November 2020 Covid blog
30 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that, after being hard-hit by cancelled orders at the beginning of the pandemic, handicrafts companies in Bangladesh say that the global market for Bangladeshi handicrafts is "back to normal", mainly due to online orders. According to Ahsan, owner of Sun Trade, "During that time (March/April 2020), around Tk 200 crore worth work orders from foreign buyers were cancelled. We had become hopeless (...) but the global market for Bangladeshi handicrafts has become normal now."
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) reports that members across eleven different cities participated in the International Day of Action in solidarity with garment workers in Bangladesh who were unfairly dismissed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Members rallied in front of stores that buy from the Dragon Group, such as Lidl, Walmart and New Yorker. The article further reports that Dragon Sweater and Imperial Sweaters had agreed to a fixed settlement earlier this month but went back on it, severely affecting thousands of workers. Meanwhile, Walmart, Lidl and New Yorker remain silent.
Media report that nearly 300,000 migrant workers have returned to Bangladesh amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The article reports that "[s]tuck at home for months, most of them see a bleak future ahead with no prospect of a job anytime soon in the host countries." It further reports that the government's various initiatives for migrant workers' economic reintegration have fallen short, according to migrant rights activists. The initiative to provide the returnees with a special loan under a Tk 200-crore fund, for example, saw a very low response. Between its launch on 21 September and mid-October, little over 0.5% of the special fund was disbursed.
Cambodia: Media report that the government of Cambodia has disbursed about $290,200 to support low-income households currently undergoing quarantine to prevent further coronavirus transmissions. According to the Prime Minister, each household will be given $75 for the two-week quarantine.
India: Media report that, according to a new survey titled "On Dangerous Grounds: Moving towards an institutionalisation of inequality and exploitation", garment workers have been the hardest hit financially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the October survey, 20% of garment workers - who normally earn 10-12,000 INR (US$135-162) per month - report that their earnings dropped by more than Rs 2000 (US$27) per month. The study further found that there has been a shift from salary-based employment to piece-rate work. Another article reports that, in response to the survey's findings, the government of India has been urged to step up social protection for garment workers.
Garment And Textile Workers' Union (GATWU) reports that workers are protesting at Arvind Limited's Ramanagara unit after the factory declared an illegal lockout, affecting around 200 workers. GATWU called on the government to prohibit the lockout and initiate prosecution.
Sri Lanka: Media report that workers from MAS Holdings-owned Vaanavil and Vidiyal garment factories in Kilinochchi are being forced to work without social distancing or adequate health facilities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 3000 workers, most of whom are women, employed in these factories are concerned about their health and safety. While there has been no reported infection thus far, workers fear contracting the virus, as many have to travel in crowded transportation in order to report to work and the masks provided are made out of leftover fabrics. While the factory has increased production amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, management has announced that it will not pay December bonuses, using the pandemic as an excuse. The same article further reports that earlier this month, MAS-owned Bodyline factories at Horana and Agalawatte were temporarily closed as dozens of workers were found to be infected. Despite workers' concerns, however, the factories were soon reopened. In Horana, which employs about 6000 workers, at least 35 garment workers tested positive for COVID-19. Overall, MAS employs around 99,000 workers in South Asia. They produce apparel for international brands such as Victoria's Secret, Marks & Spencer and Calvin Klein.
Vietnam: Media report that there have been growing concerns about Tet (Lunar New Year) bonuses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent years, many employers have tried to get away with paying lower bonuses, paying bonuses not in cash but in goods (often excess stock), or not paying bonuses at all. This year, concerns around the bonus have already started, and are amplified because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers worry that employers will use the pandemic as an excuse to reduce or cancel bonuses.
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'.
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"
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
29 November 2020
Global: CCC reports that workers, unionists and activists all over the world took part in last week's Global Week of Action, staging protests to urge brands to take responsibility for garment workers in their supply chain who aren't being paid their full wages during the pandemic.
