", Joly Talukder, president of Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre, explained, claiming that the real figure of infected garment workers is as high as several thousand. Taslima Akter, a leader of Sramik Sanghati, also said that lack of tests was part of the reason behind the low rate of coronavirus detection among garment workers. "We have reports that workers are falling sick in different areas. They take paracetamol and return to work when the symptoms go away", Taslima said.  The article further added that, although the BGMEA announced last Thursday that it had set up a coronavirus testing lab in Chandra and that 400 tests would be conducted starting from Saturday, as of yesterday, testing hadn't yet started. Md Rafiqul Islam, from the BGMEA, said they made a list of 46 workers for the first tests, which is still far from the 400 daily target. As for the testing labs in Savar and Narayanganj, media report "no visible progress". 

Media report that the inflow of new work orders to Bangladesh's garment sector from international retailers and brands for June has dropped by 45%, compared to the same period last year. "New orders are being issued but they are at least 40 per cent to 45 per cent lower compared to last year's", said Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA. The same article reports that, after intense negotiation with the buyers, a portion of the $3.15 billion worth of work orders that has previous been cancelled have been reinstated. It is predicted, however, that the local garment industry will still face damages amounting to $5 billion. 

Media report that at least one supplier has raised concerns about whether H&M follows through on its word to pay for placed orders. Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), says the WRC is currently investigating the claim before it makes a decision about a possible change in designation in the context of the WRC's brand tracker. "We’ll be talking to the suppliers in more detail, finding if any other suppliers are experiencing or claim to be experiencing the same thing and obviously communicating with H&M", he said. The article also points out that Levi Strauss has joined brands such as Topshop owner Arcadia Group, C&A, Edinburgh Woollen Mills Group, Gap and Sears in failing to commit to paying in full for all completed and in-production orders from Bangladesh, whether by canceling orders outright, refusing to pay, demanding retroactive discounts or significantly extending payment terms. "With Levi's, the primary concern is about the timing of payments and whether suppliers are able to deliver goods and get paid on the originally agreed schedule", Nova explained. Based on the information - or rather lack of it - that Levis has shared, Scott Nova said that "We can't conclude that Levi’s is paying on time in full (...) and that’s why they’re on the negative side of the tracker". 

Cambodia: Media report that trade union leaders are urging brands to pay suppliers. Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, urged brands to stick to their promises. "We have to acknowledge that this is a global issue, not just in Cambodia, but buyers should pay for what they have already ordered", he made clear. The article also pointed out that Ken Loo, secretary-general of GMAC, said that, although already as many as 130,000 garment workers have lost their jobs, the number would likely rise. "In total, 300,000 workers could lose their jobs", he said. 

India: IndustriALL reports that Indian unions announced a day of non-cooperation for 3 July. Unions made clear that the government’s indifference towards social dialogue with them and its disregard of their suggestions to protect workers has had a severe impact on workers. In this sense, unions come together to demand: 

  • A cash transfer of Rs. 7500 (US$ 99,5) to all households below the income tax level for April, May and June;
  • Wages for workers at medium, small and micro enterprises paid for the same months;
  • Universal food distribution to all working people for at least six months;
  • Safe journey for millions of migrant workers.

Media report that the Apparel Export Promotion Council of India (AEPC) has urged the government to lift the ban on export of PPE kits, as demands grow. Sakthivel, APEC chairperson, explained that there is a huge market for masks across the world and that all the fashion brands have started asking for it. He expressed hope that the ban on export of PPE kits may be lifted by the government later this month. 

Nepal: Media report that tens of thousands of Nepali migrant workers have returned home  after losing their jobs following India's lockdown, creating a humanitarian crisis that now also threatens the stability of Nepal's fragile economy, as remittances from abroad Nepali workers have long propped up the country's income. Nepali migrant workers explained that they travelled for days without food or water, and are now back in Nepal, but have "no faith in the government's quarantine facilities." The quarantines are not up to standard (...) They don't have proper water, they don't have food, no bathrooms", Sachyam Sharma, an aid worker with the BlinkNow Foundation, explained. 

Tanzania: IndustriALL reports that, after over 2000 workers from the Mazava Productions and Fabrics East Africa picketed at their garment factory in response to the company's announcement that it would be closing for three months and cutting wages by 50% due to the coronavirus crisis, the company has agreed to pay 70% of wages for the period during which the factory will be closed. This decision came as a result of the Tanzania Union of Industrial and Commercial Workers (TUICO)'s challenge of the company's decision, having filed a dispute with the Commission for Mediation and Arbitration (CMA) Morogoro Region against the employer for not involving the union in the matter and for violating  workers’ rights and interests of the union’s 819 members and other workers at the factory. The employer argued that it did not consult TUICO because the union did not have a majority at the factory. However, the victory at the CMA saw TUICO gaining 229 new members at the factory, thus making the union reach a majority of over 50%. With this majority, the union is now preparing for collective bargaining agreement negotiations when the factory reopens and also intends to organise the remaining workers, as well as introduce programmes on health and safety. "Workers at Mazava fabrics now see the union as one that fights for their rights. The union continues to build trust and confidence among the workers who now realise the power of solidarity. We will continue emphasising to our members that solidarity remains one of our key strategies", Margaret Ndagile, TUICO’s head of sector services, said. 

United Kingdom: According to reports, brands such as ASOS and Chanel have have received taxpayer bailouts through the Bank of England Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF), whilst, at the same time, cancelling orders, avoiding tax and protecting the profits of billionaire owners. ASOS Plc received £100m funding from the scheme, despite huge wealth in the company. CEO Nick Beighton receives around £3m per year, and the single-biggest shareholder, Anders Holch Povlsen is worth $ 9.9 billion. Luxury brand Chanel, with headquarters in the UK, received £600m from the scheme, even though its chairman, Alain Wertheimer, is worth $27.1 billion, and the company is registered in a tax haven.

Media report that Boohoo's CEO is set to receive £50 million bonus. Meanwhile, the company is yet to provide information on how much it pays garment workers nor if is protects garment workers during the coronavirus crisis. 

United States: Media report that Los Angeles County supervisors have thrown down their support for a new draft state bill in California designed to protect garment workers from wage theft. The state bill aims to set an hourly wage for garment workers, who are currently paid by the pieces they saw. Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn co-authored the motion to back Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, in her efforts to pass SB 1399 to strengthen workers’ rights. "It is unacceptable that many garment workers are making face masks and other protective gear for pennies on the hour while being forced to work in cramped areas that undermine physical distancing and that lack protocols to regularly sanitize their workstations", Hilda Solis said. "It is time that we demand better working conditions for women and just hourly pay for garment workers, who, when paid by the piece, earn on average $5.15 per hour", Sen. Maria Elena Durazo made clear. 

The Guardian reports that Kohl’s, one of the US’s largest clothing retailers, cancelled millions of dollars worth of existing orders from Bangladeshi and Korean garment factories just weeks before paying out $109m (£85m) in dividends to shareholders. Kohl’s did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment. "Brands like Kohl’s say they care about workers, and use their big name to talk about ethical sourcing. But it is a lie", Kalpona Akter, the founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, made clear. 

Media report that Macy's Inc has warned that its business was not likely to return to normal until late next year, even as it saw better-than-expected sales from stores reopening after COVID-19 lockdowns were lifted across the United States. "We do not see a return to normalised trends until well into 2021 and possibly not until 2022", Felicia Williams, interim Chief Financial Officer, said. 

