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

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

29 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that a study found that, by May, over 30% of garment workers in Bangladesh reported that their children had gone without food, as they struggled to afford basic necessities due to lack of income amidst order cancellations. In the Baptist World Aid Australia's (BWAA) report, published yesterday, John Hickey, CEO of BWAA, warned that "The pandemic has (…) the potential of reversing a decade worth of progress made in improving the rights and conditions of garment workers across the globe."

Media report that Bangladesh's Foreign Minister, Dr AK Abdul Momen, has said that the country's garment industry is "doing well", as manufacturers are exporting over $3 billion in products each month and the country has managed to restore 40% of garment export orders that were cancelled amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ethiopia: The Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) has published the results of a study based on a phone survey of 3896 female RMG workers employed in Hawassa Industrial Park (HIP) before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopia's flagship economic zone. The study found that:

  • 41% of respondents employed in January 2020 were put on leave or terminated by the time of the survey a few months later; 
  • 91% of workers who lost their jobs in HIP have not yet been able to find new jobs; 
  • 28% of respondents left Hawassa, the vast majority returned to rural areas;
  • 52% of respondents were worried about not having enough food in the seven days before the survey. Higher levels of food insecurity were found amongst workers who stayed in Hawassa;
  • 55% of workers who returned to rural areas desired to return to Hawassa if possible, as they lack employment in rural areas.

The study argues that lack of employment, health risks posed by their small and shared living arrangements, and weak local social safety nets may have prompted these workers to return to their origin communities.

Myanmar: Media report that migrant workers continue to return to Myanmar from Thailand, many of whom are returning due to job cuts a factory closures. In the last two days, over 400 workers from various districts and regions in Thailand returned under own arrangement through the Myawady border. Migrants are now undergoing mandatory quarantine.

SMART Textile & Garment reports that, following reports that recently laid-off garment workers in Myanmar have been pushed into sex work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Myan Ku is directly reaching out to impacted workers in order to provide extra assistance and counselling support.

Nicaragua: Media report that, according to data from the Central Bank of Nicaragua (BCN), over 13,500 people have lost their jobs between January and July 2020 in free zones across the country in consequence of a sharp decline in exports. The article reports that the closure of international markets, particularly the United States market, has severely impacted exports in Nicaragua’s zones, especially impacting the textile sector. Compared to the same period last year, exports in August 2020 had declined by over 20%. Textile products declined by over 23% in value and nearly -7% in volume. Dean García, executive director of the Asociación Nicaragüense de la Industria Textil y de la Confección (Anitec) said that, while the decline is easing, “the trend continues.” García predicts that, by the end of the year, textile exports will show a 25% drop in both value and volume.

United States: Media report that USAID has announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a group of retail, apparel and footwear firms through which relief is expected to be provided to hard-hit supply chain workers across Asia. "The MoU establishes an intent for USAID and the consortium to work together over the coming year to alleviate hardships faced by AFFA workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam", USAID wrote in its statement

28 October 2020

Global: Media report that, according to a study conducted by Baptist World Aid Australia which assessed 96 international companies that together represent 428 brands, 35% of companies were unable to show that they maintained payments to suppliers for garments that were completed or already in production. The research further found that:

  • Only 25% of companies were able to demonstrate evidence of active partnership with suppliers that resulted in tangible changes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Only 10% of companies surveyed were able to provide "tangible evidence" that worker interests were not impacted by COVID-related order changes and that wages had been paid; 
  • A further 28% demonstrated that worker interests were considered through communications regarding their "expectations" to suppliers and the public but could not substantiate the direct outcome for worker's wellbeing. 

According to the study, this suggests that, despite the fact that the majority of companies were still making payments to suppliers, few had visibility of the extent to which this flowed through to workers' wages.

Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers from Diganta Sweater Factory demonstrated against the factory's decision to retrench workers. On Wednesday morning, workers noticed that some lights and machinery of different sections were broken. According to workers, factory management broke these items to falsely implicate workers. Following such findings, workers protested.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) invited Arcadia Group (listed publicly as a buyer from A-One) to respond to reports that garment workers from A-One garment factory staged protests over eight months of unpaid wages. Arcadia Group responded and said it has not worked with this factory since early 2019.

Cambodia: Media report that garment workers from Dignity Knitter and Eco Base in Kandal province are still camping outside their factories, six months after the factories closed and laid-off over 1200 workers without paying them their wages or severance pay. Both factories are chaired by the same person, Liu Wei, according to Commerce Ministry records. Many of the laid-off garment workers had worked at these factories for decades and say that they are now "too old" to be rehired by a new factory. "We served in the garment sector for more than 20 years, but we've ended up with nothing in hand except the last hurtful memory", Sour Socheat, a 40-year-old garment worker from Dignity Knitter, explained. "I'm like a floating plant just drifting around. I can’t go forward or backwards", she added. According to the CCADWU union, workers want to be paid severance, seniority, compensation for lack of sufficient termination notice, the year-end bonus and final salary. The total compensation would be $1.6 million, and the case is now at the Kandal Provincial Court. Kong Atith, CCADWU president, explained that workers camping outside Dignity and Eco Base are struggling. Workers said that they had no other choice but to protest until they get paid, as many are already in debt. 

Meanwhile, media report that the Prime Minister of Cambodia has announced that about 300,000 people have lost their jobs in the country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, most of whom worked in the tourism and garment sectors. He said that some of these workers have been able to find new jobs as the situation gradually improved in the last few months, but didn't say how many. 

India: Media report that the majority of migrant workers in Bundelkhand are still waiting to receive Prime Minister Modi's Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan - a national employment scheme launched in June 2020 with initial funding of ₹50,000 crore ($6.7M) for migrant workers who returned to their home states during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. As a result, many migrant workers in the are are "still in limbo."

IndustriALL held a webinar titled "Labour law changes in India: an attack on the working class" with Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (INTUC), who linked the changes to the global context. The recording can be accessed here.

Jordan: Media report that health authorities in Jordan have confirmed that 600 migrant workers from Bangladesh tested positive for COVID-19, all of them are employed in the same garment factory in Zarqa governorate. The article further reports that, as a result, hate speech and incitement against Bangladeshi workers in Jordan has spread. So far, the Jordanian government has not taken any action to hold those responsible for spreading hate and incitement against migrant workers to account.

Myanmar: Media report that the head of Health, Safety and Security for Telenor (Myanmar) urged factories should to invest in healthcare services for their workers within the factory, suggesting that factories hire full or part-time health workers or companies that provide healthcare services.

Sri Lanka: Media report that while most factories in Katunayake Free Trade Zone remain in operation, public transport has been halted. As a result, workers are struggling to report to work. The article further reports that, according to local trade unions, around 80,000 workers in garment factories across Sri Lanka have already lost their jobs amidst the pandemic. Unions explained that nearly 10 factories in the Zone have closed since the outbreak at Brandix factory made headlines. According to them, the COVID-19 outbreak is being used as an excuse to cut jobs and wages and many factories are not paying workers their legally-owed compensation. "Misuse of the COVID-19 crisis to cut jobs and slash wages is a violation of the fundamental rights of workers", Chamila Thushari, program coordinator at Dabindu Collective in Katunayake, made clear. 

Meanwhile, media report that the Attorney General of Sri Lanka has agreed to investigate the COVID-19 outbreak at the Brandix factory. The Acting IGP has been directed to conduct this inquiry and the police have been instructed to submit a preliminary progress report on the investigation by 13 November. This investigation aims to determine whether direct negligence or carelessness on the part of the management and representatives of the company or state officials led to the COVID-19 outbreak at Brandix. The article further reports that a criminal investigation on the matter will be held in parallel to assess if any offences under the Penal Code or the Quarantine & Prevention of Diseases Ordinance have been made.

Information and campaigns

General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry

PayYourWorkers campaign

PayUp campaign page -> coming

Resources

Demands, recommendations, proposals

CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.

Global union and employer joint call to action.

WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.

ILO's COVID-19 business resilience guides for suppliers.

The Circle has created a guide for suppliers in the garment industry on 'force majeure'.

Information trackers

WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre maintains a continually updated live-resource of articles on the influence of COVID19 on supply chains and is tracking brand responses to the crisis in dealing with their orders.

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre's created a COVID-19 Action Tracker, monitoring industry responses, government actions and workers’ demands.

Labour Start collects materials coming in from trade unions around the world.

The International Trade Union Confederation collects trade union news on the COVID-19 crisis.

ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.

Omega research foundation tracks excessive use of force by law enforcement during the pandemic.

HRDN resource on business, human rights, digital rights and privacy.

Background and position papers

WRC's white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?"

WRC and Penn State University on cancelled orders in Bangladesh "Abandoned?"

OECD's paper on COVID-19 and responsible business conduct.

ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"

ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.

AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.

Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"

ECCHR-WRC paper "Force majeure"

COVID-19 Report by Decent Work CheckIndonesia and Ethiopia garment industry.

UN Special Rapporteur report "Looking back to look ahead"

WRC and Penn State University paper "Unpaid Billions"

WRC and Penn State University paper "Apparel Brands' Purchasing Practices during COVID-19"

ILO research brief "The supply chain ripple effect"

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

27 October 2020

Global: Civil society organisations called for a Global Relay of Action Against the Edinburgh Woolen Mill (EWM), the parent company of brands such as Peacocks, Bonmarché, Jaeger, and Austin Reed. EWM has failed to pay their suppliers in full for cancelled orders. Instead, the company has been threatening suppliers with legal action for reporting on cancelled orders. The Action will take place on 29 October from 5-7 PM (your time zone) on all social media platforms. 

Mayisha Begum, campaigner and blogger at Oh So Ethical, has published an op-ed about the Pay Up movement, the history of Northern-centred activism, and the importance of focusing on the women workers in the global South leading the movement. "By neglecting the importance of women workers in the Global South as central to systemic change, we risk sustaining a movement focused on the ideals of Northern activists, that in turn fails to address the fundamental solutions needed to effectively challenge exploitation", she writes. 

Bangladesh: Tomáš Zdechovský, a vice-chair of the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee, published an op-ed in which he argues that "the EU has shaped the future of Bangladesh by opening its markets" and must now "make sure that companies operating in these markets play by the rules", calling out those who cancelled orders amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Zdechovský called for 'fair conditions' through EU proposals for guidelines and common rules to increase the accountability of companies and their actions. 

China: China Labour Bulletin reports that 164 asymptomatic COVID-19 cases have been detected in Xinjiang - all related to a garment factory that was set up as a result of "poverty alleviation measures." The factory currently employs 287 women workers. 

Pakistan: Media report that Adeeb Iqbal, regional chairman of the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA), has urged the State Bank of Pakistan to stop sending show-cause notices to exporters for not realizing their exports' proceeds amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The Association argued that the Foreign Exchange Regulations must be amended with respect to the ongoing pandemic, allowing extension in the realization period beyond six months from the date of exports shipment. The article further reports that PRGMEA said that exporters are not receiving regular payments from buyers. Some have stopped paying altogether, while many are currently paying in instalments. They warned that, as a result, thousands of SMEs are likely to shut down in the next few months, which would result in hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. In addition to urging the Bank to stop notices, they called on the government to aid the textile and garment sector, as it continues to face major difficulties amidst the pandemic.

Sri Lanka: Media report that local unions announced that over 20,000 garment workers in Sri Lanka are currently trapped inside hostels and lodgings without salary or food, following the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the country. The article further reports that 30% of workers from the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) are in quarantine, where they are facing food scarcities which the Board of Investment (BoI) is yet to resolve. Meanwhile, an urgent appeal published by Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) reports that hostel owners from the Zone have been warned not to let workers step outside of their accommodation. However, as workers were not given proper pre-warning, they were not able to stock up basic essentials, including food and medicines, and are therefore struggling to survive. In addition to this, their inability to report to work has been seen by their employers as the workers’ fault. In response to these conditions, organisations and unions have published an urgent appeal, urging authorities to:

  • Provide urgent relief rations, essentials and medicines to workers in mandatory self-quarantine;
  • Carry out an immediate assessment of workers’ in and around FTZs needs;
  • Provide Rs. 10,000 health allowance to FTZ workers who have lost their jobs or are currently unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Carry out PCR testing on all workers in and around the Katunayaka FTZs;
  • Ensure that all government quarantine facilities and hospitals treating COVID-19 patients are respectful of international safety standards;
  • Ensure that all communication regarding COVID-19 is shared in Sinhala and Tamil;
  • Ensure that workers in quarantine are compensated;
  • Strictly enforce safety regulations when factories reopen and workers are asked to report to work again.

26 October 2020

Global: Media report that COVID-19 laws are being used to silence garment workers across the world, as campaigners report job losses and jailing of those airing grievances – and urge global fashion brands to stand up for workers' rights. The article mostly focuses on Myanmar, reporting on the case of Zar Zar Tun, a Burmese garment worker who led a strike at a factory in Yangon. Since March, thousands of unionised garment workers have been fired across Myanmar, most of them women. Ben Hensler, general counsel at the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), warned that "the pandemic has intensified attacks on workers, while also providing the perpetrators with political cover." Indeed, another article reports that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has given rise to union busting in many countries, including Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, and seen countries introduce harsh laws that activists fear could be used to restrict workers' rights.