Bangladesh: Oxfam Canada has published an interview with Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity. Here, Akter reports that at least 50% of garment workers in Bangladesh have not been paid their wages for the month of March and that the inequality between garment workers in Bangladesh and CEO's in Canada has been made evident amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philippines: Media report that First Glory Apparel, a garment factory in the Mactan Economic Processing Zone (MEPZ), has laid off over 300 workers due to financial losses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers are currently protesting for reinstatement. According to Cristito Pangan, one of the laid-off workers, workers were called for a meeting and were told that it was their last day of work. Pangan added that the company is just using the pandemic and the bankruptcy of its main client as an excuse to replace regular workers with contract employees. Indeed, according to Dennis Derige, spokesperson of Partido Manggagawa-Cebu, production has not decreased and workers have even been asked to report for work on holidays and Sundays. First Glory Group, the company which owns this factory, supplies products for brands such as J. Crew, Anthropologie, Michael Kors, Converse and Nordstrom.
28 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that, according to a report by the Ministry of Finance, around 39% of the total amount announced by the government for 21 stimulus packages had been disbursed by 31 October, meaning that only 39% of the total amount was disbursed in six months. According to the same report, more than 30 million people have received assistance from various stimulus-cash-food support packages amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and 7.6 million firms, organisations and other beneficiaries received loans from the economic bailout scheme. The implementation of the scheme, however, has not been the same in all sectors and, as made clear by the numbers, many recipients have not been reached. In an op-ed, The Daily Star writes: "[w]hile we appreciate the success of the government in implementing the various schemes, we must also mention here that not all sectors got similar attention." According to the article, small and medium enterprises are yet to get enough benefits from the packages. The newspaper calls for an independent evaluation of the packages that have been executed thus far.
Malaysia: Media report that migrant workers that work for Top Glove in Malaysia are being forced to report to work despite a mass COVID-19 outbreak in the company's factories which has already seen thousands of workers test positive. Most of the workers who contracted the virus are migrant workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Many live in crowded dormitories, sharing rooms with over 30 other workers. One of the workers reports that after raising his fears and concerns about returning to the factory, he was shut down by managers on the phone, who questioned his "work ethics" and told him "not to be lazy". "We do not know what is happening but in the eyes of our company, our lives and health are less important than the number of rubber gloves we can make", another migrant worker from Nepal exclaimed.
Myanmar: Media report that the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) has approved six new projects, one of which focuses on the manufacturing sector. The commission said the new projects are expected to create 3300 jobs in the country.
IFPRI Myanmar has published a report on poverty, food insecurity and social protection in Myanmar during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on four rounds of monthly data collected from a sample of over 2000 households, the study found that:
- Income-based poverty rose at an alarming rate between August and October 2020;
- Food insecurity and inadequate maternal dietary diversity are rising sharply;
- Many continue to cope with declining incomes by resorting to loans or other credit sources;
- Over half of the survey households received government cash assistance of 20,000 MMK in September. However, accurate targeting of these transfers remains a problem.
In both September and October, over 30% of respondents stated that their household earned no income in the past month. In line with these findings, SMART Textile & Garment reports that, based on over 300,000 phone calls to laid-off garment workers, most report no alternative income. They report that the situation is "grim" for many.
Nicaragua: IndustriALL reports that garment workers in Nicaragua (represented by the Federación Nacional de Sindicatos del sector textil, vestuario, piel y calzado) joined the global day of action #MakeAmazonPay, calling on Amazon to respect workers' rights.
United Kingdom: Media report that Boohoo's Black Friday discounts of up to 99% faced criticism and questions on social media over how it could keep its promises to pay factory workers fairly when charging such low prices.
27 November 2020
Bangladesh: Nazma Akter, president of Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation (SGSF), reports that garment workers in Bangladesh protested with #MakeAmazonPay, demanding fair wages and union rights for all Amazon supply chain workers. Akter reports that Amazon has doubled profits amidst the COVID-19 pandemic but is yet to pay suppliers in Bangladesh for finished orders cancelled during the pandemic.
Media reports that garment factories in Bangladesh will get low-cost funds of up to Tk 30 crore for investment in improving safety, health and hygiene of workers and workplace environment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Factory owners will get the funds under the government's "Programme to Support Safety Retrofits and Environmental Upgrades in the Bangladeshi Readymade Garments Sector Project (SREUP)".