9 June 2020

Albania: According to reports from the CCC network, the situation of garment industry workers in Albania continues to be problematic and workers are suffering the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. A good part of the workers have lost their jobs during the period March-April and have not received any payment from the employer or compensation from the government. In May, some of the workers returned to work but were not reimbursed by the employer for staying at home due to pandemic closure. Workers who did work during the pandemic period were paid based on working hours, due to missing orders, and were paid no more than €50-70 per month. For several weeks now, work has continued on a full-time basis in many of the factories. In one of the factories, only 60 out of 700 employees working there have benefited from the government's aid package. The owner has determined for himself which application to apply. Here, there is constant tension and dispute between workers and the owner. In one of the factories - although it is far from an isolated case - women workers have been given five masks since the beginning of the pandemic, which are no longer functional due to frequent washing. In addition, social distance is rarely respected near some factories. Numerous protests have been held by factory workers throughout Albania during the months of April and May, where they seek government assistance and the payment of days spent at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the start of the pandemic on 8 March, the State Health Inspectorate has closed 17 factories for violating anti-Covid protocols. In an interview with TV Klan, the director of the inspector, Vjollca Braho, said that 672 factories operating in the country have been inspected two to three times. Indeed, media report on a factory protest in Vlora, where 300 workers protested because they did not receive salary nor government assistance. Another article reports that workers from a garment factory in Durrës have demonstrated in demand of "war salary" from the government. Media also report that some factories in Kruja, one of the main COVID-19 hotspots in the country, and Fushë-Krujë have started protests outside their workplaces, because they have not benefited from the government's "war salary". Employees say that during the period March-April they worked very few days and the salaries of these two months are not enough for to support their livelihoods. 

Bangladesh: Media report that, in addition to labour rights bodies, political parties have also expressed concerns and opposed job cuts in the garment sector, condemning Rubana Huq’s announcement that factories would start dismissing workers this month. The general secretary of the Socialist Party of Bangladesh, Khalequzzaman, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-Jasad president, Hasanul Haq Inu, general secretary Shirin Akhter and Revolutionary Workers Party general secretary, Saiful Huq, all shared separate press statements condemning the plan to dismiss garment workers. Political parties added that, as the government had given companies incentives and loans at only 2% interest, the job cuts will not be accepted.

The Daily Star has published an article by Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim Expert Limited and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE), on how apparel buyers can support their manufacturing partners. "Now, more than ever, the apparel manufacturing community needs the support from their buying partners and central to this is an open and empathetic system of communication", he wrote. His suggestions are as follows:

  • Assurance of business and provision of moral support;
  • Developing a cohesive plan to restart business;
  • Equitable distribution of the financial burden
  • Using corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds for workers' wages.

Media report that experts predict that by December 2020, over a million garment workers will lose their jobs and that, in Bangladesh, according to the Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre, 70,000 garment workers have already been laid off by their employees. In contrast, the Bangladesh’s Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) reports the loss of 18,000 jobs, but workers' rights groups say that the number is around 70,000, and will gradually increase if the crisis goes on. "Our factory is closed due for the lack of orders. Our employer told us that he could not pay us. We can’t find work. We don't know what to do", Nazrul Islam, who, prior to the outbreak, worked in a factory in Dhaka.

According to reports from the CCC network, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) has, in a relief effort, been distributing daily necessities.

NGWF relief

Cambodia: Media report that 23 garment workers from TY Electric Co Ltd. in Svay Rieng province fainted on Monday (8 June), after 49 others fainted on Friday and Saturday from tiredness and lacking vitamins. Ou Sokhoeun, Labour and Vocational Training Department provincial director, said that workers were tired and that this was the reason why they fainted. “We are still monitoring the issue and whether or not such fainting continues. If other workers faint, we will ask the factory to close for a few days so that workers can feel better and assess whether additional cleaning inside the factory is needed so that it does not smell unpleasant”, he added.

India: Media report that Bengaluru, known as the ‘Garment Capital of India’, is witnessing the closure of many garment units and thousands of garment workers are losing their jobs. “Already, we have received about 900 complaints across the State about employees, mostly women, being sacked from jobs; intentionally not being provided transport, salaries paid 50% and worse”, Prathiba R, president of the Garments and Textile Workers Union, explained. As many become jobless overnight, workers express that, although there are unions and laws, they don’t actually have any protection when it comes to their jobs. “There are unions, there is a law, they say we are protected. But we are just helpless garment workers with no protection from anyone”, Poornima K, a contract tailor of an export firm, expressed.

Media report that workers from the Euro Clothing Company’s factory in Srirangapatna, that produces for H&M, protested yesterday over management’s decision to lay off 1,300 employees without any warning. This protest was met with a 'rigid' response from officials associated with the garment exporter. Also yesterday, the Nagamangala Tehsildar MV Roopa held meeting with the officials, but they said that they had to lay workers off due to lack of orders. In the meantime, labour department officials have scheduled a meeting between the workers and company officials, which will take place this afternoon in Mysuru. SB Ravikumar, Deputy Labour Commissioner, has also issued a letter to the Managing Director of the Euro Clothing Company-II factory unit and officials from Gokaldas Exporters. In the letter, the Labour Commissioner detailed the complaints made by the workers and highlighted that the company decided to lay off its employees without forewarning and without informing the state government. 

Pakistan: Media report that the Ijaz A. Khokhar, Regional President of International Apparel Federation (IAF) and Chief Coordinator Pakistan Ready-made Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA), has urged the government to lift the ban on the production of “surgical masks" so the industry can capture demanding market share. According to Ijaz A. Khokhar, this measure would help in boosting exports, as well as compensate the exports from further decline caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Southeast Asia: Media report that major brands, including Zara, are investigating reports of mass sackings of union workers in their supply chains, amid fears from labour advocates that coronavirus has fuelled 'union-busting' at factories across Southeast Asia. Fashion brands Bestseller, Mango, Primark and Zara said they had launched probes into reports of union-busting in Myanmar. "We acknowledge an increased risk of union-busting during COVID-19 (and) have therefore increased our due diligence”, Morten Norlyk, a spokesman for Danish retailer Bestseller, said. Referring to the Myan Mode factory, Andrew Tillet-Saks, a labour campaigner based in Myanmar said that "It's a mild victory but it's remarkable how hard the brands fought against what is a very clear case of union busting. It's clear that the brands hold leverage." "The fact that they don't step in immediately shows that their commitments to sustainability in the supply chain are nonsense", he added.

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union have sent a letter to Mr Dinesh Gunawardana, Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations, requesting to take over the garment factories closed down in the context of the impact of the coronavirus crisis in order to safeguard employment. The letter makes clear that “By now UNICEF has given a huge order to the Government of Sri Lanka to manufacture personal health safety equipment and we suggest that it can be used as a remedial measure to this unemployment Issue.” The letter comes as a response to the daily reports that certain employers are taking action to dismiss workers, showing a clear disregard to the consensus reached by the Tri-part Task Force. According to the Union, this has been done in different ways; one of them being the suspension of transport facilities. It has been a condition of service to provide transport facilities when recruiting employees to work at factories. However, certain employers have now announced that they will be suspending transport facilities and workers who are unable to report to work as a result of this measure have been informed that they would be treated as having vacated their post. Some employees of certain factories have been transferred to other factories of the same company, which are about 50 km away from the present work place, without providing transport facilities.

8 June 2020

Global: Media report that, as millions of garment workers face uncertainty globally because of cancelled orders amidst the coronavirus crisis, nearly half of the world’s leading clothing brands have yet to publicly claim financial responsibility for finished garments.