Bangladesh: Media report that the Ministry of Labour and Employment disbursed Tk 1.82 crore (over $200,000) from its central fund in compensation to the families of 91 garment workers who died in different factories across the country. At the meeting, the ministry also approved financial assistance of Tk 25.89 lakh (over $30,000) from its emergency fund in order to pay for the wages and allowances of garment workers from a now-shuttered garment factory, which is a BGMEA member factory.

The Daily Star has published an op-ed by Mostafiz Uddin, Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited, in which he reflects on what garment factory owners in Bangladesh have learned amidst "a crisis like no other." Uddin makes clear that garment factories are still struggling, as prices decrease and new orders fail to come in. He points out that, during the coronavirus pandemic, "[w]e (factory owners) have learned who our friends are during the pandemic. And, let's be honest, we don't have many of them." "Some major brands committed to supporting suppliers by honouring all orders in the early days of the pandemic. But these were the exception rather than the rule. Most used the pandemic to squeeze large discounts out of suppliers, delay payments and in some cases, walk away from orders without looking back", he adds. 

Cambodia: Media report that the Prime Minister of Cambodia has urged Cambodian people to work within the country in order to avoid being deceived by brokers who try to send them to Thailand for work through informal routes and in unsafe conditions. While the PM says that "there is work in the country", migrant workers have been crossing the borders due to financial constraints related to lack of employment opportunities in the country, which seriously challenges this statement. Local NGOs called on the government to protect migrant workers, many of whom have been without income for months and still face mounting debt. 

Indonesia: Social media posts show that workers from Pt. Buma Apparel Indonesia, who make products for Calvin Klein and Lane Bryant and have worked at the factory for decades, were dismissed today without being paid for an unspecified period of time.

Myanmar: IndustriALL reports that, as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in Myanmar, the government, employers and trade unions worked together in order to ensure that the strong measures necessary to protect workers' lives respected. As manufacturing factories have been allowed to remain open despite the partial lockdown, several garment factories are, after a dialogue between management and trade unions, providing enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. According to the article, coats, hair nets, goggles and face shields are provided for free for every worker. In addition to PPE, factory management will check workers' temperature before entering the plant and production tables and canteens have arranged with respect to social distancing measures. Meanwhile, media report that most workers from garment factories in Yangon have returned to work since 22 October, as authorities said that employers showed to be compliant with COVID-19 preventive measures. Just days after operations were allowed to resume, however, over 100 garment workers from factories in the Yangon area tested positive for COVID-19.

Union organiser reports that more garment factories across Myanmar are expressing their solidarity towards the over 700 union members who were fired for demanding clean water and COVID-19 preventive measures. Lidl is yet to intervene. 

Pakistan: Media report that unions in Pakistan held a convention to demand that workers' rights be respected. In his speech, Nasir Mansoor, general secretary of the NTUF Pakistan, said that millions of garment workers were deprived of their basic rights, particularly the right to organise and collective bargain. Zahra Khan, general secretary of the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) said that working conditions in garment factories were worsening amidst the pandemic and warned that labour hours had become even longer for many - a clear violation of local labour laws. She added that international fashion brands had adopted a "criminal silence" over the issue.

Romania: According to reports from the media and the CCC network, garment workers from Tanex factory have won their full back-wages after an intense media campaign went viral. During the first months of the pandemic, workers received 140 EUR, just over half of their regular monthly wage. The campaign that followed led to international pressure and resulted in Inditex, Holy Fashion and a UK high street brand take "responsibility to settle the violations between the management and the workers". As previously reported on the live-blog, workers who were still employed at the factory in August received their full salaries in September. Following further pressure, workers who were fired or left the factory before that time have also been paid what they were owed. In addition to this, union access has been guaranteed, which had previously been denied. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that labour unions have criticized the harsh treatment of garment workers in Sri Lanka after authorities forced workers into quarantine in the middle of the night following a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases. The article reports that, as of 19 October, over 2120 had been reported in relation to the coronavirus outbreak at a Brandix-owned factory in Minuwangoda, Gampaha - making it the biggest outbreak in the country.

Vietnam: Media report that around 300 workers at a Korean-owned garment factory in An Duong district, Hai Phong city, went on strike to demand unpaid salaries and social insurance payments. The company has not paid social insurance properly since May 2019 and currently owes over 10 billion dongs in social insurance contributions. In addition, the factory failed to pay September salaries to around 26 workers. After the strike broke out, the An Duong district Labour Federation and other authorities met with company management, who promised to pay the salaries by 23 October, and said they would directly respond to workers' requests the following day, 20 October, in order to get them to return to work. News confirming whether the strike was resolved is yet to be published.

Media report that workers facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19 are falling into illegal loan shark traps. In Dong Nai province, southern Vietnam, the provincial police say that this has become a serious issue due to COVID-19, as workers find themselves facing financial hardships and do not know where else to turn. Illegal loan sharks will lend large amounts of money, but with interest rates of 180%. When borrowers are unable to pay the money back, lenders threaten violence against them and their families. 

25 October 2020

Cambodia: Media report that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has approved four more investment projects that are expected to generate over 6300 jobs for locals. Two of these new projects are garment and footwear factories. Although some workers will be hired by these new factories, these new jobs are still far from compensating for the number of jobs lost amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that the total number of COVID-19 positive cases reported from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda coronavirus clusters has increased to 4050. Meanwhile, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka has increased to 7521.

24 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the government of Bangladesh has taken a move to amend the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 further in order to address concerns raised by the European Union over specific labour issues, including freedom of association and rights to collective bargaining. In order to address these changes, the Ministry of Labour has formed a tripartite committee. 

Cambodia: Media report that garment workers, whose factories have been affected by recent flooding, are "running out of options", as food prices rise and rent and loan payments get closer while their incomes are left on hold. Dozens of factories have suspended operations and workers are unsure if they will be paid during the suspension period. Many factories are only paying 50% of worker's salaries or transport or other allowances, which represent even less than that. Ven Eyhong and his wife work at the Y&W Garment factory, which employs about 5000 workers and has been flooded since 14 October. They are in debt to a microfinance lender, their rent is due soon and food prices in the area have tripled. "I'm out of ideas. My money is running out as food prices jump. It’s increased so much during the flooding. We don't know. Where can we get something to buy food? We don't know", Eyhong explained. Workers from another factory explained that their factory announced a 10-day suspension of operations and that they were unsure if they would get paid during those days, hoping that the suspension period would not be extended. According to the Ministry of Labour, factories will not be allowed to suspend operations for a full month, but directives regarding payments remain unclear. 

India: Garment and Textile Workers' Union (GATWU) reports that workers from Supreme Overseas, a garment factory in Karnataka, have won their due settlements, which were paid by the company on 16 October. 

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that garment workers who make Lidl products are still protesting outside their factory in Myanmar after all-738 union members were fired for requesting clean drinking water and COVID-19 preventive measures. Workers have been waiting for ⁦Lidl to respond and intervene for months. Meanwhile, the same source reports that garment workers from other factories across the country are showing solidarity to the unfairly dismissed workers.

Sri Lanka: Media report that, following the outbreak at the Brandix factory in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, workers in the zone - including thousands of garment workers - are in a constant state of uncertainty, unsure about the provision of food and water and regarding COVID-19 protections, as many workers are still going to work. According to the article, recent reports have emerged of workers being told to go to work despite COVID-19 symptoms. The article states that not enough people in the Zone are being tested for the virus, meaning that it remains unsafe. Meanwhile, social media posts show garment workers from the Katunayake area reporting that they are stuck in quarantine centres without basic supplies.

Vietnam: Media report that many textile and garment factories in Vietnam have reduced recruitment significantly. In addition to this, factories have reduced working hours, shifting the full-time jobs to part-time, and reduced wages. Smaller companies reduced wages and dismissed workers. The article reports that, for garment workers who have been laid-off amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the chances of finding new jobs are scarce, particularly full-time jobs with a similar salary. While some factories will be expanding, most are reducing operating costs by cutting on hours, wages and workforce. 

23 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that workers from Diganta Sweaters in Gazipur, which produces for H&M, demonstrated fearing job losses after management announced that factory operations would be suspended during November and December due to lack of orders. The company said that it would pay workers' basic salary during this time, but workers are afraid that they will be fired and lose their salary. Factory management said that workers would be called back to work at the end of December or beginning of January, as it is expecting an order on 26 December.

Cambodia: Media report that a study found that less than half of workers from surveyed garment factories find that an adequate reporting system for sexual harassment exists in their factory, suggesting that grievance procedures and anti-harassment training still have significant room for improvement in Cambodia. 

Myanmar: SMART Textile & Garment report that the EU Myan Ku Fund emergency response has now arranged 6.25 billion MMK ($4.8 million) for laid-off and furloughed garment factory workers in Myanmar. 81,495 separate payments have been disbursed and approximately 40,000 factory workers have been supported, of which about 85% women.

Media report that, since health authorities introduced stay-at-home orders for Yangon in September, informal workers and small business owners have faced a grim struggle to make ends meet amid a lack of government assistance. "I can't just sit and watch my family starve", U Aung Khant, an informal worker in Yangon, explained. When his workplace closed due to stay-at-home orders, he was left with no income to support his family. As a result, U Aung Khant, like many other informal workers, had to borrow money for basic necessities, such as food. For many, this dept adds to the one already created in April, when factories, constructions sites and small businesses closed for the first time. 

Singapore: Researchers have published a paper titled "Hidden Vulnerability and Inequality: The COVID-19 Pandemic in Singapore", looking into how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted vulnerable communities, such as migrant workers, in Singapore. While it is apparent that the government of Singapore learned important lessons from the response to the SARS outbreak in 2003, the author of the study, Sulfikar Amir, shows that, even with strong preparedness practices, governments may be prone to overlook marginalized groups within their jurisdictions and that such blind spots have serious consequences. 

United Kingdom: Media report that lawyers representing Next staff in a claim for equal pay have accused the retailer of destroying key documents ahead of the case. The case in question has been launched by a largely female workforce of store staff at Next, which asserts that they're paid between £2-6 less than male operatives at Next's warehouses.

22 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that around 43% of garment factories in Bangladesh operated with less than 50% of their pre-pandemic workforce as apparel exports to major destinations, such as the European Union and the United States, declined by nearly 35% in the first half of 2020. As of July, only 57% of the pre-pandemic workforce was back in factories. In Bangladesh, nearly 20% of apparel factories are now operating with between less than 40% of their pre-pandemic workforce. Only 3.9% of suppliers were able to retain their entire workforce amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

Media report that, according to a new survey, 37% of workers who worked in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently, as MSMEs experience a drop of 94% in sales amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Another article, also from today, reports that 21% of MSMEs have temporarily shut their business amidst the coronavirus outbreak. 

Cambodia: Media report that over 1200 dismissed garment workers from Violet Apparel continue to protest over unpaid compensation. The factory closed its doors at the start of July and is yet to pay its workforce for lieu of prior notice, unused holidays and seniority indemnity, which workers are entitled to. The article further reports that trade union leaders have reportedly been warned about their role in the ongoing protests amidst recent arrests of activists in Cambodia. 

India: Media report that India's garment workers are being made to compensate their bosses for the food, shelter and salary provided in the coronavirus lockdown through pay cuts and unpaid overtime. Workers are being offered the "choice" of less money or working extra shifts for free to pay back their bosses, who dangle the threat of unemployment if employees refuse. As explained by Mahesh Gajera, programme manager with labour rights charity Aajeevika Bureau, "They thought their employers were providing humanitarian relief during the crisis and no one was told that they would have to compensate for every meal and the money given when factories were closed." In the words of Sebastian Devaraj, honorary president of the Karnataka Garment Workers' Union: "Employers are basically saying that they are sinking and workers should save them or they will also drown. It is a veiled threat and workers are scared to complain."

Myanmar: Media report that garment factory closures in Myanmar due to global brands' order cancellations have pushed many former employees into often dangerous work. Campaigners have warned that a growing number of laid-off garment workers, most of whom are women, have been pushed into sex trade in order to escape destitution. As sex work is illegal in Myanmar, sex workers face dangers related to non-payment, violence and arrest. On top of that, workers risk contracting COVID-19. "I am not worried about myself, I’m worried that I will pass it on to my family. We’re already struggling so much and things will get worse if we get infected. We don’t have money so no one will treat us", Hla, interviewed in the article, explained. Regarding the overall situation in Myanmar, the article reports that a regional minister told local media in September that 223 factories have filed for closure, temporary closure or redundancy. They say that the latest round of job losses could be steeper than from January to July when 60 factories laid off over 40,000 workers. 