Portugal: Media report that Riofato Confeções Lda., a garment factory in Belmonte, north of Portugal, has closed due to lack of orders amidst the pandemic. As a result, fifty garment workers, most of whom are women, have lost their jobs. Before closing permanently, the factory had placed workers on furlough. Some of the workers have been working in the industry for over forty years. "We have no hope (...) I have been working in this for forty years, I don't know how to do anything else. I don't know what's going to happen to us", one of the now unemployed workers explained. The trade union, Sindicato Têxtil, says that it is following the situation closely to make sure that workers' rights are respected and that workers are paid their wages and compensation. Marisa Tavares, the union representative of the Beira Baixa region, says that hundreds of garment workers in other factories across the country are being forced to resign. The article further reports at least one other factory in the region has closed for similar reasons and that many others are struggling as orders have significantly reduced amidst the pandemic.
Sri Lanka: Media report that migrant workers from Sri Lanka who have been stranded in the Middle East since the beginning of the pandemic are urging the government to arrange more flights so that they can return. "I beg the government to arrange more flights to Sri Lanka before we die here. We are very helpless", M.I. Sewvandhi, a migrant worker who lost her job four months ago, exclaimed. As previously reported on the live-blog, the government suspended the return of migrant workers to Sri Lanka amidst the COVID-19 second wave. Hundreds of workers have been waiting to return since April. "Many workers have lost their salaries due to the closure of companies, others have received pay cuts and many have lost overtime work", Sewvandhi explained.
United Kingdom: Media report that campaigners claimed to have "mounting evidence" that Boohoo is looking to abandon suppliers in Leicester and replace them with factories in Pakistan. Meanwhile, another article reports that Boohoo Group's Executive Chairman, Mahmud Kamani, will appear before the Environmental Audit Committee on 16 December in an evidence session to examine the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry.
26 November 2020
Global: BoF has published an article on how lockdown 2.0 is hitting fashion brands' supply chains. It reports that, as coronavirus cases surge in North America and governments close non-essential stores across Europe, "panicked brands are scrambling to scale down inventory" once again. Similarly to what happened during the first wave, the supply chain, and garment workers in particular, are facing the consequences. While cancellations are less frequent than they were in March, according to the VP of Bombyx, they are "coming faster." The article further reports that some manufacturers in Bangladesh and elsewhere are still waiting for payments that should have been made over eight months ago. "They never paid the money, they never answered the emails", Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Demin Expert Limited, affirmed. According to Ayesha Barenblat, founder of Remake, many suppliers are less likely to speak out now than they were in previous months. "Many suppliers who were talking to us in the early days are now terrified of talking to us or going to the press because the brands threatened them", she said.
Media report that Amazon warehouse workers and activists around the world will stage a series of coordinated protests, strikes, and actions to demand that Amazon respect workers' rights to participate in union activity, stop circumventing tax laws, and commit to higher environmental standards. The day of action, which is being called #MakeAmazonPay and coincides with Black Friday, includes strikes and protests from garment workers in Bangladesh to call centre workers in the Philippines to warehouse workers in Mexico. Workers and activists demands include that Amazon:
- Raise workers' wages in all Amazon warehouses including premium pay during peak periods and hazard pay during the pandemic;
- Reinstate all workers who have been fired after speaking up about workplace health and safety;
- Give unions access to Amazon worksites to speak to workers;
- Pay taxes in full.
Bangladesh: Media report that a new study titled "Transparency Assessment: Examining the transparency journey for the Bangladesh apparel sector" concluded that significant transparency barriers persist in Bangladesh's garment industry. Laudes Foundation, who commissioned the study, further report that the pressure to deliver products quickly for very low prices has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in overwhelming social and economic setbacks.
Cambodia: World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that the UN, the government of Cambodia and partners are working together to offer mental health support to migrant workers and vulnerable groups amidst the pandemic. WHO reports that thousands of migrant workers who returned from Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic have been going through very stressful months after losing their jobs and income.