Bangladesh: Media report that, as clothing orders from Western brands and retailers continue to slump in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the Bangladesh garment industry could see an "irrecoverable loss" of $5 billion by the end of the fiscal year, the BGMEA has warned. "As factories are running with lesser work orders, it will not be possible to engage all the workers. Global consumption of clothing goods is expected to decrease by 65% and our work orders will also go down by 30%. As a result, the export earnings will decline", Rubana Huq explained. 

Media report that, according to the Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA), nearly 36 million people have lost their jobs in the 66 days of the coronavirus lockdown. The highest job losses were found in service, agriculture, and industry sectors. Dr Abul Barkat, president of BEA, also said 59.5 million people moved into different class structures during this period, of which 25.5 million people became extremely poor. In the particular case of the garment industry, media report that 18,000 garment workers have been fired in the last two months, despite a tripartite agreement between the concerned parties.
The Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has urged apparel and textile sector leaders to take necessary steps to stop the dismissal of workers. “Considering the present situation and to stop unrest in industrial areas, we are urging you [apparel leaders] to take necessary steps to stop the firing of workers as per the tripartite agreement,” said DIFE. According to data from the office of the deputy inspector general of DIFE, 67 apparel and textile factories located in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong have fired 17,579 workers, said the letter. Another article reports that Amirul Haque Amin, president of National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF), has suggested that, considering that factories are firing 'additional workers', a list of such workers should be prepared soon for helping them financially if they get terminated. 

Egypt: Media report that Egypt's garment and textile manufacturing sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, even though factories have largely remained open. "A lot of orders were cancelled, or delayed, and many companies went into Chapter 11 [bankruptcy]," Mohamed Kassem, chairman of the Egyptian Companyfor Textile Parks Development, said, adding that many companies have asked for discounts or delayed payments to suppliers. The article also states that, with all the Egyptian industry affected by the ongoing economic downturn, the Central Bank of Egypt has created a bailout package, including lower interest rates, subsidised loans and debt relief, and subsidised energy. 

India: Media report that the Gokaldas Exports factory in Srirangapatna, that produces for H&M, laid off around 1200 workers and workers say that the company had only paid them half-day salaries since 23 March. As reported yesterday, a meeting between employees and management will be held today. "This violates section 25(m) of the Industrial Disputes Act. This means workers will be paid half salary and factories won’t be operational. It may lead to closure", Prathiba R, president of Garment Association Trade Workers Union (GATWU), said. Another article adds that the trade union leaders and the local Tehsildar have alleged that workers were not given the mandatory one-month notice ahead of the shutdown, as they were simply told not to come back to work on Monday. Pratibha said the union had written to the state labour department twice after the machinery was removed. "But they were apparently busy sending the migrant workers home, so nothing came out of the letters", she made clear. Pratibha added that one possible reason the Mandya unit was shut was the strength of the trade union there. "Our union is very strong at this unit. So, it seems, the management decided to pull the plug", she said. 

Media report that, according to a survey by the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), which represents over 4,000 manufacturers, export orders have dropped by 84% compared to the same period last year, primarily because some factories had started manufacturing masks and other PPE products. CMAI’s survey also showed that only 22% of the garment factories resumed operations by end of May, 40% of which are engaged in the manufacture of current essential products like Masks and PPE products and that factories are now operating at an average of 25% of their capacity. 

According to reports from the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU), the chairperson of Karnataka Women's Commission visited the Arvind Ltd factory on Saturday and factory management agreed to provide transportation from village to Mandya and bus pass from Mandya to Bangalore and pay 50% wages for the lockdown period. 

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that Myanmar garment workers and union leaders stand with black workers in the USA. "Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar stand in solidarity with our American sisters and brothers in the struggle against racism. Black lives matter!", one of their posters reads. 

SMART Textile & Garments reports that over 15,000 garment industry workers have received emergency cash transfers from the EU Myan Ku Fund, adding that even workers living deep in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta are able to receive mobile money cash transfers. "It helps our family continue our life as normal" despite work being suspended, a worker explained. 

Media report that, according to the Asia Foundation, nearly one third of companies in Myanmar have temporarily closed because of the coronavirus lockdown and that the vast majority of those still operating have reported lower turnover. Around 22% of companies reported being profitable, compared to 55% in a similar survey conducted between last November and February 2020. Half of the respondents put 'business survival' at moderate or high risk, with garments and textiles reporting a particularly high risk. 

7 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the government may introduce a new slab of advance tax at the import stage for industrial products in the upcoming national budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021 in order to provide some relief to manufacturers.

Cambodia: Media report that Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) have launched a mobile phone hotline to provide information to workers in the garment and footwear, travel goods and bag sectors about preventing the spread of COVID-19. Examples of the kinds of information provided include how workers can protect themselves while travelling to work, and what they should do if they suspect having COVID-19. The contents of the service are derived from guidelines and recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health and will be regularly updated in line with the latest official advice. "It is essential for all of us, including workers, to understand how to protect ourselves from it. Through this hotline, workers can get information promptly and it will be particularly useful for workers with limited literacy skills", Sara Park, Programme Manager of Better Factories Cambodia, explained.

India: Media report that 1300 garment workers from a factory in Karnataka, owned by the Euro Clothing Company, which is affiliated to Gokaldas Exports Ltd, have been laid off overnight. According to labour activists, the lay-offs were in violation of section 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.  "It came without warning. At 5:40 pm, when half of the workers were outside the factory and the other half was inside getting ready to leave, a notice was stuck and announcements were made on a mic stating that we were being laid off", Pallavi, a garment worker from the factory in question, explained. The factory had removed some of the machinery in the factory earlier in the week but workers say they were not given any communication about lay-offs. Yesterday evening, a notice, signed by the factory manager, stated, "The management of the company has decided to lay off the workers at Srirangapatna plant with effect from 8 June, 2020." The notice added that the reason for laying off the workers was due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the manufacturing activity of the company. After the contents of the notice were communicated to the workers in the factory, many workers staged a protest, demanding answers from officials in the factory. "We told them that laying us off like this is illegal. But we did not get an adequate response from them", Pallavi, further explained. The article states that the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) in Karnataka had sent letters to the state's Labour Department when the company removed machinery from the factory last week and Roopa MV, Tehsildar of Nagamangala, assured that “We will mediate a discussion between the workers and factory officials on Monday". 

Also in Karnataka, media report that nearly 150 garment workers staged a protest in front of the Arvind Limited factory today, protesting against the factory management's announcement that workers would have to find their own mode of transport in order to continue to work. Today, Pramila Naidu, chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Women, intervened and held multiple rounds of talks. Following their intervention, the company agreed to get the workers KSRTC bus passes and reimburse all the transport costs they incur to travel to work. "They said the business was under stress and they couldn’t run a bus every day, but agreed to reimburse the costs. While they agreed to pay the full salary for April when the factory was closed, they are unwilling to pay us the salary for May when we were unable to work. For now, we will resume work from Monday", Ms. Mamata, a garment worker that was at the protest, explained. 

Media report that a group of migrant workers were lathi-charged at a quarantine centre in Bihar by police for protesting against poor quality food and lack of cleanliness and basic amenities, such as proper sanitation facilities. The beating resulted in a worker’s hand getting fractured. The article states that the incident is not an isolated one. Thousands of migrant workers have started to protest against the poor conditions of quarantine centres in over a dozen districts in Bihar over the past day. There are also several reports of migrant workers raising their voice and expressing their anger over the mismanagement at quarantine centres in government-run school buildings, panchayat buildings and other buildings across Bihar. Earlier this week, 25 migrants fled from a quarantine centre in Katihar district after alleging that the quality of food was very poor and that there was lack of sanitation. Several migrant workers have demanded district authorities to allow them to quarantine themselves at home instead.  