Philippines: Media report that Yuenthai Philippines Inc., one of the major garment exporters in Mactan Export Processing Zone, dismissed over 100 workers without giving the 30-day notice required by law. The article interviewed workers who were fired from this factory, many of whom had worked there for over 10 years. They said that severance pay offered to them by factory management was way lower than what they were entitled to. Workers also said that management failed to explain their criteria in selecting which workers to retrench and also failed to show any documents illustrating the financial losses of the company in order to justify mass-dismissal. Many of the dismissed workers are yet to find new full-time jobs, having resorted to selling products, such as watches, face soaps, lightbulbs, cookies and study tables, online. Here, earning has been scarce. Workers are currently fighting in order to get the severance pay which they are entitled to. "We just ask to be paid justly so we can start over again with a new livelihood. We hope we get paid with the right amount. We are not asking for more", Ampit, one of the workers, explained. 

21 October 2020

Asia: Media report that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has published a study titled "The supply chain ripple effect: How COVID-19 is affecting garment workers and factories in Asia and the Pacific", focusing on ten major garment-producing countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. According to the report, global garment trade virtually collapsed in the first half of 2020, as exports to major buying countries dropped by 70% during this period. US clothing imports declined by 26% from January to June, compared to 2019, while EU imports decreased by 25%. The study further reports that most garment workers lost out on at least two to four weeks of work, with only three in five workers being called back to the factory. Among those still employed in the second quarter of 2020, declines in earnings and delays in wage payments were also common. The ILO found that, although many factories took steps towards minimizing the risks of COVID-19 infection, occupational safety and health measures were implemented inconsistently in some cases. Overall, the study concludes that the ongoing pandemic risks triggering a "race to the bottom" that could push tens of millions of Asian garment workers into greater hazard on the factory floor, with women hardest hit. Indeed, about 40% of workers furloughed or laid off by the COVID-19 crisis were not back at work by the third quarter of 2020 and those who did return are likely to lose hard-won labour rights. While the industry has stabilised in some centres, in Bangladesh, where at least 70,000 workers have been laid off, fears are growing that many will become destitute. Following this report, the ILO has urged that the garment industry do more to protect garment workers, at the bottom of brands' supply chain. 

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to a rapid analysis on Bangladesh's RMG sector conducted by Plan International, GAA and Awaj Foundation, the income of at least one-third of garment workers interviewed for the study dropped by around 53% amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 2019. The survey, which is based on the answers of 115 workers, 72% of whom are women, from four factories, also found that:

  • 98% of respondents had to spend a larger sum of their wages on health and safety equipment and were thus forced to cut on food and education expenses;
  • At least 27% of the respondents decreased their spending on food, suffering from nutritional deficiency as a result;
  • 43% of respondents struggled with economic hardship, illness and mental strains amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; 
  • Regular job benefits, such as offerings during Eid and the provision of food and transportation by factories, dropped; 
  • More than half (52%) of respondents were in debt, many of whom had to increase their debts in order to survive amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media report that Belgian fashion brands are passing the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis onto garment workers in Bangladesh, as research shows that, in Bangladesh alone, Belgian brands' cancelled orders affected almost 80,000 workers. Indeed, while figures show that the Belgian fashion industry lost €1.5 billion between March and July, Bangladesh's garment industry has been found to have lost nearly €3 billion around that same period. 

Media report that over 200,000 migrant workers in Bangladesh have so far returned to the country in the last six and a half months. Most returned from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. 

Cambodia: Media report that 79 garment factories in Kampong Speu and Kandal provinces and Phnom Penh have been affected by flooding. As a result, at least 40 of them have temporarily suspended their operations. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has said that serious flooding has left critical impacts on its member-factories, who are still suffering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In relation to this, another article reports that, according to the Labor Ministry, about 16,000 factory workers are currently unable to go to work in these areas. The minister said that about 16,000 workers were affected by the halt in production, but would not answer a question about whether they would be paid.

Mexico: The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that maquiladoras producing for global supply chains in Mexico's border states refused to suspend operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic despite COVID-19 infections and deaths. Protests and strikes by workers in several states resulted in dismissals and arrests. Extra money offered to keep production going became known among workers as "death bonuses". Indeed, BHRRC found that the sectors with the strongest links to international production chains – maquiladora industry and agribusiness - were found to fail at protecting workers against the virus.

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that union members at San Yuan factory of the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar (FGWM) are celebrating the reinstatement of all 112 dismissed workers.

Media report that the government of Mandalay, where many of the country's garment factories are located, is preparing new quarantine centres in order to be able to isolate the growing number of people at risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

Philippines: ILO Philippines reports that the economic impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have severely impacted Philippine's garment industry, cutting exports by almost 40% to major buyer countries and putting the livelihoods and employment of more than 600,000 workers at risk.

Sri Lanka: Media report that, according to the Government Information Department, another 109 personnel have tested positive for COVID-19, increasing the total number of cases from the Minuwangoda cluster to 2451.

United Kingdom: gal-dem has published an article on the "inside" of Leicester's garment factories which were found to underpay workers amidst the pandemic. The article reports that the combination of already-existing economic hardship and a pandemic that has a harsher medical and financial impact on minority ethnic households made these unchecked factories an "exploitative danger". 

Vietnam: Media report that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have reported some tentative signs of post-COVID-19 labour market recovery. In September, the Hanoi job-centre received nearly 7500 requests for unemployment insurance - 2000 less than in August, representing a decline of 21%. The director of the Centre, Ta Van Thao, said that Hanoi is showing signs of recovery, making it easier for the centre to find jobs for increasing numbers of people. In Ho Chi Minh City, job centres gave advice to over 314,000 workers and introduced jobs to 67,000 people; 30,000 successfully found new jobs. 137,000 applications for unemployment insurance were received.

20 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the recovery of Bangladesh's garment exports has been made harder by the fact that brands, such as H&M and GAP, continue to demand price cuts of as much as 15%. "We anticipated orders could look up before the Christmas but that didn't happen", Siddiqur Rahman, a garment supplier to international retailers including H&M and GAP Inc., said. He is not alone; according to the president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, nearly half of the country's knitwear factories are finding it difficult to remain open. Shahidullah Azim, a factory owner, explained that he had to lay-off 20% of his workers in the wake of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and that, watching the second wave build in Europe and the United States, he is staring at an unprecedented crisis. "Now the second wave has started. We don't know what the future holds for us", Azim said. The article further reports that, although about one-third of the one million garment workers who were either furloughed or laid off at the beginning of the outbreak have since been rehired, many workers are struggling without overtime pay, which often accounts for 20% of their monthly income. "Without over time, it is too difficult to meet expenses", Banesa Begum, a worker in Gazipur, said. "I just pray that my factory gets more orders so that we can survive", she added. As the title of the article indicates: Bangladesh's garment workers are praying for orders as pandemic shreds exports.

Media report that Bangladesh's garment workers' representative has resigned from the tripartite committee formed to review labour rules because the government is constantly protecting the interest of factory owners in amendments and ignoring the workers' proposals. According to the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), Salauddin Shapon because he was not invited to the last three committee meetings. They added that keeping the workers' representative away from the meetings was nothing but a "plot of the government and factory owners to undermine the rights of the country's 4.5 million garment workers" by implementing unilateral decisions. IBC warned that "[i]f the government goes for unilateral amendments to the labour rules, [it] would announce tougher movements and (...) the issue would be raised at international forums."

Cambodia: Media report that, in their third evacuation flight this year, the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt helped facilitate the return of 27 stranded Cambodians who worked in garment factories in Jordan. They have been stranded in the country since their contracts expired. They worked for Vega Textile and Camel Textile International Corporation. Khun Tharo, program manager at Central, said that he appreciated the Cambodian authorities' intervention, as it helped bring workers back home safely and with some seniority pay. As a result of the concerted effort of Cambodia's government and NGOs, the Jordanian government agreed to ensure that Cambodians employed by factories in Jordan would receive all that they were entitled to. Nonetheless, Tharo urged Cambodian authorities to investigate the company or companies acting as employment brokers for Jordanian factories, pointing out that, without a memorandum between the two countries on migrant labour, brokers will remain engaged in human trafficking. Meanwhile, another article reports that Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are struggling to survive due to low pay and unsafe working conditions. 

CCHR Cambodia reports that the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh is conducting a bail hearing on the case of two members of Khmer Thavrak (Hun Vannak and Chhoeurn Daravy), who were arrested on 13 August, and three Mother Nature activists (Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey), who were arrested on 3 September. Later today, media reported that the Court of Appeal denied bail to all five activists, who were charged with incitement to disturb social security, saying that "imprisonment is necessary to prevent them from committing further offences." All activists were arrested during or following demonstrations for the release of union leader Rong Chhun. 

Myanmar: Media report that more COVID-19 cases have started to emerge in Mandalay, where many garment factories are located. For now, the government has kept factories open, but a night curfew has been implemented until 31 October. 

Nepal: Academics have published a study on how the families of migrant workers, who spent months stranded abroad, have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic - a subject which remains largely ignored in the current mainstream discussions, which largely focus on remittances and the impact on national economies. Looking at the particular case of Nepal, Indu Dhungana and Anita Ghimire write on the impact of COVID-19 on the families of migrant workers,  who have been "left behind, anxious and forgotten."

Sri Lanka: IndustriALL reports that unions have said that the way in which garment workers in Sri Lanka were herded off into quarantine by the army in the middle of the night could have been avoided if the recommended health committees had been formed. According to reports, on 19 October the total number of COVID-19 cases in Minuwangoda Brandix increased to 2122, including over 1000 workers from Brandix apparel limited. As previously reported, this cluster accounts for nearly half of the total number of COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka. Anton Marcus, from Free Trade Zone & General Services Employees Union, says that "Had the factories formed health committees as decided by the tripartite taskforce, the health problems would have been identified earlier and this crisis could have been avoided. It is imperative that health committees are immediately formed in every garment factory." In addition to poor quarantine conditions, various reports suggest that company officials insisted on maintaining production to achieve set targets and thus failed to stop the developing health crisis among workers. Meanwhile, media report that the Sri Lankan army has been accused of "inhumanely" treating female garment workers suspected of being exposed to COVID-19 by rounding them up and taking them into quarantine by force in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, media report that the Sri Lankan army has been accused of "inhumanely" treating female garment workers suspected of being exposed to COVID-19 by rounding them up and taking them into quarantine by force in the middle of the night. According to union officials, this happened to over 1000 garment workers from Brandix Apparel Limited, their close contacts and family members.

The Sri Lankan Government is moving an amendment to the present constitution which gives all the powers to the President. According to reports from the CCC network, 21 trade unions have submitted a joint letter requesting an opportunity to discuss those proposals among the people before they are submitted in Parliament. Despite trade union's requests, the government submitted its proposals to the Parliament, which leaves them with only seven days to challenge the proposals after they are gazetted. Unions are paying close attention to how the situation develops and will formulate their own proposals to the new constitutions. 

19 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the "vulnerable" garment workers in Bangladesh have been left to bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. CNBC spoke with six garment workers through the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation, which works with various trade unions. Some of them are currently employed, while others have been looking for work since April or May. All workers spoke about the financial hardship they face, including potential destitution, exacerbated by the pandemic's crippling impact. Some workers, who lost their jobs a few months ago, report that they have been doing temporary jobs for low pay. Bilkis Bigum, who lost her job in April, for example, has been making around Tk 200-300 a month, which is not enough to cover rent costs and other basic necessities. She has had to rely on others to help with food expenses. The article further reports that, according to the BGMEA, member-factories have reported that 71,000 workers have been laid off in the last three to four months. 

India: Media report that Indian apparel exporters are expected to witness a decline of 20-25% in turnover, while those focused on the domestic market are likely to see a 30-40% decline in revenue due amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Media report that many inter-state migrant workers are now finding the need to return to cities to get work and increase their earnings, as there is little work available in rural areas. While there are no official estimates of migration trends, a number of on-ground private surveys are capturing this return of migrant workers. Among them is a survey conducted by the Inferential Survey Statistics and Research Foundation, which surveyed 2917 migrants during July-August 2020 in 34 districts across Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal - the states from which the majority of migrant workers come. The survey found that nearly 68% of migrant workers wanted to come back to the towns and cities where they worked before the outbreak. Other surveys, conducted by civil society groups, reported similar figures. Although it is not clear how many migrant workers have returned to the cities, some indicators, such as remittances and passenger traffic on Indian Railways, can give an idea of the movement of workers. Remittances have picked up to 80-85% of pre-pandemic levels after having dropped by 80-90% in the initial weeks of the lockdown and passenger traffic on Indian Railways has also picked up. In their study, ActionAid concluded that urgent attention and concerted action need to be taken on the question of livelihoods for migrant workers. Indeed, another article from today reports that Bihar's migrant workers are returning to the cities, as there are no jobs in the villages. As Mohammad Raqib, resident of Dumaria village in Araria district, explained: "I hoped to stay in my village for a while, but needed work to be able to do so." Unable to find work in rural areas, workers are returning to urban areas. 