Egypt: Media report that Egypt's garment exports declined by nearly 20% in the first nine months of the year. In September, however, exports were up 21% compared to the month before, according to official figures. Nonetheless, this increase does not seem to have been very significant, as garment factories across the country recently shared that they are slashing output by half for winter garments in anticipation of slower demand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
India: As previously reported on the live-blog, around 1000 garment workers from India Designs & Nisha Designs Garments have been protesting since early November in demand of higher minimum wages and better working conditions. Since then, media reports that the State Labour Minister of Andhra Pradesh said that the government will try to support workers. At the tripartite talks on 14 November, however, factory management representatives made clear that they will not be able to pay workers for the next three months. Until now, no news of resolution has been published.
Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) reports that the Garment Labour Union (GLU) took part in the nationwide general strike organised in India today, where 25 crore (250 million) workers participated. As previously reported on the live-blog, the demands of the strike included the withdrawal of the anti-farmer laws and anti-worker labour codes, stopping the privatization of public sector, and ending the corporatization of government-run manufacturing and service entities.
Thailand: Media report that garment workers in Thailand who were illegally underpaid while making products for major brands are set to receive compensation worth about 3 million baht ($99,000). Disney, Starbucks and Tesco this week confirmed the workers would receive compensation - either directly or via the brands' suppliers which sourced from Kanlayanee's factory. NBCUniversal, however, is yet to pay workers. Ilona Kelly, a coordinator at CCC, said the money was "life-changing" for workers but made clear that their struggle for compensation could have been resolved last year.
25 November 2020
Australia: Media report that Oxfam has published a new report titled "Shopping for a Bargain" which assesses the efforts of brands and retailers operating in Australia to ensure and protect labour rights standards in their supply chain. The study is based on extensive supply chain research, through which worker surveys and interviews with factory owners, supervisors and operators were conducted. It found that retailers, such as H&M, Inditex, Target Australia and Cotton On, have been aggressively negotiating prices, providing short lead times and making last-minute changes to orders, directly impacting garment workers' lives for the worse. In the words of Lyn Morgain, Oxfam Australia's chief executive, "[t]he research reveals unfair purchasing practices are pressuring factories into adopting poor working conditions and paying unacceptably low wages."
Bangladesh: Media report that police barred the victims of Tazreen Fashions factory fire from going to Gono Bhaban yesterday. In protest, former workers laid down on the street near Jatiya Press Club with banners and placards, demanding proper compensation and treatment. Meanwhile, in Savar, survivors, family members and labour leaders demanded capital punishment for those responsible for the fire.
Media report that manufacturers in Bangladesh have opposed a charge increase by feeder vessel operators for shipments. Apparel exporters said that the surcharge would severely impact the export sector, as they are already struggling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The BGMEA requested that concerned authorities stop the additional charge collection.
Cambodia: Media report that the Supreme Court denied union leader Rong Chunn's bail application earlier today. Rong Chunn will be heading to trial for July comments on the Vietnam-Cambodia border. As previously reported on the live-blog, the UN and other institutions have called for the Cambodian government to stop the "systemic detention" of activists and human rights defenders, after at least 13 activists were arrested in the last few months.
Malaysia: Media report that a total of 1511 new confirmed COVID-19 cases have been detected today in the Teratai cluster, which originated from Top Glove Corp Bhd's worker dormitories in Klang. Based on the Ministry of Health's data, over 4000 people from this cluster have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. Among the 4036 cases, 3846 are migrant workers.
Sri Lanka: ACTED Sri Lanka reports that ACTED and Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees, in coordination with local government authorities and supported by the EU delegation in Sri Lanka, provided two weeks worth of rations to 165 garment workers and their families, who have been hard-hit by the recent COVID-19 surge in Gampaha.
Singapore: Media report that Singapore reports no active clusters for the first time since 3 February, after the Ministry of Health closed the last coronavirus cluster, a migrant workers' dormitory, earlier today.