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, the Denim Clothing company, one of the biggest exporters in the textile and garment sector, which produces for H&M and C&A, has now filed cases against more than 800 workers. Out of 70,000 workers in different units of Denim Clothing, 90% of workers are not registered under the social security and pension scheme, there is no union and more than 60% of workers are under third party contractor system. The company has retrenched 15,000 workers as to avoid payment of Eid bonuses, which goes against the government's ordinance. Apart from the 15,000 workers, another 28,000 workers didn’t receive their Eid bonus. With the help from the police, management has filed cases against more than 800 workers, while even mentioning some workers' names. Workers tried to file a case against management, but police officials didn’t maintain it. Soon after the Eid holiday, seven workers were arrested; four have been released on personal guarantees, while three were sent to jail. Denim Clothing workers demand justice. [edit 28 June 2020: these numbers are estimates based on worker accounts, factory representatives dispute the numbers and report above].

6 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that leaders of Bangladesh Confederation of Labour (BCL) organised a human chain in front of the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka. While speaking in the human chain, they said that BGMEA President's statement that the 55% decrease in the garment industry would be matched by lay-offs, showed an ‘irresponsible’ attitude. The union criticised that Rubana Huq was talking about worker lay-offs in a way that tried to normalise it and urged her to withdraw her 'anti-worker' statement as soon as possible. In the demonstration, the labour rights body further demanded social safety, ration, residential and health service facilities, including industrial area-based hospitals for ready-made garment workers. Another article reports that Md Touhidur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Industry Workers Federation and former secretary general of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, also strongly protested Huq's statement. "It is important to behave humanely as it is about life and livelihoods of the garment workers. But the statement from the BGMEA president has put the workers' livelihoods in uncertainty", he said. Thouhidur Rahman demanded that the termination of more garment workers be stopped and joined the BCL in calling for the withdrawal of the statement of the BGMEA president. Media report that, amid widespread criticism, the BGMEA released a statement today claiming that the media did not present the matter objectively and that the BGMEA president did not announce any job cuts but rather expressed "deep concerns and apprehension over possible job losses". "As an organization, we have no scope to make such an announcement. The BGMEA President expressed her deep concern over the decline in employment and possible layoffs", reads the media statement. 

On Thursday in a webinar on workers' health during the COVID-19 pandemic, BGMEA president Rubana Huq commented that "the number of workers being affected by Corona is very low. Because poor people have a kind of strength. They know how to fight. They are aware and they take it for certain that they won't fall sick. They work with this same strength." This statement is drawing a lot of criticism on social media.

Media report that the parent company of Sears Holdings has been threatened with legal action after allegedly refusing to settle more than $40 million of outstanding debt with its garment suppliers in Bangladesh. In representation of 19 factory owners, lawyers are demanding that Transformco, owned by American billionaire Eddie Lampert, are demanding immediate payment amid claims that Transformco "willingly misrepresented" its finances to convince suppliers to extend it credit. "I sent the shipment worth $6 million for [Transformco] but the company suddenly called me for cancelling the order", Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, managing director of Combined Apparel, explained. Lawyers explained that Transformco action’s have "contributed to an evolving humanitarian disaster in Bangladesh and elsewhere in Asia." Transformco has been given until the 8th of June to respond. 

India: According to media and news from the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU), 150 garment workers from the Arvind Ltd. factory, in addition to not having received their wages for April and May, have now been told that their services are no longer required if they cannot arrange their own transport, to and from the factory. "At the time of recruitment, Arvind Mills Limited promised that if we joined the company, we would be paid better wages and would be provided transportation, to and from the factory. It was they who convinced us to take up the offer. Several workers even quit their existing jobs as they were convinced by the offer", Vasantha, garment worker from the factory in question, explained. Workers are now being replaced by employees who live close to the factory and do not need transport. As previously reported, workers, through their unions, have filed a petition before the Labour Commissioner and Women’s Commission. The Women’s Commission chairperson has replied and informed them that she will be visiting the factory at around 11AM today (6 June). KOOGU published a video of a garment worker from the Arvind Ltd. factory, exposing the injustice workers are facing. "I am from Nelamangala and was working in a factory there. These people (Arvind Limited) came to us and asked us to join Arvind. I told them no need I already have a job nearby and I don’t want to sacrifice that for a temporary job. They (Arvind Ltd) told me that Arvind is a great factory with all facilities and not to worry promising to take full responsibility and make all necessary arrangement. Now, they have just abandoned us in the middle of the sea... We would have understood if there was no work but they have already started recruiting our replacement. What are we supposed to do? We want our wages and we want our jobs back. We can’t keep begging food from our neighbours every other day", the worker explained. 

Media report that the UP government has replied to the Noida Apparel Export Cluster's (NAEC) request of nearly 200,000 garment workers by announcing that, after checking the database, the government has been able to locate around 75,000 tailors and has decided to facilitate training in order to meet the rest of the request. "While we have identified around 75,000 tailors and support staff so far, [details of] the rest would be given after the entire skill profiling is completed. We will also try to coordinate on skill training for those interested in tailoring jobs so that more people can be employed to meet the demand", Navneet Sehgal, Principal Secretary of the MSME department, said. 

Myanmar: Kyaw Thu Zaw, Rui-Ning factory union president, has published a video in which he explains how the company - that produces for Zara - has fired 298 union members after workers demanded that health and safety measures be implemented amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and how he was attacked with knives by people hired by the company after fighting back. 

ActionAid reports that garment workers in Myanmar - 90% of whom are women - have been severely by the coronavirus crisis and fear for their livelihoods. In addition, Phyo, who leads ActionAid Myanmar's work supporting garment workers, reports that some garment workers have stated that they do not have access to PPE or clean water, meaning that they are unable to wash their hands. "She told me people are worried about getting infected, but everyone says their livelihoods are more important than getting the virus. If these workers do not work, they simply can’t live", Phyo explained while referring to a recent conversation with a garment worker. 

Media report that it is unlikely that Myanmar migrant workers return to Thailand when the lockdown is lifted, as they are unlikely to find jobs. Migrant workers, especially from neighbouring-country Myanmar, have helped prop up Thailand’s economy, performing a wide range of low-skilled and low-paid jobs. However, the economic slump brought on by the coronavirus crisis has dealt a blow to Thailand’s labour market, which has severely affected migrant workers. 

Pakistan: Media report that the export-oriented industry of Sialkot, including the apparel sector, fears that exports will suffer a 30% drop, that will affect hundreds of thousands of jobs, if the zero-rating regime is not reinstated. "Payments of already shipped goods in Jan, Feb and March from foreign buyers have been held for indefinite period. We don’t have liquidity in hand to run the industry in coming months, so we are seeking restoration of zero rating regime to run the wheel of industry", PRGMEA chief coordinator said. He added that the fear is that, with this drop, thousands of SMEs may close in the next few months, affecting hundreds and thousands of jobs. 

5 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that thousands of workers - most of whom are garment workers - have lost their jobs in what industry insiders describe as a fall in production and work orders amidst the coronavirus crisis. According to the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), around 60 garment factories have terminated a total of 17,579 workers until the 31st of May. According to the same data, 57 BGMEA-members have dismissed 8364 workers and 10 BKMEA-member factories have dismissed a total of 637 garment workers. Two factories under Bangladesh Textile Mills Association have also cut nine jobs. Labour leaders have alleged, however, that the number of dismissed workers is actually much higher than the available official figures. "Major job losses were witnessed in May despite repeated calls from the government not to do so and its stimulus package for making wage payments during the pandemic", they said. 