Media report that Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, announced that Gorakhpur will be developed into a "textile hub" by focusing on the ready-made garment industry. He said that the move would generate employment for many of the estimated 12,000 migrant garment workers who returned to Uttar Pradesh during the COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year. 

Myanmar: Media report that over 70 workers from a cold storage factory in Mawlamyine have tested positive for COVID-19. Following the outbreak, workers from around 1400 factories in the area have been placed under quarantine.

Pakistan: Media report that six factory workers suffocated from fumes while trying to clean a chemical tank at a garment factory in Karachi. No arrests have yet been made but police have reportedly identified six suspects including the factory's general manager, administration manager, security supervisor and a contractor. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that garment workers are being blamed for the spread of COVID-19 and that quarantine has thus been imposed on them as a form of punishment. As of today, over 1500 people connected with the Brandix factory have tested positive, including workers, their families and other close relations. A group of 48 workers who arrived from India on charter flights are thought to have been at the source of the outbreak. While Brandix claims to have followed all health regulations, an investigation found that public health inspectors did not supervise workers' quarantine process. Following the outbreak, several local NGOs have expressed concern in regard to the way in which garment workers are being treated. As previously reported, garment workers have been placed in poor quarantine facilities - which they were forced to go to before taking COVID-19 tests and without prior notice. As Chamila Thushari, coordinator of the Dabindu Collective, noted, there is a large discrepancy between Brandix top executives, who are quarantined in five-star hotels, and garment workers, who are currently locked up in dusty health facilities. Activists note that, following the case, a complaint has been filed with the Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka, urging that workers' rights be protected.

Meanwhile, according to reports from the CCC network, the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union has made a written complaint to the Minister of Labour and sent an urgent letter to the Prime Minister earlier today. In their complaint, the union reported that factory management failed to take necessary measures for the health and safety of workers. In their letter to the PM, the union reports that the Manufacturers' Association in Katunayake FTZ has offered to establish a PCR testing unit for the FTZ, but is still awaiting approval from the Ministry of Health. "We fail to understand why this offer had not been immediately endorsed by the Health Ministry and approvals are delayed when health authorities are overburdened with the present rapid spread that keeps increasing on a daily basis", the union wrote in the statement.

United Kingdom: Media report that the auditor of fast fashion brand Boohoo is to resign following the results of a recent inquiry which unearthed "failings" by the brand to identify and snuff out instances of illegal pay and poor working conditions. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), has been Boohoo's auditor since 2014 but is now cutting ties with the company following the findings of Alison Levitt's independent investigation.

Media report that the UK government says it will continue discussions on what solutions are available for the garment industry as part of its commitment to eradicating modern slavery, amid calls for a licensing scheme to tackle illegally low paid and unsafe conditions in garment factories across the country.

18 October 2020

Bangladesh: The Daily Star has published an editorial in which they call on brands "to put their money where their mouth is", and honour commitments with their suppliers, rather than use the latter's financial stress in the pandemic as bargaining leverage to cut prices. They call on brands to commit to paying a significant share of the workers' unemployment benefits when they are laid off as a result of brands' unfair purchasing practices. They finish by urging countries that are home to these brands to "play their part" in ensuring fair practices and prices.

Media report that 165 workers from the Sidco Group have been illegally dismissed from the group's factory in Jamgora, Ashulia, after having demonstrated in demand of last month's salary. Yesterday, factory authorities put up a notice with photographs of the terminated workers in front of the factory gate. According to workers, the company has failed to pay salaries on time to its 600 employees for the last couple of months. The terminated workers did not receive any notice before being dismissed, which goes against the law. As Sarowar Hossen, organising secretary of the Bangladesh Textile and Garment Workers League, made clear, the authorities of Sidco Group illegally terminated the workers as they demanded salary. The article further reports that the industrial police has said that it will sit with factory authorities and workers in order to settle the matter today. 

Media report that a garment workers' federation, Bangladesh Sangjukto Garments Shramik Federation (United Garments Workers Federation), demanded emergency allowance and permanent rationing of Tk200 for workers' families, as they worked during the coronavirus pandemic to "keep the wheels of the economy moving". In addition, workers and their representatives demanded that authorities keep prices of essential services and goods within reach of low-income groups, grant workers permanent status within six months of their start date and provide them full-service benefits.

Media report that hundreds of protestors, most of whom are female garment workers, gathered in Dhaka yesterday (17 October), calling for a new labour law that would put an end to workplace harassment and thus protect women from sexual harassment and abuse within factories.

Media report that, according to official figures, the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic caused a dip in apparel shipments from Bangladesh to three promising Asian markets - India, Japan and China. Apparel exports to India declined by over 15%, to Japan over 11%, and to China by nearly 35%. 

Cambodia: Images of garment workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, protecting clothes made within the factory amidst floods have surfaced on social media. As previously reported, many garment factories across the country have been affected by the recent floods. 

17 October 2020

Myanmar: Media report that COVID-19 cases are declining in Yangon, but that, for now, preventive measures will remain in place. Factories and businesses which follow the COVID-19 regulations have been allowed to reopen, but large gatherings remain off-limits. Another article explains that authorities allowed factories to reopen following complaints from factory owners that they faced cancelled foreign orders due to the prolonged lockdowns (after the government extended the lockdown until 21 October). All factories have been instructed to set up temperature checks and to turn away any workers with a fever. They must allow workers to wash their hands and arrange social distancing within the factory. In addition, the ministry instructed factories to use pamphlets or an intercom in order to communicate with workers and share information about COVID-19.

Media report that the government of Myanmar has approved 21 billion kyats in loans to 1041 enterprises in order to ease the COVID-19 impact on Myanmar's businesses.

In a video, which was shared on social media, Shwe Sin Win, who used to work at Dihuali Factory, which produces for Lidl, explains that 738 workers from the factory were fired after demanding clean drinking water, clean toilets and social distancing measures for COVID-19 prevention. They formed a union in order to make these demands and, only a few days later, all union members were dismissed. Workers demanded that Lidl intervene to protect them and solve labour rights’ violations in their supply chain.

16 October 2020

Global: Media report that, according to new research by the Center for Global Workers' Rights (CGWR), millions of garment workers could lose their jobs as global brands continue to delay payments and demand price cuts. CGWR's research found that suppliers have been asked to make their prices an average of 12% cheaper than last year and that brands were taking considerably longer to make payments (average of 77 days compared to 43 days before the pandemic). "We are seeing a dramatic squeeze down of price, reduced orders and late payment", Mark Anner, author of the report and director of the CGWR, said. Suppliers in countries including Cambodia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam told CGWR that they had already laid off 10% of their workers and would have to cut another 35% of their labour force if order reductions continued. Anner called this the beginning of a "second crisis" and noted that more than half of manufacturers surveyed said that they would have to close down if the "sourcing squeeze" continued. 

Clean Clothes Campaign has published an op-ed for Thomson Reuters Foundation on how sustainability is hollow until fashion brands pay their workers and commit to wage assurance. The article points out that 1200 workers from Golkadas Exports, India, are still fighting to be reinstated, following a clear case of union-busting. H&M, the factory's only supplier, is yet act on this case. It has now been five months since workers were fired without prior notice. 

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau, ready-made garment exports from Bangladesh remained stable from July-September 2020. 

Cambodia: Media report that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) will provide aid to Cambodian migrant workers returning to Prey Veng from Thailand. IOM Cambodia has been supporting the returning migrants in Prey Veng since April by supporting the quarantine facilities, distributing personal hygiene kits and essential food supplies and helping workers with healthcare related issues. According to official figures, over 110,000 migrants have returned to Cambodia since March, including more than 1000 migrants to Prey Veng. Most workers returned due to business closures and job losses in Thailand and neighbouring countries.

Media report that Ken Loo, Secretary-General of Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) announced that, although the exact figure is not yet known, numoreous garment factories in Cambodia have been affected by recent floods. 

Malaysia: Media report that 25 undocumented migrant workers have been arrested over "COVID-19 fears" in Sarawak, Malaysia, following the intervention of a multi-agency COVID-19 special operation. According to recent reports, two workers have since tested positive for COVID-19. 

Myanmar: Media report that the price of commodities and raw vegetables in Yangon has been on the rise since the end of September, making it harder for workers to afford basic necessities. U Kyaw Thu, Secretary of the Myanmar Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Producers association (MFVP) urged the government to take action in order to reduce prices, making clear that the price increase is not going or related to farmers, but to production and transportation.

Sri Lanka: Media report that trade unionists and activists have voiced concerns regarding the treatment of garment workers, both those who have tested positive and others. Addressing reporters on Thursday, Sandun Thudugala of the Law and Society Trust explained that the military gave workers only a few minutes to pack up and leave for the quarantine centre. "Sometimes, they are made to travel with their colleagues who tested positive. Many praised the military for their work in running quarantine centres, but why are these workers being treated differently, like second-class citizens?" he asked. In addition to this, the new wave has also left workers' employment more uncertain. Indeed, another article reports that several rights' groups expressed their concerns on the manner in which garment workers were taken to quarantine centres, further stating that the media has criminalized workers, treating them "like criminals." According to Chamila Thushari, Programme Coordinator at Dabindu Collective, workers are living in small rooms, which are being shared by two or three people, and around 50-100 workers have been made to share one toilet. Workers' representatives said that the Board of Investments, Labour Department and apparel manufacturing companies should be held responsible for this situation.

15 October 2020

Global: Sourcing Journal takes a "closer look" into Asian factories' struggle to rebound amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The article reports that, on average, over 80% of factories have been functioning in Bangladesh and India, and nearly 100% in Vietnam and Cambodia, but that capacity levels, however, remain low, varying from 60-80% and often less, according to industry associations and analysts. Smaller factories have suffered the greatest losses, having shut down temporarily, or even permanently, unable to sustain the losses from lost orders, as well as the effects of local lockdowns. The article takes a closer look into five garment-exporting countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Bangladesh: Media report that the Tk 3000 per month allowances for laid-off garment workers in Bangladesh are yet to be disbursed, as the associations concerned are yet to provide the list of employees to the Ministry of Labour. In the meantime, the financial aid meant for workers that have been laid-off amidst the pandemic will continue to remain idle, a senior official of the finance ministry warned. In the words of Nazma Akter, president of the Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, "the money is yet to be disbursed due to bureaucratic red-tape", even though the EU and Germany committed to this fund months ago. 

Media report that, according to the BGMEA, over 95% of garment factories in Bangladesh are back in operation. Industry analysts estimate that the factories are running at an average of 80% capacity.

Cambodia: ABC News (Australia) published a video-report on workers' struggle with Violet Apparel, a garment factory in Phnom Penh which produces for Nike, where hundreds of workers were dismissed in the middle of a global pandemic with just one day's notice. Workers are now fighting for what they're owed. The video further reports that Cambodia's Arbitration Council is set to deliver a verdict on the case. 

India: Media report that, while over 90% of factories in Tirupur are back in operation, in other areas, such as New Delhi–Noida region, only 60% are currently open. The sector's overall export figures for India have been going up steadily month after month; in July, garment exports increased by over 32% compared to June, but export levels from April to August remain negative, at -47%. Factories catering to the domestic market are even worse off, with only around 40% currently open. Here, previous stocks remain unsold.

Myanmar: According to reports from the CCC network, Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association has provided support to over 100 garment workers who have been affected by factory closures in Shwe Pyi Thar Township amidst the COVID-19 second wave. Workers have been provided with rice, oil, garlic, potatoes, beans and handcraft oil. 

Media report that about 400 factories have so far resumed operations in Yangon. The Ministry of Health said that allowing factories to reopen would prevent workers from losing their jobs and aid the country's economy. 

Nicaragua: Media report that according to Dean García, Director of the Nicaraguan Garment and Textile Industry Association, the country's textile production fell by close to 50% during the height of the pandemic. "We went from exporting US$120 or 150 million dollars worth of apparel products monthly to exporting products worth $50 or 60 million...returning to 2009 levels, during the global financial crisis." The tripartite agreement signed by the industry association, the Ministry of Labour and the Sandinista Workers Confederation (CST) on 24 March has been criticised by the Maria Elena Cuadra Women's Movement as being unfavourable to workers, leaving decisions around the suspension of thousands of contracts entirely up to the employer, without input from workers or their representatives. According to Aura Quiroz, a worker dismissed from the Cambridge textile factory, workers were never properly informed about the tripartite agreement. In terms of health and safety for workers, Quiroz criticizes the factories' response, saying "they treated [COVID] like the common cold; people continued to work with high temperatures and with a cough. There were no days off and no financial support from either the factory or the national social security system." Between April and August, 35,000 workers were suspended under Article 38 of the Labour Code, which allows employers to only pay workers six days of wages per month throughout the suspension period.

Singapore: Media report that, on Tuesday, 13 October, Singapore reported no new COVID-19 case in migrant workers' dormitories for the first time in over six months.