Meanwhile, media report that, among the total COVID-19 infected workers in Bangladesh, 73% are from the garment sector. Many workers have been infected since the government allowed factories to reopen on the 26th of April. Until the 23rd of May, data showed that 170 workers had tested positive. Within a week, the infected number rose to 251. The six industrial zones of Asulia, Gazipur, Narayongonj, Chittagong, Khulna and Mymensingh, where most factories produce ready-made garments, are among the most affected. 

The Daily Star reports that, yesterday, three labs that will provide COVID-19 tests for garment workers have been inaugurated in Chandra, Tongi and Narayanganj. "Millions of workers are involved [in the garments sector] so it is our responsibility to protect them. We thank those who have established the lab",  Tipu Munshi, Commerce Minister, said. The article reiterated that, so far, 264 garment workers have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Cambodia: Media report that 34 garment workers were seriously injured in a traffic accident involving a truck that was carrying around 60 workers. Workers were returning from Horizon Outdoor Bags, Golden Apparel and Khai Neng garment Factories in the Kampong Chhnang province.

Guatemala: Media report that reports of a COVID-19 outbreak in a Guatemalan garment factory - in which 200 workers tested positive for COVID-19 - has sent shockwaves across the region, fuelling calls for tougher action to ensure garment workers are provided with sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). 

India: According to the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU), the general manager of Arvind Ltd., Mr. Hanumantha Rao, has responded to the Union, promising to consider the demands and sit with the aggrieved workers for dialogue and resolution. "We await a step in this direction by the management", KOOGU made clear. 

Media report that garment manufacturers have sent a letter to the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government stating their need for 200,000 garment workers, citing the shortage of labour as the prime reason for the inability of manufacturing and export units to restart operations. "The readymade garments units in Noida are unable to resume the operations because of absence of manpower, despite government orders allowing restarting of the production units. We are facing a severe problem of shortage of workers/manpower due to the migration to their native places", Lalit Thukal, president of the Noida Apparel Export Cluster (NAEC), said. The UP government said that a comprehensive list of migrant workers who had returned to the state had been prepared and that the names and contact details of registered garment workers would be shared with NAEC, so that they can contact them directly.

Media report that the Supreme Court has said that the Centre and states governments' have 15 days to complete the transportation of all stranded migrant workers to their native places and asked all states to create employment opportunities for migrants returning home. "We propose 15 days’ time so that states can be permitted to effectuate the completion of transport", the Supreme Court said. The Centre reports that, as of 3 June, over 42,00 Shramik Specials had been run to transport 1 crore migrant workers to their homes across the country. Meanwhile, another article reports that, according to the report 'To Leave or Not to Leave: Lockdown, Migrant Workers, and Their Journeys Home', by the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), 63% of respondents reported having less than Rs 100 left and more than 3/4 reported still not having access to rations. 

Myanmar: Solidarity Center reports that, following a two month fight against the factory’s attempt to use COVID-19 to destroy their union, workers at the Myan Mode garment factory in Myanmar are celebrating the return to the job of many recently fired union members, as they won an agreement that immediately reinstates 25 fired union members and brings back, within two months, 50 workers who joined strikes to protest the employer’s actions. This agreement further guarantees the recall of hundreds of other fired union members when operations return to normal as the pandemic eases. "This was not an easy fight. We wanted all our unfairly dismissed union brothers and sisters to be immediately reinstated", Mg Moe, general secretary of the factory-level union, which is affiliated to the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar (FGWM), made clear. "The central factor in our victory was that our members stood strong", says Moe Sandar Myint, a union leader at FGWM. "Although we could not achieve full justice, the employer and the brands could no longer ignore our demands entirely. Our workplace union fought doggedly to win the survival of our union, and we now live to fight another day."

Media report that, according to data from the IHS Markit, manufacturers in Myanmar are expected to restart production in the coming months after a fall in activity in April and May. "Myanmar’s manufacturing economy remained heavily impacted by lockdown measures in May, with key indicators for output, new orders and employment all signalling further rapid declines" Trevor Balchin, the firm’s economics director, said. He added that, these figures provide "a glimmer of hope that the worst of the disruption has passed."

Netherlands: According to reports from the CCC network, parties to the Dutch Covenant for Garments and Textiles have, in a statement, called upon brands to behave responsibly during the crisis. They call on purchasing companies to:

  • Only implement measures in proper consultation with their partners within the supply chain;
  • Not cancel orders that have already been produced or are in production;
  • Pay for work and materials for orders that have already been produced or are in production;
  • Not stipulate discounts under the threat of cancelling orders. 

United Kingdom: Media report that Boohoo has been breaking social distancing rules in order to shoot new products. During a global pandemic, Boohoo Groups took the decision to continue to shoot with full teams as normal. The company continued to fly in models from different countries as late as the 20th March and then had models travel from London to Manchester during the first week of lockdown. One studio employee explained that "The problem is that we are physically unable to social distance ourselves whilst on set and in this type of environment. The teams have been supplied with antibacterial gel, gloves and masks but that appears to be the extent of what the company is willing to do." 

4 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to Industrial Police data, 187 garment and textile sector workers had tested positive for COVID-19 until 1 June. Of the infected workers in the garment sector, 126 are from 51 BGMEA member factories, 58 from 21 BKMEA member factories and three workers from two BTMA factories. Another article, however, reports that, so far, 264 garment workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Indeed, referring to the data from the Industrial Police, trade union leaders have said that they do not agree with the figures and claim that the actual number is higher, as the real picture is not reflected due to the lack of testing facilities. "Low numbers of infections could be better, but I don't believe the figures and it does not reflect the real scenario as the workers are not getting enough testing opportunities", Taslima Akhter, president of Shramik Sanghati Andolon, made clear.

Media report that a COVID-19 testing lab for garment workers with the capacity to test 400 samples daily has been launched today. New Age reports that Tex-Ebo, a Singapore-based multinational company who has operation in Bangladesh, has donated $25,000 to the BGMEA to test garment and textile workers for COVID-19 in order to ensure their health safety during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Meanwhile, media report that Rubana Huq, BGMEA president, has said that, as work in garment factories has decrease by 55%, garment workers will be laid off or trimmed starting from this month. "As factories are running with lesser work orders, it will not be possible to engage all the workers. RMG owners may retrench workers from this month", she said. Another article exposes that, according to trade union representatives, 539 BGMEA-member factories have not paid either April salaries or festival bonuses to their workers. Also regarding the BGMEA, media report that the Association has extended the deadline for blacklisting British clothing retailer Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) by one week. The new deadline for the paying suppliers is 5 June, tomorrow. "We extended the deadline to June 5 from May 29 for paying Bangladeshi suppliers as a response to the retailer's letter", Nafis Ud Doula, RMG Sustainability Council Chairman, said. 

Media report that Abdul Khaleque, the owner of the Rana Plaza building, died of COVID-19 earlier today. For the past seven years, Abdul Khaleque was on bail in a number of cases filed against him following the deaths of 1138 people in Rana Plaza collapse.

Cambodia: According to reports from the CCC network, 52 organizations have now endorsed the Joint Statement on Repatriation of Cambodia Nationals.

Media report that, despite having closed its borders with Cambodia, Thai authorities are sending back hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers through the Banteay Meanchey province. According to Um Reatrey, provincial governor, Thai authorities have been sending around 200 to 300 laid-off migrant workers back to Cambodia through the corridors in the province. Meanwhile, another article reports that the Thai Cabinet has decided to extend the deadline that allows migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to work in Thailand until the 31st of July. Previously, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labour had allowed migrant workers to stay and work in Thailand until 31 May. 