Sri Lanka: War on Want reports that 1036 workers from Brandix garment factory and 361 of their close contacts have so far tested positive, representing over a quarter of the country’s total cases. Speaking out against the exploitation and conditions that led to the outbreak, hundreds of workers from the factory have exposed how they were initially told to keep working to meet targets when they reported the onset of symptoms. As previously reported, reports of arbitrary arrest and detention of workers by the military, and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment in quarantine centres are surfacing. Meanwhile, social media posts report that trade unions representing apparel workers at Katunayake FTZ have accused the government of violating the rights of garment workers and filed a Writ Application in the Court of Appeal seeking guidelines.

United Kingdom: Media report that an investigation has found evidence that a network of factories in Leicester's garment industry has engaged in a money-laundering scheme. 

United States: Media report that garment workers in the United States are still faced with inhumane conditions, low wages, and job insecurity- including exposure to the coronavirus. In an interview with InStyle, Marissa Nuncio, director of the Garment Worker Center, reported that the pandemic has only made things worse, in a sector where ventilation has always been a problem. Describing conditions within factories, Nuncio explained that "[t]here are blocked emergency exits, it's very cramped, very dirty conditions." She added that social distancing, mask mandates, and basic hygiene are non-existent in LA's factories, making for a perfect maelstrom for outbreaks. 

Vietnam: Media report that although nearly 100% of factories are up and running in Vietnam, most are operating at a much lower capacity. According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Vietnam, the export turnover of the textiles and apparel sector was down 12% in the first seven months of the year.

14 October 2020

Global: Forbes has published an article titled "Fashion’s $16 Billion Debt To Garment Workers Should Spark Reform, Not Sympathy". The author calls for reform of fashion brands' business model: "it’s not too late to reform the way we do business, even across borders and vast distances and long supply chains, to protect everyone and give all workers access to the ladder of prosperity", the article reads. 

Egypt: Media report that Egypt's garment factories have decided to slash production for winter garments in half due to lack of new orders. Mohamed Abdel-Salam, the chairman of Egypt's ready made garments chamber, explained that factories are reducing their output due to expectations that demand will be low for winter clothes this season, as was the case with summer clothes earlier this year. Another article reports that Egyptian factories have hardly sold 30% of their summer season stock over the past three months.

India: Media report that some garment factories in Gurugram, India, laid-off workers and did not allow them to go back to rural areas, saying that they would be called back to work soon. Many of these workers have now been waiting to be called back for over six months. Sarita Devi, who was laid-off in March, explained that, because of this, she has run out of ways to feed her children. She added that her factory had laid-off older workers but was hiring new ones. Demanding to be reinstated, workers at this factory protested outside the unit yesterday. The article further points out that, in India's garment industry, this is usually the season of overtimes and bonuses, but that this year "it’s a dull festive season". Many workers have left, but returned in recent weeks, hoping to get their jobs back during festive season. Most searches have ended in disappointment. Garment factories in Gurugram are currently operating at around 50-60% of their capacity. 

Malaysia: Media report that human rights' organisations have warned that the reintroduced of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) will take an even heavier toll on migrant workers than the one that took effect in May. They have raised concerns that the CMCO could be used to justify raids and deportations.

Myanmar: Media report that government officials have stopped Saiform International, a garment factory in Yangon, from carrying out blood tests on its workers. The factory had been carrying illegal blood tests without permission from the Health Department on over 900 of its 1200 workers. The article further reports that 50 more garment factories reopened in Yangon yesterday, in addition to the 100 which had already reopened on 12 October.

LabourStart has published a petition in support of VIP Factory workers in Myanmar, who were dismissed after demanding that COVID-19 safety measures be implemented inside the factory. They make sporting goods for Mizuno, CCM, Evil Bikes, and Pivot Cycle. Despite months of direct outreach from the unions, the brands have refused to intervene or mediate whatsoever. The petition can be signed here

Media report that Aung Myin Hmu, the garment industry training centre, is working together with the EU Myan Ku Fund to train over 400 workers who were recently laid-off amidst the coronavirus pandemic. During the training, the EU Myan Ku Fund's cash support covers hostel fees and essential food cost, while Aung Myin Hmu will provide lunch and pay a training stipend. Transport will also be arranged for trainees. The goal is to help workers find new jobs in the sector. The article further reports that Sue Tym, from Aung Myin Hmu, said that over 60,000 garment factory workers have lost their jobs and that around 15 garment and footwear factories have been permanently closed amidst the pandemic.

Nepal: Media report that, as of yesterday (13 October), over 100,000 migrant workers had returned to Nepal in chartered flights. According to statistics, about one million migrant workers from Nepal remain in the Gulf countries and Malaysia, where many are struggling to make ends meet amidst the pandemic.

Sri Lanka: Media report that, to date, over 1500 people, including family members and close associates of garment workers from the Brandix factory, have tested positive for COVID-19. The article further reports that there has been a lack of clear information from the government and that workers have been placed in unsanitary quarantine facilities. Furthermore, workers reported having been transported to these quarantine facilities in unsafe transportation and without prior PCR tests. On 11 October (Sunday), 45 garment factory workers from Liyanagemulla, Katunayake, were rounded-up by the military, and taken by bus to a quarantine facility in Kalutara. Workers had been told that there had been some COVID-19 positive workers residing in the neighbouring hostel and that, for that reason, they had to be quarantined. "We were given seconds to get our things together and get into the bus. We were barely able to pack one change of clothes. We didn't even have time to pack a comb! The military told us not to try and run away, that the entire place was surrounded. They (the military) treated us like prisoners. Like we had committed a national atrocity", workers explained. Similar situations have been reported by workers in Avariwatte, Katunayake, Seeduwa, Negombo and Amandoluwa. Meanwhile, a video shared on social media showcases the poor conditions of the quarantine facility in Kalutara where garment factory workers from Katunayake have been placed, as reported above. Social media posts report that garment workers there are about 400-500 workers at this quarantine facility. Some rooms have up to 6-7 workers per room and about 30 workers have to share two bathing areas with two toilets and two sinks. Media further report that it is likely that the resurgence of COVID-19 in Minuwangoda will likely delay the repatriation of migrant workers to Sri Lanka, who have been stranded abroad with no jobs or income for months. 

Turkey: Media report that Turkey's apparel exports decreased by nearly 16% in the first eight months of 2020 (January-August), according to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute.

United Kingdom: Media report that, in the aftermath of the "Leicester scandal", no one in the UK government has resigned or been fired. Similarly, no one at the top of Boohoo resigned or fired and the company's share price is recovering. According to the author, only one person has been held accountable for the "Leicester mess": a factory worker with a fake ID who has been jailed for 12 months. Labour Behind the Label (LBL) made clear that "this highlights how enforcement in Leicester's garment industry continues to focus on immigration rather than companies paying illegal wages and exploiting workers." 

United States: Media report that many garment workers in the United States have been fired or reprimanded for complaining about COVID-related safety violations. "Workers have a right to be in a safe space and shouldn't face any retaliation" for noting poor practices, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. county public health department. Low-wage workers have been "tremendously disadvantaged" by having to work outside the home in contact with other people, often without sufficient protection, she said.


13 October 2020

Global: Media report that garment workers worldwide, who were already living from hand to mouth, are still losing out on billions of dollars in legally owed wages. The article further reports that labour groups and industry stakeholders alike are growing increasingly frustrated over a lack of progress that is becoming more pronounced the longer the pandemic wears on.

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), people are increasingly returning to jobs they lost amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Data showed that the income of nearly 85% of workers were adversely affected by the pandemic-induced economic disruptions. While their incomes recovered, they were still worse off in August (compared to pre-pandemic times), as incomes were down by over 20% compared to March.

Media report that, according to a survey which interviewed garment workers in Bangladesh, many are still feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey found that there have been improvements in some areas such as wage payments and virus prevention. Meanwhile, the article also reports that social scientists have said that it is extremely critical to research the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on labour.

India: Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) reports that garment workers are gathering outside Chelsea Mills in Gurgaon to protest against management's decision to illegally terminate many women workers under false charges. Many of these workers who were illegally terminated have worked at this factory for over eight years. 

Indonesia: Media report that hundreds of protesters have been detained after heated demonstrations swept across Indonesia in response to a law that weakens environmental protections and workers' rights. Labour unions have vowed to continue their protests until the government cancels the law. According to unions, at least 2 million workers have turned out for the protests.

Malaysia: Media report that Top Glove has raised the amount it will repay migrant workers for recruitment fees following verification work completed by an independent consultant. "The remediation will now be based on the revised sum of approximately 136 million ringgit ($32.77 million), in accordance with recommendations by the independent consultant", the company said. Migrant workers will receive remediation over the next 10 months, starting this month. 

Myanmar: Media report that around 100 garment and bag factories started reopening yesterday (12 October). Unions have warned that factories are reopening without following preventive health and safety measures. Daw Thinzar Htet, Charmin Garment Factory Labour leader, said that "Most of the factories that reopened don’t require face masks, and have crowded canteens and 30 or 50 people on their shuttles. You don’t even need to inspect the factory. Just stand by the gates and you can see that social distancing rules are not being followed. It is really worrisome." Meanwhile, the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar has told workers that they can report factories that are ignoring health and safety standards. The government has said that factories who fail to comply with these regulations will be suspended and required to make modifications before getting permission to reopen.

Media report that factories in Mandalay Industrial Zone which comply with the COVID-19 prevention guidelines have been allowed to continue operations but, according to the secretary of the industrial zone management committee, production has dropped by 25%. The main reasons for this being lack of orders and the migration of garment workers to rural areas, according to the article. Due to lack of orders, workers are working less hours and, therefore, getting less pay; some have even been placed on forced leave. The article further reports that organisations have been carrying out weekly inspections at the over 1200 factories in the Zone, in order to make sure that the area is COVID-19 free.

Media report that the World Bank's latest survey on Myanmar says 75% of services, retail, wholesale, manufacturing and agricultural firms have suffered due to COVID-19, despite some signs of recovery. "The overall negative impact of COVID-19 remains significant but most areas show improvement", the World Bank said. The article reports that, in the manufacturing sector, 86% of businesses faced negative impacts in May, 80% in July and 76% in August. 

United Kingdom: Media report that Labour Behind the Label has written to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to put pressure on UK brands and retailers to compensate workers in garment supply chains for the money they have lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.


12 October 2020

Global: According to reports from the media and the CCC network, activists are disrupting the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in order to spotlight the deepening crisis of garment workers. "This year's online event: CFS+ proclaims to focus on "redesigning value," and creating a more "resilient business model" post COVID-19 by bringing "industry leaders" and "diverse voices" together, but ignores the very people who need to be heard the most: The garment workers who bear the economic brunt of the pandemic, allowing CEOs and brands to profit and grow, while being left behind struggling to survive", the CCC wrote. In response, the CCC has created an alternative magazine, which showcases the current reality of fashion and aims to remind the industry that sustainable fashion must also be sustainable for garment workers.

Bangladesh: Media report that contributions from garment factories to the fund set up to provide financial support to garment workers fell by over 14% amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The government formed the Central Fund in 2016 and it has been managed by the Labour Department ever since.

Media report that, according to manufacturers in Bangladesh, the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, a second wave of infections in Europe, and the upcoming US election may lead to "hiccups" in the recovery of Bangladeshi garment shipments. Some manufacturers report that they have ceased to receive new orders and some are yet to receive any since the beginning of the outbreak. 

Media report that leather exports are yet to pick up. During the July-September period of the ongoing fiscal year, leather shipments declined by over 22% year-on-year while leather goods exports decreased by over 17% and leather footwear by nearly 7%. Some manufacturers said that they had over 60% of their orders cancelled since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Cambodia: Media report that, according to research titled "Mental health status and quality of life among Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand", close to a third of Cambodian migrant workers surveyed in Thailand reported high levels of stress, depression and a low quality of life. The research, which was released by a team of local and international academics on F1000Research, was conducted among 1200 Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand's Sa Keo and Surin provinces. According to the study, almost 70% of respondents showed symptoms of depression. While the survey was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, Pall Chamroen, one of the researchers, said the findings can provide some insight into the conditions and mental health state of migrant workers stuck in Thailand. He made clear that the economic pressure put on workers by the pandemic would have increased stress.

Myanmar: SMART Textile & Garments reports that another 3179 garment workers in Myanmar received digital cash payments today from the EU Myan Ku Fund. This brings the total to 73,725 payments issued. They further report that pregnant workers receive the most support and over 600 women are currently enrolled in the pregnant worker support programme. Recently laid-off pregnant garment workers receive support of 125,000 MMK ($97.5) per month for up to six months, and are asked to complete counselling with doctors on maternal & infant health. 

Nepal: Media report that official figures show that over 560,000 workers in Nepal have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, both in the country and abroad. In the past week, over 150,000 were added to the "unemployment list." This number does not include workers who work in the informal sector, which is expected to be an even higher figure.