Media report that, on Tuesday (2 June), 700 workers from the TY Fashion Cambodia in Kandal province protested over the fact that their company and the government are still neglecting to pay their allowances. "After two months of suspension, the company and government have still not paid our out-of-work allowance", Srey Pov, a TY Fashion employee, said. "Some employees have worked there for 10 years. If the company shuts down, the company must pay our seniority indemnity and severance pay", Thea Ry, also a TY Fashion employee, said. 

Media report that the coronavirus crisis' impact is setting the stage for an economic disaster in Cambodia. "There could be a social crisis also, if people don't have income. People need to survive", Tola Moeun, from Central Cambodia, said. Meanwhile, media also report that, as laid off garment workers move to rural areas to work in agriculture in order to survive, the World Bank warns that Cambodia’s agriculture sector is unlikely to be able to substantially absorb all laid-off workers from the garment and tourism sectors. 

Cambodia/Philippines: The Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA) is organising a webinar and Q&A event on Wednesday 20 June at 3PM (AEST) on Union Organising in the Philippines and Cambodia during Covid-19. Speakers will be Elmer Labog, President of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) labour federation in the Philippines, and Thorn Ath, President of the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC). Registration is essential and can be done here

India: According to the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU), around 150 workers, who worked at Arvind Limited, which produces for the likes of H&M, Levis, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and Old Navy, have been kicked out and are in the process of being replaced in an attempt to avoid paying lockdown wages and mandatory social security benefits to the workers. Workers - most of whom are women - have not been paid for the last two months and are now facing food shortage, hunger, debt traps and evictions. Fast fashion and Arvind Ltd "have destroyed our lives", workers said. After being approached by the union, factory management responded that "there is no role for the union in this matter". In the meantime, KOOGU has filed petitions before the Labour Commissioner and the Women’s Commission regarding job security and wage theft of garment workers. The union is now waiting on Arvind Ltd's response on this matter. 

Media report that, for women workers in the Indian Textile Industry, menstrual hygiene is non-existent. Factories are not even equipped with basic the amenities required for effective menstrual hygiene management. Indeed, there are very few toilets with inadequate facilities and they often left deliberately dirty so that workers are too disgusted to use it. In addition, there is lack of access to cost effective hygiene products, no place to safely dump them, clean water is unavailable and there is no privacy to change pads/menstrual cloth. 

Media report that, as more than nine million workers have deserted industrial towns, industries across western and southern India are now facing an acute shortage of employees as they plan to restart work. Indeed, the Indian industry is struggling to restart factories, restore raw material supply chains, get working capital, and most critically, get workers back on the shop floor. The article further reports that the textile hub Surat, with two-thirds of the workforce made up of migrant workers, is among the worst places affected by the migration. Meanwhile, another article reports that Madras High Court has judged that the Tamil Nadu government must make sure that food, shelter and medical facility are provided to stranded migrant workers in the state, adding that the state cannot be ungrateful to them after making them work as guest labourers.

Myanmar: Today it is one month ago that six labour activists and factory union leaders were arrested and immediately sent to prison for organising a strike camp to demand wages being paid for April and safety measures in their factory, the Rong Son Factory (also known as Blue Diamond). According to reports from the CCC network, the treatment of the imprisoned activists is degrading. They have to clean toilets and are intimidated and harassed by other prisoners and wards. The women union leaders are put together with male prisoners in cramped trucks when transported to court. In addition, trial hearings are not announced to family members  and multiple charges are added to the case sheets, filed both by factory owners and the authorities. Activists and union leaders from other factories in the area are also charged for striking for wages and safety measures. They are released on bail, but facing trials of which the outcome is unsure.

ABFTU Myanmar imprisonment

Frontier Myanmar has published an article that exposes the impact of the coronavirus crisis on Myanmar's garment workers. "Myanmar’s garment workers have seen their demands for a minimum wage increase silenced, their wages cut or unpaid, their concerns about unsafe factory conditions dismissed, their financial and social security insufficient or entirely absent, and their unions oppressed", the article makes clear. It further exposes that workers have faced such difficulties for a long time, as a result of poor governance and economic policies that use low labour costs to encourage investment and that COVID-19 has simply compounded these problems and hardships. As previously reported, COVID-19 has become an excuse to continue union busting and wage cuts without adequate justification. Unionists who tried to stand up to abusive or exploitive employers during the pandemic soon became targets for retaliation and were arrested, charged and imprisoned. "As the government and business community promote hand-washing and competitions for home-made face masks, factory workers are scrambling to protect themselves and each other. They are fighting for their lives, as well as for their rights. Their struggle is not only against COVID-19, but also against the conduct of the government and the business sector that has made an already difficult situation exponentially worse", the author reiterates. 

Pakistan: Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement (HKM), a Pakistan-wide campaign for the enforcement of the fundamental rights, reports that they 60 workers protested in front of one of the outlets of ChenOne as they have not been paid for four months. The factory in question makes clothes for H&M, Mango, Zara and American Apparel. 

3 June 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the Sammilita Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF) has submitted a petition to the labour ministry secretary demanding legal actions against 1258 garment factories for not paying wage of April, or Eid festival allowance, or both. "We learned from the industrial police sources that 161 factories did not pay both bonuses and salaries to their workers, 920 factories did not pay salary, when 358 members did not pay the allowance", Nazma Akter, SGSF president, said. Meanwhile, media report that garment exports from Bangladesh to major destinations, such as Europe and the US, have nosedived. "We foresee continued slowdown in exports till the end of this year", Rubana Huq, BGMEA President, said. She added that the sector is still facing many uncertainties. 

Cambodia: Media report that, according to the Ministry of Labour of Cambodia, a further 25,588 workers from 67 enterprises in the garment and tourism sectors will be paid allowances from the government after facing suspension or unemployment amidst the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, another article reports that the Ministry of Labour also announced that it was postponing the biannual indemnity payments to workers in the garment and footwear sector in order to provide some relief to employers and factory owners affected by the crisis. Workers and trade unions were quick to reject this move, explaining that workers are already facing a loss of salary on account of a large number of factories suspending production and that they need these indemnity payments, ranging between $60 to $200, to try and sustain their households. Khun Tharo, a program coordinator from the labour rights group Central, said that the Ministry's announcement could benefit some employers, but will further hurt the workers who, without government support, will find themselves in a social instability and poverty.

Media report that Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, The Solidarity Centre and US Agency for International Development is set to launch a three-year campaign to facilitate road safety of garment workers from 30 factories in select provinces. The initiative will be advocating for the creation and implementation of a road safety policy and overseeing the enforcement of traffic safety measures for workers. William Conklin, Solidarity Centre country director, said the safety of the workers can only be guaranteed through the commitment of relevant stakeholders, which include factory owners, labour ministry officials, development partners and consumer brands. "Their cooperation is vital to the success and sustainability of road safety measures, which are aimed at reducing traffic accidents involving garment workers", he said.

India: Media report that the Bihar government has closed migrant workers' registration for 14-day institutional quarantine as the movement of people has opened across the country. "Why will anyone be registered and for what when restrictions on the movement of people have been lifted in the country? How do you know who is migrant because now anyone can come either by train, bus, car or any other mode?", Pratyaya Amrit, Principal Secretary of the Disaster Management Departments, said. He asserted, however, that door-to-door health monitoring would continue and that medical facilities would remain the same from primary health centres to level I and level II hospitals. Meanwhile, another article reports that the return of migrant workers and their families to their home-states will constitute a massive shock to states' local labour markets, healthcare infrastructure, and public distribution system (PDS). Moreover, the burden is likely to be felt unevenly within these recipient states, as the Centre has continued to fail to provide support. Today, media report that the Madras High Court judged that the State cannot be ungrateful to the migrant workers having extracted work from them and directed it to provide food and shelter for the stranded labourers "on a war-footing". 

Myanmar: Media report that, according to a senior finance official, the Government is conducting a survey regarding the skills of thousands of migrant workers who have returned after losing their jobs during the coronavirus crisis in a bid to harness their talents for economic development. U Maung Maung Lay, vice president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, praised the government's plan, noting that, if the government can harness the power of the returning workers, the country’s economy can rebound in the post-COVID-19 period. "If we collect data, such as what kinds of skills they have, and create jobs for them, it will be useful in developing the country", he said. 

Pakistan: The Joint Action Committee for People's Rights (JCA) has released a statement demanding that the government ensure universal social security systems for workers from both formal and informal sectors and also immediate economic incentives for labour during the coronavirus crisis. The letter also demanded that federal and provincial governments shift their priorities and spend more on health and universal social security in the next financial year's budget, that wages of workers be announced on fair wage basis and not on minimum wage standards and that workers be able to get their rights ensured in the Constitution of Pakistan and in International Treaties. 

Serbia: According to news from media and the CCC network, labour inspectorate in Serbia has had its budget for travel costs cut down by 70%. This, combined with a recent decrease in their regular control has significantly decreased the ability of labour inspectorate to react in cases of workers' rights violations. Sub-capacitated even in regular circumstances, labour inspectorate is now under increased pressure from employers and the State. Though some of its reactions are questionable according to the same media, moves like this are putting labour inspectorate under significantly more pressure. 

Sri Lanka: The Asia Floor Wage Alliance reports that, five factories of Smart Shirt, which produce mainly for US POLO Assn., have been going against government directives by paying workers only half the basic pay with cuts on Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees' Trust Fund (ETF) for the last three months. When workers gathered outside the factory demanding a meeting with management, only five workers were allowed inside the factory premises to take part in the discussions with management. Meanwhile, workers who had travelled long distances are anxiously waiting outside the factory as they are not allowed to attend the meeting that determines the future of their livelihoods. Workers, gathering near the factories in question, are concerned about potential factory closures and layoffs. 

2 June 2020 

Bangladesh: Media report that the European Union is going to provide a fund to support Bangladesh’s garment workers who will become jobless and lose income due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Each of the garment workers will get cash support of Tk3,000 for three months in the first phase, from June to August. The vice-president of the BKMEA said that the support might be extended for a second three-month phase depending on the availability of fund and number of workers. The grant is likely to be extended for a second three-month phase afterwards. Meanwhile, another article reports that Nazma Akhter, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, reports that, since the end of the Eid vacation, many workers have been dismissed. "Since the end of Eid vacation, I have received many calls every day from fired workers", she said. In addition, The Loadstar reports that Mohammad Hatem, senior vice president of the BKMEA, said that manufacturers were terminating workers because they have no work orders. Even though some factories have started receiving inquiries from buyers, "the flow is very poor", he said. 

Cambodia: Media report that 256 garment, footwear and travel goods factories have suspended their operations, affecting more than 130,000 workers. Heng Sour, Labour Ministry spokesperson, said that factories had not received orders from buyers for both May and June and that that would likely be the norm for the foreseeable future. "We can conclude that exports of garments and footwear will be hit hard in the second quarter this year", he said.

According to reports from the CCC network, Superl management is in the process of applying all procedures for the withdrawal of the legal complaint against Mrs Soy Sros, local union president of the Collective Union of Movement Workers (CUMW). Although this has been received as a step in the right direction, the CUMW reiterates that it is not clear how long this will take. Since being released on bail, there have been at least two negotiation meetings regarding the withdrawal of accusations. Trade unions and labour rights organisations, including CCC, are still fighting for the following demands to be met, by pressure on the factory owners and the buyers, Michael Kors and Kate Spade:

  1.  All charges against Mrs Soy Sros must be dropped;
  2. Mrs Soy Sros to be immediately reinstated in her role at the factory;
  3. Mrs Soy Sros to receive back pay for wages lost during her detention, also accounting for the harm to her reputation;
  4. Ensure that workers' rights and FoA is fully  respected and that Mrs. Soy Sros will not be retaliated against upon reinstatement.

Soy Sros CUMW

India: Media report that garment factories in India are shifting production to PPE as "a matter of survival". Rangaraj K S, head of HR at a garment factory in the Peenya Industrial area, explained that "We have no option". Their factory used to operate will over 3000 workers. Now, the factory is operating with 1200 workers, less than half of its pre-pandemic workforce. "The situation is dire. Workers depend on factory wages, but international orders have dried up", he added. About 50% of factories in the Peenya Industrial area are producing PPE. Srinivas Asranna, president of the Peenya Industrial Association, however, made clear that this will not be a permanent solution for the industry. 

Media report that more than 400 Indian migrant workers are stuck at the Nepal border waiting for a chance to enter India and go back home. The West Bengal government has, however, denied them entry and they have been sleeping at the Kakadvitta bus park or even on the open streets. "We don’t know why the Indian government denied us entry. Nepali workers are coming from India day after day", Jaya Yadav, one of the workers, said. Meanwhile, media report that, according to data complied by the Save LIFE Foundation, a road safety NGO, 198 migrant workers have lost their lives in road accidents during the lockdown period. The report contributes fatigue among bus and truck drivers, hired to transport migrants, combined with over speeding and poor engineering of roads as the top reason for deaths.

Myanmar: SMART Textile & Garments, a European Union funded project working for sustainable manufacturing in Myanmar's garment industry, reports that the EU Myan Ku Fund has now reached 12,913 garment workers with over one billion MMK in emergency cash transfers. Over 11,000 women who have lost their jobs or faced temporary suspension from work as a result of COVID-19 related distress have received these cash transfers. In total, over 20,000 workers from 122 factories in the garment, textile and footwear industries have so far applied. Many applications have been submitted by the factories’ human resources managers who are trying to coordinate support for recently terminated or suspended employees. Trade unions have also gathered applications from their members and hundreds of workers have applied directly to the hotline, which is operated from 8am to 8pm daily, Monday to Friday.

Nepal: Media report that, in response to the government's failure to acknowledge garment factories' struggle in its budget for next fiscal, garment manufacturers have threatened to shut down their businesses, putting thousands of jobs at risk. "he budget did not acknowledge any of our problems and suggestions. Thus, we have come to the conclusion that there is no alternative to shut down the industry now because we are not in a position to run our businesses" Chandi Prasad Aryal, president of the Garment Association Nepal (GAN), said. "The government’s inability to acknowledge the contribution of the garment industry to the economy has threatened the existence of all these factories and put at risk the jobs of thousands of people in the sector", Aryal added. 