Sri Lanka: Media report that, although the government of Sri Lanka committed to a monthly relief payment of 5,000 LKR ($26), many workers did not receive this payment, as they were prevented by their employers from returning to their home communities before the curfew went into effect. 

Media report that the fact that Brandix factory in Minuwangoda became a coronavirus hotspot has further deepened the marginalisation of garment workers in Sri Lanka. The article reports that, since one worker tested positive a few days ago (since then, over 1000 workers have tested positive), "disgusting" comments about garment workers have been circulating on social media, some state-owned media and privately owned major media outlets. Regarding the Brandix case, media further report that the company has released a statement saying that all stipulated protocols were followed concerning its workers and their families who returned to Sri Lanka from India. It said certifications issued from the authorities confirming adherence to quarantine process are available for all 341 employees and members of families that travelled from India to Sri Lanka. Another article reports that the Public Health Inspectors Union of Sri Lanka (PHUI) has said that none of their members ever supervised any of those who were brought down from India in repatriation flights chartered by Brandix Apparel Ltd. According to the union, had any one of the workers who flew from India undergone the 14-day mandatory quarantine at a government-regulated quarantine centre, they would have been asked to supervise them.

United Kingdom: Media report that months after issuing a letter to the UK government which called for urgent action to tackle cases of worker exploitation in the country’s textiles industry, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reports that there has been no "significant action… to bring this injustice to an end". Following up on its July enquiry, the BRC - backed by MPS, fashion brands and NGOs - reiterated that authorities have failed to make progress in addressing cases of illegally low pay and poor conditions in garment factories across the country.

Vietnam: Media report that the General Statistics Office has released a report on the impact of COVID-19 on labour and employment in the third quarter of 2020. The report reveals that 31.8 million people aged 15 or over have been negatively affected by COVID-19, through being fired, furloughed, having reduced working hours, or loss of incomes.


11 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the BGMEA has asked its member-factories to make preparations for a possible second wave of the outbreak following a government instruction for precautionary measures to tackle the situation if the country experiences a surge in coronavirus infections during the upcoming winter. The BGMEA asked its members to report infected workers through the hotline of the trade body or to its health in-charge. According to BGMEA statistics, a total of 555 workers of RMG factories have so far been infected with coronavirus and 503 have so far recovered. Union leaders dispute these numbers.

Media report that small and medium garment factories are yet to see the rebound in apparel shipments as they have not received as many export orders as the bigger units, pointing to an uneven recovery in the sector. According to the BGMEA, about 300 small factories have remained shut mainly due to lack of work orders and over 1000 are struggling to receive new orders. Some of these units have laid-off workers. In response, experts have recommended that the government come up with a support policy, such as a tax waiver for small and medium-sized units. 

Malaysia: Media report that nearly 500 undocumented migrant workers from Indonesia have been deported from Malaysia. Before leaving, they spent months in detention centres.

United Kingdom: Media report that, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), exploited workers in UK garment factories that supply clothing brands have been robbed of £27m since July because they are still being systematically underpaid. The trade body and Scottish National Party MP Lisa Cameron, who chairs a cross-party group of MPs on textiles and fashion, wrote to the Home Office urging it to act faster to protect workers. The trade body urged the government to set up a "fit-to-trade" licensing scheme that would better protect workers against forced labour, as well as ensuring payment of VAT, national insurance and holiday pay, among other entitlements.


10 October 2020

Global: The Center for Global Workers’ Rights (CGWR) and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) have published a new paper titled “Unpaid Billions: Trade Data Show Apparel Order Volume and Prices Plummeted through June, Driven by Brands’ Refusal to Pay for Goods They Asked Suppliers to Make.” They estimate that buyers, in the initial weeks of the crisis, reneged on their financial commitments on roughly US$40 billion in orders - with devastating implications for suppliers and workers. As a result of cancelled orders, millions of workers faced reduced hours of work and thus reduced income, temporary suspension of work, or job termination. According to an analysis of trade data, there has been a loss of close to US$2 billion in workers’ wages.

Bangladesh: Media report that Bangladesh’s garment exports to the United States from January-August fell by almost 15% compared to the same time last year.

Media report that the government has framed guidelines, allowing the export-oriented ready made garment and leather and footwear sectors workers, who were terminated amidst the coronavirus pandemic, to receive Tk 3000 a month for three months. This will be implemented with the previously announced funding from the European Union and the German government. The EU announced financial support in April, and it has taken five months for the finalisation of the support programme, leaving workers with little to no support during this times. An implementation committee headed by director general of the Department of Labour has been formed, which labour rights groups have opposed, demanding that workers’ representatives be included.

India: Media report that 4000 workers from Texport Garments factory in Hindupur Industrial Estate have been protesting since 5 October, demanding to be paid the minimum wages of ₹18,000 ($246) per month as recommended by the Indian government. Workers in this unit are currently paid an average of ₹6000 pm ($82). Workers' representatives further reported that working conditions at these factories for women are very bad and that the company only grants additional pay when workers work on all 26 working days in a month. 

Nepal: Media report that a recent report by The Kathmandu Post has found that Nepal's government has been excluding Nepali workers who migrated to India for employment from its plans and policies. Speaking to the newspaper, Indian labour migration expert Prakash Chandra Madai revealed that there are several policies and legislation governing Nepali labour migration to countries like Malaysia and in the Gulf region. However, Nepali migrants in India are being neglected in the process.

Myanmar: Media report that the government of Myanmar has announced that it will allow factories and small businesses in Yangon to resume operations from Monday (12 October) after they pass inspections meant to insure that they are complaint with COVID-19 guidelines. Garment factories will be allowed to restart work after obtaining approval from the National Level Central Committee for Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19. Factories will need to score “Grade A” in COVID-19 prevention in order to be able to restart operations. Meanwhile, another article reports that manufacturers have said that they are facing canceled orders amidst the new lockdown. 

A union organiser reports that 112 dismissed union members from San Yuan Garment Factory are finalising their agreement for reinstatement. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that the COVID-19 Prevention Task Force is asking anyone who met garment workers from the Brandix factory in Minuwangoda after 23 September to present themselves to a government hospital for a PCR test. The instructions came after 30 more workers tested positive earlier today, bringing the Minuwangoda cluster to a total of 1083 COVID-19 positive workers. 


9 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers in Bangladesh who lost their jobs amidst the coronavirus pandemic are still struggling to pay rent and cover daily expenses. Unable to afford life in the city, many have had to return to rural areas and start new jobs, which pay very little. "We had a good income and better life in Savar. Now we face difficulties running a family with poor income from just one. Schools and colleges are closed due to the coronavirus, and we don’t know what will happen when those reopen. If we remain jobless, we won’t be able to support the education of our children", Maloti Mondol, who migrated to Savar 12 years ago, explained. The article further reports that, while the BGMEA reports that 70,000 workers have been laid-off since April, trade unions say estimate that the real figure is about 150,000. "In our estimate about 150,000 workers have lost jobs already and termination continues every day. Moreover, senior workers who toiled in the industry for many years have seen their salaries cut significantly", Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, said. 

Media report that the government has announced that it will provide Tk3,000 per month (for a maximum of three months) in cash assistance to workers who lost their jobs in the garment, leather goods and footwear industries amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Workers who have been physically disabled due to accidents or are unable to return to work due to illness will also receive this assistance. 

Myanmar: Media report that garment workers in Yangon have been given three days amidst the stay-at-home period to leave their homes in order to withdraw September wages. The three days started yesterday and, as previously mentioned, some workers have now received their wages. Factories must arrange separate payment hours for workers from different departments over the next 3-5 days, depending the number of workers in the factory.

South Korea: Media report that, according to the Ministry of Labour's data, over 1.5 million migrant workers in South Korea have been deprived of their salaries amidst the coronavirus pandemic. In response, politicians in South Korea have suggested that the companies which have been found to be denying salaries to their workers should be fined.   

Sri Lanka: Media report that 16 more COVID-19 cases have been reported today. From these cases, two are workers from the Minuwangoda Brandix garment factory and 11 are close contacts. According to an article, this factory has been producing masks for the US. Meanwhile, another article reports that activists are calling on the government of Sri Lanka to intervene immediately in order to protect garment workers from health risks in the workplace. The Common Workers' Voice for Justice organisation wrote a letter to the Department of Labour, in which they stressed that more workers are at risk of contracting COVID-19 if actions in order to prevent the spread of the virus are not taken immediately. In this letter, the organisation presented many proposals, including:

  • Efficient monitoring to ensure that factories follow COVID-19 are respecting COVID-19 health guidelines;
  • Carrying to PCR tests on all workers in the Free Trade Zone;
  • Providing the necessary treatment to all workers infected;
  • Paying workers’ salaries in full.


8 October 2020 

Global: Media report that, according to a recent analysis by Center for Global Workers’ Rights (CGWR) and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), brands and retailers have refused to pay overseas suppliers for more than $16 billion worth of goods since the outbreak of COVID-19. This has left suppliers in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar with little choice but to slim down their operations or close altogether, leaving millions of workers facing reduced hours and unemployment, according to the report. In Bangladesh, over one million garment workers have been fired or furloughed as a result of cancelled orders and buyers' refusal to pay, according to the CGWR.

Tansy Hoskins has published an article in which she reimagines a garment industry where workers are better protected. 

Cambodia: Media report that the government of Cambodia has announced that it will extend support for families who have been affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for another three months. Experts warned that the government should work closely with local NGOs in order to make sure that the programme reaches those who need it. Meanwhile, media report that, according to a new report by UNDP, the number of Cambodians experiencing poverty this year could nearly double to 17.6% of the population, meaning that 1.3 million will likely be sent back into poverty amidst the pandemic. 

China: Labour Action China has published a report on labour conditions in China amidst the pandemic. According to a survey conducted in April and May in Guangdong and Henan, fewer than 30% of employees received regular wage payment during the delayed work resumption. The survey also reveals that: 

  • More than 70% of the workers under study in Zhengzhou share that the COVID-19 pandemic has made their lives more difficult;
  • Many workers in the two places (around 35% in Foshan and around 40% in Zhengzhou) have had their salaries cut, which is likely related to reduced working hours;
  • Although working hours have been reduced, workload has increased.

The labour rights NGO further reports that China is facing serious unemployment, as the unemployment rate is set at 9%-11%.

India: Media report that garment workers at Thumukunta in the Anantapur District protested in demand of higher wages. A videos show clashes between workers and the police. 

Indonesia: According to reports from the CCC network, today was the last day of a three-day demonstration against the omnibus law, which aims to reduce wages, remove entitlements and erode workers' rights. Meanwhile, media report that the police has clashed with protestors. The police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors. Workers from PT Masterino, a garment factory in Bandung, demonstrated with umbrellas - a symbol that the law is supposed to protect workers. A few months ago, this factory suspended operations after one worker tested positive. 

Indonesia Protests

Myanmar: Media report that unions in Myanmar have urged the government to quickly handle the wage situation of factory workers in Yangon, who have been severely affected by stay-at-home orders, which closed their factories. The Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM) wrote to the Ministry of Labour requesting a notification letter on how and when workers will get their wages, as many are running out of cash for food and rent. CTUM reports that some workers have already been forced to move out from their hostels, as they are unable to pay rent. As made clear by Ko Muang Moe, a factory workers from Yangon, “The government extended the stay-at-home order without mentioning a definite date on when employers shoulpay wages. Without pay, workers are facing many difficulties”. There has been no response from the Ministry so far. 

According to reports from the CCC network, some factories announced yesterday that they will pay September wages from today. While some have said that they will pay through bank transfers, many are still paying workers in cash. For factories which are paying in cash, payments will be scheduled in order to avoid crowds. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that, according to the Joint Secretary of Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union (FTZGSEU), 180,000 out of 900,000 garment workers in Sri Lanka have lost their jobs amidst the pandemic. This represents over 20% of the workers in the sector. The union further reports that factories have cut on workers' welfare in order to continue to make profits. Indeed, the apparel industry's revenue has not dropped when compared to 2019. Some factories that used to offer breakfast to workers have stopped doing so, for example. Moreover, many workers have had nearly 50% of their salaries cut and attendance bonuses are not being paid. Many factories have stopped providing workers with transport, which impedes many of reporting to work. 

Media report that with over 1000 garment workers from the Minuwangoda factory testing positive for COVID-19, several allegations have been levelled against the parent company – Brandix Apparel Limited about how they handled the upsurge of cases. The company's other factories remain open. Meanwhile, media report that over 50,000 of Sri Lanka's free trade zone workers are at risk of exposure to COVID-19 as a result of the unexpected Brandix apparel factory cluster which at last count was at 1034 confirmed cases. "If they lock down Katunayaka, they have to lock down the free trade zone too. Despite the situation, people working in those factories haven’t been given leave" Chamila Thushari, Programme Coordinator of Dabindu Collective. 