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, Sri Lankan trade unions have sent a letter to the Commissioner General of Labour exposing problems - such as unpaid wages, forced resignations and deducted salaries - faced by employees from 35 companies - many of whom are garment factories - in the context of the coronavirus crisis. The companies and respective problems are as follows: 

  1. Chiefway Katunayaka Pvt. Ltd.: 150 workers have been forced to sign resignation letters and some employees have not been paid salaries for April; 
  2. White International Pvt. Ltd.: Workers' salaries for the month of March have been paid with a 8 ½ day’s pay deduction and April wages have not been paid at all; 
  3. Hidramani Pvt Ltd.: Although the factory has reopened, workers who are over 50 years old and employees with less than one year of service have not been called for work with no explanation;
  4. Smart Shirt Pvt. Ltd.: 2500 employees of have only been paid  Rs.10,000 for April and have been informed not to report for work until further notice;
  5. Screen Line Pvt Ltd.: Workers have not received April wages and 65 employees have been removed from service;
  6. Star Garment Pvt Ltd.: Workers' bonuses for Sinhala and Hindu New Year in April 2020 have not been paid and some employees have been dismissed;
  7. Nysco Lanka Pvt Ltd.: April wages have not been paid; 
  8. Noratel International Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have not been paid and, in March, workers were deployed on a daily basis and paid based on the number of days of work;
  9. Eligant  Apparel Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have not been paid and workers only received 40% of their March salary. 600 employees have not yet been called for work; 
  10. Isin Lanka Pvt. Ltd.: March and April wages have not been paid; 
  11. Leisure line Pvt. Ltd.: A fraction of Employees have been removed from service;
  12. EL Steel Pvt Ltd.: Three office bearers of the Union have not been called for work;
  13. Sky Way Sea Foods Pvt. Ltd.: 40 employees have been removed from service and the rest of the employees have been forced to resign from service voluntarily on compensation basis;
  14. Jinasena Pvt. Ltd.: Three office bearers of the Union have not been called for work;
  15. Esquel Sri Lanka Ltd.: About 1000 employees of Yakkala, Ekala & Kegalle branches of this Company have been removed from service and 300 workers have been forced to resign;
  16. United Tractor Equipment Pvt. Ltd.: Workers' salaries have been reduced by 5% to 10%. 
  17. Star Garments Pvt. Ltd.: Workers have been informed that they will only be paid 50% of their salaries;
  18. Trend Setters Pvt Ltd.: April wages have not been paid and workers only received 35% of their March salary;
  19. WISEscape Hotel: Workers have not been paid March salaries; 
  20. Brandix Pvt. Ltd.: Workers have been told to go on the company's website twice a week in order to be paid the minimum salary. Accordingly, workers who do not have Smart phones will be deprived of their salaries;
  21. Nimali Garments Pvt. Ltd.: Workers have not been paid or called for work since April; 
  22. Keselwatta Metal Industries Pvt. Ltd.: 20 workers have been removed from service;
  23. Keselwatta  Agencies Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have not been paid; 
  24. Patpasleen Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have not been paid and some workers have been asked to do overtime without any additional payment; 
  25. J.J. Garments Pvt. Ltd.: Only Rs. 8000 have been paid for April and over 100 workers have been removed from service;
  26. G.V.P Lanka Pvt. Ltd.: Workers have not been paid or called for work for April; 
  27. Blackhoth Security Syndicate Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have not been paid;
  28. Paradise Gaments Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have not been paid and only some workers have been called for work; 
  29. Coca Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd.: Workers have been deprived of the privileges they enjoyed prior to the coronavirus crisis; 
  30. Stretchline Pvt. Ltd.: Around 600 workers will be removed on the basis of voluntary resignation upon receiving compensation; 
  31. N.C. Fashion: Some workers have not been paid salary for April or been called for work;
  32. Sherton Turtle Beach Hotel: 70% of the workers have been paid 30% of the April;
  33. A.B. Securydal Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have been paid with deduction; 
  34. Regal Calibre L.K Ltd.: April wages have not been paid and garment workers have not been called back to work;
  35. Specialist Construction Chemicals Pvt. Ltd.: April wages have not been paid.

Also according to reports from the CCC network, the Esquel Group is union busting under guise of COVID-19 in its Yakkala Factory, in Sri Lanka, which produces clothes for the likes of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. 

1 June 2020

Global: Today, the Clean Clothes Campaign, as labour organisations and unions around the world, has released a statement calling upon apparel companies to commit to not making workers pay the price for this pandemic by assuring that workers receive their wages for the length of the crisis and has announced that the network will start reaching out to apparel companies with demands directly as well as through an upcoming campaign. "Companies have a responsibility to prevent, mitigate and remedy the human rights violations in their supply chains. By ensuring that workers receive their due wages, companies fulfil part of their due diligence obligations, which also include ensuring non-discriminatory treatment of workers, social protection, and safe working conditions that do not expose workers to infection or other health risks", the statement makes clear. 

Media report that Sedex has released a report based on research from over 3300 buyer and supplier members across 118 countries that reveals that the garment, footwear and construction sectors have taken the biggest economic hit during the coronavirus crisis. The data shows that only 38% of respondents in the garment sector state that their customers are being supportive during this time. 

Bangladesh: Media report that hundreds of garment workers protested earlier today in Gazipur against factory layoffs amidst the coronavirus crisis. Workers said that factory management shut the factory soon after it reopened following the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday, without any payment for workers. Managment of Tanaz Fashion announced layoffs citing lack of work orders and did not mention any timeframe as to when the factory would reopen. The police assured workers that they would negotiate with management to reopen the factory on their behalf.

Dhaka Tribune reports that China Rahman, general secretary of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council and trade unions representative on the RMG Sustainability Council Board of Directors said that "Together with our Bangladeshi trade union affiliates we will help ensure workers in RMG factories have safe workplaces and access to remedy to address safety concerns and exercise the right to safe workplaces. We will work to ensure that workers have trust in the newly established RSC." In a statement, the RMG Sustainability Council urged all reopened RMG factories to implement necessary measures to mitigate COVID-19 exposure and keep the factory workers as safe as possible.

Media report that, according to data compiled by the BGMEA, ready-made garment (RMG) exports in the first 29 days of May this year have declined by 62% compared to the same period last year as both the demand for and prices of apparel products decreased on the global market due to the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, Dhaka Tribune reports that, according to industry insiders, in addition to withheld payments and asking for unreasonable discounts, many buyers are considering shifting their orders to other countries, potentially dumping the pending orders with Bangladesh RMG producers. "If implemented, such actions will cause a financial catastrophe", Nabeel Khan, co-founder of Market Insights, warned. 

Cambodia: Media report that about 1,000 Cambodian traders, who usually cross into Thailand to work at the Rong Klua market, have picketed at the Thai-Cambodian checkpoint in Ban Khlong Luek to protest against the prolonged border closure. Traders explained that they were in economic hardship and that the extended emergency decree imposed by the Thai government further negatively impacted their financial situation. 

Malaysia: According to reports from the CCC network, the Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC), Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and Tenaganita, alongside nine other non-governmental organisations, have released a press statement urging that all public health policies be inclusive and non-discriminatory to all citizens and non-citizen residents in Malaysia. "We support the government’s decision to provide medical treatment and healthcare to the COVID-19 positive cases which have emerged in immigration detention centres. However, this must come together with other measures in parallel", the statement reads. Thus, they demand the following: 

  • Improvement of living conditions for migrant workers;
  • Development of a coherent a comprehensive workplace policy; 
  • Improvement of conditions in detention centres. 

Myanmar: Media report that, even though the Thai government recently extended the state of emergency until the end of June, Myanmar migrant workers, most of whom are now out of work, will be allowed to return home. U Wai Lin Maung, Myanmar labour attaché in Bangkok, said that the Thai government will allow about 34,000 migrants who want to return home through border crossings after losing their jobs in the Thailand. "They extended the curfew order on May 28, but it will not affect the returnees", he said. 

Media report that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has announced that it will deliver emergency loans worth 5 billion yen (US$46.5 million) to assist businesses in Myanmar hit by the coronavirus crisis as part of its plan to help the country mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

Pakistan: Media report that trade union leaders released a joint statement welcoming the Supreme Court's landmark judgment in which the apex court judged that contract workers have legitimate and fundamental right to form a union or become a part of it and take part in the union referendum or elections. They lauded added that the Supreme Court’s judgment would set a precedent and strengthen the trade union movement in the country.

published 2020-06-30