United Kingdom: GMB Union reports that a worker in ASOS's Barnsley warehouse has died from COVID-19 after working without personal protective equipment (PPE). Six other workers also tested positive and a recent poll of almost 500 workers at the site found 98% felt unsafe at work amid the coronavirus crisis. Furthermore, a pregnant woman miscarried after being denied lighter shifts, and drivers had to live in lorries for months on end, with one going on hunger strike over low pay. 


7 October 2020

Global: Media report that Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (owners of Peacocks, Jaeger and more) is considering legal action against the BGMEA over claims that it owes manufacturers £27 million in unpaid bills. The retail group, owned by billionaire businessman Philip Day, insists it has paid all moneys owed and that the trade body's accusations were "old figures, completely baseless and without merit". In response, the BGMEA has accepted that the figure is outdated and that EWM Group has paid some debts, but insists it still owes some suppliers the raw materials bought for their orders. According to articles, the board of EWM group is meeting tomorrow to decide whether to pursue legal action or not. 

Media report that Danish brand Bestseller is being criticised by workers' rights campaigners who claim the company demanded a 10% discount from suppliers on some orders that were in production at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Bestseller admitted that it has "individually negotiated discounts" but insists that it has supported its suppliers by paying for all orders, as well as continuing to place new orders amidst the COVID-19 crisis. 

Bangladesh: Media report that the Ministry of Commerce has formed a committee to review the proposal to waive Tk 649 crore in favour of 133 garment factories that are either out of business or raking in losses. 

The recording from the webinar "COVID-19 Experience: Garment Workers’ Perspective from Bangladesh" organised by the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies, UC Berkeley, in collaboration with the James P Grant School of Public Health (BRAC JPGSPH) and the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED), can be found here

Indonesia: According to reports from the media and the CCC network, workers in Indonesia organised a mass strike against a new neoliberal employment bill which will reduce wages, remove entitlements and erode workers' rights.

Myanmar: Media report that labour organisations have warned that garment workers in Yangon are facing serious financial hardship, as they are yet to received their salaries and the government extended the COVID-19 lockdown until 21 October. In a statement, the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM) reported that, as factories have been closed since 21 September, numerous workers have completely run out of money and are facing considerable hardship. They added that, as a result, some workers are facing eviction due to unpaid rent. "The Health Ministry has imposed stay-at-home orders. But employees still can’t get their salaries from employers. They have no money at all to pay the rent, and are facing eviction", Daw Phyo Sandar Soe, CTUM general secretary, said. While the stay-at-home order was extended, no consideration regarding workers' payments was made. As previously reported, the government has said that it will provide 40% of workers salaries to those registered with social security. Workers, however, are yet to receive this payment. Later, the government said that workers who are not registered would receive 30,000 kyats (23$), but they haven't received anything either. 

Media report that reports suggest that the Myanmar's garment sector continues to struggle amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Workers who have been laid-off are facing a dire situation, as they are finding it hard to regain full-time employment amidst the crisis. 

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and the CCC network, around 1000 garment workers in Sri Lanka have so far tested COVID-19 positive. Unions in Sri Lanka have written to the task force demanding that they ensure that factories adhere to health guidelines and that workers be paid their full wages during this emergency. As reported on previous days, the Minuwangoda Brandix Lanka factory, which produces for Gap, has reported hundreds of COVID-19 cases. The latest reports show that around 1000 workers out of 1600 have tested positive. As pointed out by the Free Trade Zone & General Services Employees' Union, "if required precautionary measures were effectively in place (as the factory insists), there would have been no possibility for half the workforce to contract the COVID-19 virus." The union's press statement further states that the first garment worker which tested positive at this factory was insulted by the media, which suggested that she had been in "ilicit relationships" in order to contract the virus. 

Thailand: Media report that the government of Thailand will allow over 130,000 migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia whose working permits expire between next month and December 2021 to remain in the country instead of having to return to their home countries in order to re-apply for employment.

6 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers in Bangladesh are still bearing the brunt of an industry-wide slowdown that has left thousands struggling to find work and floundering on the brink of destitution. According to the BGMEA, more than 70,000 people are estimated to have been laid off after predominantly Western brands and retailers suspended or rescinded $3.1 billion worth of clothing orders. They further report that recent rebounds in textile exports have not been able to make up for the anticipated $5 billion in fiscal-year losses. Though manufacturers say 90% of canceled orders have been reinstated, and production lines are hiring again, labour advocates have pointed out that the demand for jobs largely surpasses supply, leaving jobless garment workers with few alternatives or assistance. Many have returned to rural areas, where they rely on food handouts from local charities. Meanwhile, factory owners say orders are still down by two-thirds and brands are still demanding discounts of 20 to 25% for previous orders. "The turnaround hasn’t been significant. We thought we would get a good number of orders before Christmas, but that hasn’t happened", Mohammad Hatem, vice-president of the BKMEA, said. According to the BGMEA, overall prices have decreased by over 5% compared to the same time last year. 

Cambodia: Media report that the government of Cambodia has urged the government of Thailand to allow Cambodian migrant workers who hold border passes to return to work and to reduce the cost of mandatory 14-day quarantine. The Ministry pointed out that "the two countries need each other", as Thailand is facing labour shortage and Cambodians are looking for jobs.

Reuters has published an op-ed by members of CENTRAL, STT, CATU and LICADHO, on the need "to fix Cambodia's broken micro-finance system". They reported that farmers, migrant labourers and factory workers report that micro-loans have lead them into debt traps, dangerous migration, and landlessness. they argued that, "[t]he only way to ensure the micro-finance sector in Cambodia returns to its original vision of providing relief to the poor and vulnerable is for microloan providers to return the millions of land titles they currently hold to their rightful owners, and to stop accepting any borrowers’ land titles as collateral in the future."

Ethiopia: A group of academics is working on a new research titled "The Impact of COVID-19 on the Lives of Women in the Garment Industry: Evidence from Ethiopia". Sampling from an administrative database of all workers in the Hawassa Industrial Park, they aim to collect data on a representative sample of about 4000 workers. Respondents will be interviewed on a regular basis for a duration of six months. Studied outcomes include socioeconomic status, employment, mental and physical health, health behaviours, empowerment, trust, and economic preferences. They plan to investigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis for this sample of women, and the interaction between health behaviours, trust in government, and economic preferences.

Myanmar: IndustriALL reports that three union leaders at Glory Fashion, who were dismissed in May after setting up a local union, have been reinstated. In the weeks after the local union was formed, factory management harassed the families of the local union leaders. Thugs were also used to intimidated the union leaders. Immediately after the dismissals, the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) referred the case to the Township Conciliation Body, which ruled that the three union leaders did not violate the employment contracts and instructed the company to reinstate the workers. As Glory Fashion refused to accept the ruling, IWFM referred the complaint to the Arbitration Body, which made same ruling, which the employer stubbornly refused to comply with. Not giving up, the union referred the case to the Arbitration Council, where the employer won. In an attempt to resolve the situation, Primark, who sources from the factory, engaged in negotiations with Glory Fashion and IWFM. The three union leaders were reinstated on 1 October with full back pay and benefits. IWFM president Khaing Zar says that Primark's support was important in reaching an agreement with the employer.

Sri Lanka: Media report that over 320 garment factory workers have tested positive for COVID-19, days after reports of the first community infection in two months. At present, 321 garment workers from the Brandix facility located in Minuwangoda are infected. The factory had been handling an export order from India during the identification of the first case. Several workers had reported having fever, but they were told to report to work despite their condition. Meanwhile, factory management have been accused of coercing two female workers to report to work. 

United Kingdom: Media report that Boohoo has replied to Labour MP Liz Kendall's call for the replacement of the company’s Manchester chair and CEO by saying that its leadership is "absolutely committed to delivering change."


5 October 2020

Global: A global relay of action has been called against Kohl's for cancelling $150 million worth of orders while paying $109 million to shareholders. As a result, garment workers have been without full wages since March - anything less than full wages means no food. The Call of Action will take place online on 8 October, from 12-2PM across timezones. 

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to a study by Manusher Jonno Foundation, 99.8% of the 430 garment workers from 21 factories who responded to the survey received wages for March and April this year. Despite this fact, none of them had received their full salary. Over 90% said that they did not get wages and allowances as per the labour law. The survey further found that:

  • Over 80% of respondents were provided with masks at the factory;
  • Over 95% of respondents said that they were satisfied with the hand-washing facilities at work;
  • Almost 70% said that they still feel the threat of job loss; 
  • Over 30% of female workers said that they were subjected to sexual harassment at workplaces amidst the pandemic;
  • Almost 50% of respondents said that supervisors used abusive language if they failed to meet targets;
  • None of the respondents had visited doctors or got tested for COVID-19.

Media report that Bangladesh's export earnings in the July-September period of the current financial year 2020-21 grew by 2.58%. While garment and knitwear exports continued to increase during this period, leather, and leather goods and leather-footwear exports have continued to fall. Export earnings from leather and leather goods in July-September of FY21 fell by 11.49%, while leather-footwear exports decreased by 6.83%. 

Malaysia: Media report that Top Glove, the world's largest disposable glove company, whose sales to the US have been restricted over forced labour reports, will pay tens of millions of dollars in additional reimbursements to migrant workers who were "recruited unethically". According to the company's announcement, it will pay workers from Nepal about $1500 and workers from Bangladesh about $4800 to cover the fees they paid to recruitment agencies in their home countries. 

Myanmar: Media report that the government of Myanmar has extended restrictions requiring Yangon’s garment factories to remain closed for another two weeks (until 21 October) as COVID-19 cases increase. Meanwhile, another article reports that the country’s manufacturing sector has been hit hard by a range of new lockdown measures introduced in order to fight a surge in coronavirus cases. “Many companies reported temporary plant closures and the return of workers to their hometowns, repeating the scenes from earlier in the year during the fist wave’, Trevor Balchin, Economics Director at IHS Markit, said. As a result of these measures, Myanmar’s Purchasing Manager Index (PMI) fell to 35.9 in September from 53.2 in August. A score below 50 indicates an overall decrease in purchasing activity compared to the previous month. September’s index results show a large decrease compared to August. However, the impact has so far been less severe than the record deterioration in business conditions seen in April, when the PMI index was just 29. With many factories temporarily closed in September, the overall level of employment in the sector has also fallen sharply.

Sri Lanka: Media report that, since one garment worker tested positive, 72 more people, including garment workers, have tested positive for COVID-19 from the Minuwangoda factory cluster. Authorities reported that these are results of 150 PCR tests and that all of the factory's over 1400 employees will now be tested. Online sources report that the factory in question is Brandix garment factory and that at least 13 more workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since yesterday. 

United Kingdom: Media report that Labour MP for Leicester West, Liz Kendall, has written to the chairman of Boohoo major shareholder Jupiter Asset Management, urging that the Manchester brand's chairman and CEO be replaced for their failings to address gross negligence within the company's supply chain. "It would make a mockery of any claims to support responsible investing if the same executives who allowed these appalling failures to take place, despite repeated warnings over many years, were kept in place by the shareholders", she wrote. Meanwhile, Claudia Webbe, Labour MP for Leicester East, published an article on how Boohoo's failings highlight a scandalous disregard for workers' rights. "The government should help prevent exploitative employment practices by enforcing minimum wages and incentivising trade union membership", she wrote. The Guardian also published an article on this issue, calling on business and political leaders to work together on improving conditions in Leicester's clothing factories. 

Vietnam: Media report that, according to Vietnam's General Statistics Office, the country's national index of industrial production advanced 2.4% year-on-year in the first nine months of this year. The main driver of the rise, the processing and manufacturing sector, went up by 3.8%. 

Media report that 1035 garment workers have agreed to leave their jobs at Namyang International, a Korean-owned garment factory employing 1050 workers located in Amata Industrial Zone, following strike action. On 19 September, the factory announced that, due to difficulties caused by COVID-19, the company was suspending production and all labour contracts. If workers agreed to formally leave their jobs, they would receive an extra 2 months' salary, 50% Tet bonus, and all other benefits, including social insurance contributions, would be properly paid. On 21 September, 1000 of the workers went on strike demanding 6 months' basic salary, a redundancy payment of 1 month for every year they had worked at the factory, support for workers' young children, Tet bonuses and all other payments. Following negotiations the company announced a more generous offer two days later: workers who agreed to leave would receive 3 months' salary, 50% Tet bonus, extra redundancy payments, payments for all remaining annual leave, full September salaries, and all other benefits, including social insurance. Pregnant workers would receive 4 months' salary; on this last point, workers did not agree. By 25 September, 1035 had agreed to leave the company, while 15 pregnant workers were still negotiating.

Media report that workers from Mekong Fibre, a Hong Kong-owned factory in Long Giang Industrial Zone, went on strike after three Chinese experts were brought to work from China without undergoing mandatory quarantine. The company had also failed to provide information about their health situation. After Labour Federation intervention, the Chinese nationals were quarantined for 14 days.


4 October 2020

Cambodia: Media report that, as garment factories close amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, workers who lost their jobs in the sector have started to work in lower paying jobs - such as construction and agriculture. Many, however, are yet to find any job. Having worked in garment factories for a long time, workers are struggling to find better-paid jobs in other sectors. Many have no other choice but to accept worse pay in sectors such as construction. "My contract was terminated at the footwear factory in March during the spread of coronavirus and I returned to rest at my homeland for several months. I came to work at this construction site a month ago because I need money to support my 9-year-old daughter and family", Sreyroth, who used to work at a footwear factory, said. Talking about her salary, she explained that: "I get a salary of between $150 and $200 for construction work but I can get a salary of between $200 and $300 per month [at the factory]." Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), warned that, as long as the global pandemic persists, the job losses among garment workers will continue to grow. "As they lose their jobs and can’t find new work in the garment sector, they will find jobs in other sectors including construction", he said. Thorn urged the government to monitor and review factory closures, as it is unclear whether some owners have merely used COVID-19 as an excuse to shut down their already-struggling factories without paying workers. Meanwhile, the article further reports that Kaing Monika, deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufactures Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said that garment factories in Cambodia are no longer facing issues related to sourcing raw materials and that orders have also increased a little since earlier in the year. 

India: Media report that India's government has told the Supreme Court that it will waive certain interest levies on loans up to 20 million rupees ($272,888) under a COVID-19 support plan - a move which is expected to bring relief to millions of borrowers. 

Myanmar/Thailand: Media report that migrant workers from Myanmar continue to return after having lost their from jobs in Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the article, 338 Myanmar migrant workers returned from various districts and regions in Thailand under their own arrangement through the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge-2 in Myawady. Most of the people among the returnees are the expectant mothers, children, and the workers returned due to the job cuts and closure of factories.

Sri Lanka: Media report that a garment worker who works at a factory in Divulapitiya, which employs 400 workers, has tested positive for a COVID-19. 45 of the workers' close contacts have been placed under quarantine. In response to the case, a curfew has been imposed in the area where the factory is located.

3 October 2020

Global: Campaigner and blogger, Mayisha Begum has published an op-ed on Peacocks and the #PayUp Campaign. "While some brands responded to the campaign, and agreed to pay in full for cancelled orders, many simply ignored our calls, and even attempted to justify their callous decision when questioned by the media. Peacocks, however, took it one step further, and blocked anyone who criticised them on social media, while limiting the ability to comment on their Instagram posts", the article reads. Indeed, Peacocks is yet to pay for orders and continues to block anyone who calls the company out on social media.

Cambodia: Media report that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has approved two new investment projects for the production of clothes and gloves. The two factories are to be set in Phnom Penh and are expected to create a total of 1513 local jobs.

India: Media report that India’s textile industry, the second biggest employment generator in the country after agriculture, has been severely affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the article, around 30-40% of workers in the sector have lost their jobs since March. Most of these workers are women. 

Myanmar: Media report that the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM) has said that, in clear contrast with COVID-19's first wave, dozens of garment factories have reported COVID-19 cases among workers. Among CTUM-member factories, 16 have reported active cases. In each of these factories, 15 to over 60 workers have been put in quarantine. The government announced that workers who registered for social security will receive 40% of their salaries. Workers already struggle to make ends meet on their normal salaries. 40% is hardly enough to cover essential needs, such as food and housing. As made clear by Phyo Sandar Soe, from CTUM, "Food prices do not fall during a pandemic. In fact, the prices of some basic necessities have even increased." The union representative further reported that industrial relations have "not been good during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Meanwhile, SMART Textile & Garments reports that, as COVID-19's second wave creates more challenges for garment factory workers, enrolments for the EU Myan Ku Fund have increased. Support from the Fund has now reached over 5.4 billion MMK (over 3.5 million EUR). Workers from over 340 factories have now been assisted by the programme. The article further reports that a survey conducted in late September of 345 garment factory workers who were mostly laid off between March and June revealed that only 3% had been able to transition back into full-time employment.

A union organiser reports that All 738 union members at Dihuali factory in Myanmar, who make clothes for Lidl and Mango, have been dismissed. Brands offered to reinstate 7 of the 700+, which represents less than 1% of the workers unfairly dismissed. 

2 October 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of at least 370 migrant workers, who were arbitrarily detained between July and September following their return to Bangladesh. David Griffiths, director of the Office of the Amnesty International Secretary General, explained that "[t]he arbitrary detention of the workers violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party." Bangladeshi authorities have failed to present any credible evidence of these workers' supposed crimes and failed to specify any criminal charges. In a statement, Amnesty International made clear that this is a "clear violation of Bangladesh's human rights obligations." 

Cambodia: Media report that labour rights groups and unions have warned that Cambodia's move to scrap workers' bonus and holiday entitlements is likely to hurt the poorest workers, who have been severely hit by the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The government intends to abolish the labour laws which give higher rates of pay for night shift workers and move public holidays that fall on weekends to weekdays. "The working class rely on these benefits to survive. They are in a state of crisis already – and now we have another move to support employers while workers get nothing", Ou Tepphallin, head of trade union the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, made clear. Khun Tharo, from Central Cambodia, explained that thousands of laid-off workers are already fighting for severance pay, leave entitlements and government handouts. The proposed changes will further deepen their struggle. 

Media report that garment workers in Cambodia, faced with reduced working hours amidst the pandemic, are struggling to stay above the poverty line. Workers explained that, as many are the sole breadwinner in their family, they are struggling to pay for food, rent and school fees. Sao Savorn, who has worked at the Hung Wah factory producing goods for export for the last nine years, explained that she is currently on the poverty line. "These days I’m facing a big problem because COVID-19 has deeply affected my family's finances. We don't get much work to do and I have small children and my mum is also old. I don’t get any extra working hours because of the coronavirus and my income is low compared to before", she explained. High debt levels among small borrowers in the micro-finance industry and a sharp drop in remittances from workers abroad amidst the pandemic have also contributed to workers' struggle. 

Media report that Germany will support Cambodia with $8.2 million amidst the COVID-19 crisis. According to the government's statement, most of the money - around $7 million - will be invested into the IDPoor program, supporting the Cambodian government's cash-transfer to families who have been severely affected by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gulf: Media report that the coronavirus pandemic and crashing oil prices have led to mass layoffs in Gulf states, leaving foreign workers vulnerable and, in some cases, destitute. Out of money and fearing the virus, hundreds of thousands have returned home. About one-third of migrant workers in the Gulf come from South Asia.

India: Media report that, drawing lessons from the COVID-19 lockdown, Telangana is well on course to become the first state in the country to make registration of migrant workers compulsory. The state government is working on a new policy which is expected to streamline the system to hire migrant workers. Under the proposed policy, likely to be announced soon, any employer employing five or more migrant workers will have to register with the Labour Department and obtain a license. In a move to encourage the return of migrant workers to the state, the government will also make it compulsory for the employers to pay for workers' transportation.

Malaysia: Academics report since May 2020, the Malaysian government has conducted several immigration raids, detaining more than 18,000 undocumented migrant workers in the name of reducing the spread of COVID-19. Many became infected as the over-crowded detention centres became coronavirus hotspots, while others who were tested negative for COVID-19 were repatriated. 

Turkey: Media report that Turkey's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector stood at 52.8% in September, signalling a sustained improvement in business conditions.

United Kingdom: Media report that ShareAction has written to major investors in fast fashion retailer Boohoo urging them to pressure the company's management over pay and conditions in its Leicester supply factories. ShareAction made the move after being shocked to discover that Boohoo's share price had risen after Alison Levitt QC's inquiry found significant 'failings' in Boohoo's UK supply chain. 

United States: Media report that textiles and apparel imports by the United States have decreased by 27.85% in the first seven months of 2020.

1 October 2020

Global: Media report that, according to a survey conducted by the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF), textile companies' turnover is expected to reduce by -16%. The survey was conducted among ITMF members and affiliated companies and associations and aims to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the global textile value chain. The article further reports that this is the 5th survey to have been conducted this year. While in the beginning of June, companies were expecting a drop in turnover of around -32%, the expected reduction fell to -16% by the middle of September. 

Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) reports that Bestseller suppliers have stated that the company imposed discounts of up to 10% on some orders that were in production at the outset of the pandemic. This discount in some cases represents all of suppliers' profit and a portion of their out-of-pocket production costs. Bestseller has now announced that it was able to avoid a deficit during the pandemic. Bestseller chose to pass its financial burden to suppliers by declining to pay them the amounts it originally agreed to pay for the goods it asked suppliers to make. Bestseller also further reported that it is returning the government aid it received. If the company has the resources to pay back the US$12.86 million support package, then it can afford to fulfil its original contractual obligations to the suppliers and workers who are responsible for Bestseller’s surplus.

Bangladesh: Media reports that at least 70,000 garment workers have been laid off in Bangladesh amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The figure was disclosed by the President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Rubana Huq, who said that workers had been laid off by around 106 garment factories. Another article reports that advocates warned that thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic are now struggling to find work and are at risk of destitution without urgent support. While factory bosses say the sector has seen a recent uptick - with 90% of cancelled orders reinstated - and is hiring again, activists said demand for jobs outstripped supply and pointed to a lack of alternatives and assistance for fired garment workers. "For every 10 workers who lost their jobs, only one is being hired", Kalpona Akter, founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, made clear. Al Jazeera further reports that the Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to 20 garment workers who lost their jobs between April and August. Three had been rehired but most were unemployed and struggling to get by. "I haven't paid my rent in two months and I am struggling to feed my children", one worker explained. According to Nazma Akter, head of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, some laid-off garment workers have cases been rehired by their former factories but on worse terms. Workers expressed that they fear losing their jobs in the near future because of the pandemic's second wave in Europe.

Media report that a rapid survey on garment workers in Bangladesh titled "The Impacts of COVID-19 on the Lives of Workers in the Garment Industry" found that:

  • 82% of workers reported that the income they had in April/May 2020 was less than the income in February 2020 and at the time of the survey;
  • 52% of respondents said that they saved less than what they saved in February (pre-COVID-19 period);
  • 77% of respondents said that it was difficult to feed everyone in their household;
  • 87% of respondents said their factory has introduced new precautions against COVID-19, including giving workers new PPE;
  • 59% of respondents still feel that they are somewhat likely or very likely to get infected by the virus in their factory;
  • 90% of respondents have not received any support from the government during the pandemic.

IndustriALL reports that BGTLWF has signed an important agreement with Adams Apparels which will reinstate twelve workers who were dismissed when the employer found out that they were pregnant. The article reports that when managers at Adams Apparels found out that workers were pregnant during an internal medical check-up, they proceeded to dismiss pregnant workers one by one in May and June this year. BGTLWF filed a complaint on behalf of the workers to the BGMEA, seeking its intervention. After comprehensive negotiations between BGMEA, Adams Apparels and the BGTLWF, the employer and the union reached an agreement. Workers are to be paid compensation and be reinstated. "This is an important victory, especially given the challenges faced by workers during COVID-19. Despite all our efforts, it is an uphill battle to win legally provided workers’ rights, like the right to maternity benefit", Kutubuddin Ahmed, president of BGTLWF, expressed. 

Cambodia: Media report that, according to a statement released yesterday, the government of Cambodia has extended support measures to aid the garment and textile industry until the end of the year. The government will continue to pay $40 per month to garment workers who have been laid off amidst the pandemic for another three months, until the end of 2020. Garment factory owners are expected to continue to add another $30 per month, so that each laid-off worker receives $70 a month.

Media report that the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia announced last week that students and workers, including those who have permanent or temporary residence in Malaysia and wish to return, must pay a fee of MYR 4700 ($1150). Khun Tharo, from Central Cambodia, warned that Cambodian migrant workers wishing to return to Malaysia for work will meet difficulties regarding the payment of this quarantine fee. "It must be difficult for our Cambodian workers to return to work in Malaysia with this expense adding another burden for them", he said. 

China: Media report that China's factory activity showed signs of solid growth in September, as the official manufacturing Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI) rose to 51.5 in September from 51.0 in August, remaining above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction for the seventh consecutive month.

India: Media report that the garment industry of Ludhiana, India, is facing logistics problems due to the limited number of trains which are currently running amidst the pandemic. The industry depends on the railway network for the transport of goods to other parts of India. Even after lockdown was lifted, however, the railway service remains low.

Morocco: Social media posts show that garment workers from the Moroccan Labour Union (UMT) held a protest in Casablanca industrial zone demanding trade union and workers' rights.

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that just one month after Amber Stone factory unionists in Burma won reinstatement through solidarity actions and Primark's commitment to continue to order from this factory, the company has now cut its orders and factory has fired 250 of its 270 union members. 

Media report that the unions in Myanmar have provided aid to 15 garment workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 60 who are currently in quarantine awaiting results. Unions are donating food, water and medicine to quarantine centres and to workers who have are undergoing quarantine in dormitories. 

This is the current page of our liveblog. Previous months are archived

Our blog archive:

September 2020

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

published 2020-10-29