24 November 2020
Australia: Media report that home-based garment workers in Australia are being asked to make face masks for 80 cents per mask, which would come at about $7 per hour - a third of the minimum hourly wage of $20.41. In addition to demanding low prices, buyers are demanding very short shipment deadlines, meaning, as explained by Ghet Ky, who sews from home, that workers would have to work over 12hrs a day at a loss and would have no time for to spend with their family. The Fair Work Ombudsman suggests there are 35,000 home-based workers in Australia, but the Textiles Clothing and Footwear (TCF) union says that the real figure is closer to 70,000.
Bangladesh: Media report that eight years after the Tazreen Fashions factory fire killed at least 117 garment workers in Bangladesh, survivors are still fighting for full justice. Dhaka Tribune reports that, according to Tapan Shaha, president at the Textile Garments Workers' Federation, the families of the victims are still living in "inhumane conditions" due to lack of proper compensation. As reported by The Daily Star, many former workers of Tazreen Fashions have been staging a sit-in in front of the Dhaka Press Club since September. As previously reported on the live-blog, workers are demanding medical treatment facilities for injured workers, financial support for victims' families and assurance of decent living for unemployed injured workers. Today, on the anniversary of the Tazreen fire, trade unionists from NGWF are demanding safe factories, union rights and living wages. In the article, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), calls for an "unemployment insurance benefit" scheme which could cover short and medium-term financial requirements when workers lose their jobs due to different reasons, including the occurrence of fatal incidents such as the fire in Tazreen Fashions' garment factory. In another article, Md Asaduzzaman, a former garment worker from Tazreen Fashions explained that "[w]henever we go to other garments to look for jobs, the authorities refuse to give us any since we worked at Tazreen. They have literally insulted us after being notified about our background work experience with Tazreen Fashion factory." Regarding compensation, he further said: "The government wanted to compensate us, but we are yet to get any of that. We are starving, which is why we have taken positions [at press club] to press home our demands." According to Dhaka Tribue, Tazreen Fashions produced for brands and retailers including Walmart, El Corte Ingles, KIK, C&A and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
Media report that, in line with what has been reported on the live-blog during the past week, BGMEA president Rubana Huq says that "[t]he second wave is hitting us in multiple ways. Many brands are deferring payments, putting orders on hold, and placing less orders", confirming that second wave lockdowns across Europe are impacting suppliers in Bangladesh.
Academics from BRAC University write that "companies and the government must do more to protect its four million [garment] workers", as the garment sector in Bangladesh has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and garment workers have been particularly impacted.
Media reports that, in Bangladesh and elsewhere, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have left child workers more vulnerable to exploitation than ever, particularly in the leather-goods industry. The article reports that "with leather-goods producers facing cancelled orders and restrictions to slow the transmission of COVID-19, the unregulated informal sector has become much more competitive, with factory owners targeting children as cheap labour."
Haiti: IndustriALL reports that employers are clamping down against Groupement des Travailleurs(euses) du Textile pour la Réexportation d'Assemblage (GOSTTRA) union leaders who are trying to defend their members' interests. According to the same source, hundreds of union leaders and members have been dismissed or terminated following protests over unfair treatment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. A peaceful demonstration organized by GOSTTRA in the SONAPI free trade zone on 7 October was repressed by the police.
Malaysia: Media report that the Teratai cluster, which is linked to the world's largest glove manufacturer Top Glove Corp Bhd, now has more than 1000 COVID-19 cases, including over 500 new cases reported today. Most workers in Top Glove factories are migrant workers and live in crowded dormitories that have since become coronavirus hotspots. According to the Ministry of Health, at least 250 migrant workers who live in dormitores have tested positive for COVID-19.
Myanmar: Media report that many people who have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are yet to receive the government's K40,000 (US$30) COVID-19 payment, while others say that they only received part of the money. Missing payments have caused protests across the country.
SMART Textile & Garments reports that the EU Myan Ku Fund has made over 95,000 payments to laid-off garment workers in Myanmar, supporting over 50,000 workers, most of whom are women, who lost their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. They further report that pregnant workers have received the most overall support. Overall, 823 pregnant garment workers and workers who recently gave birth have been supported by the Fund.
United Kingdom: Media report that the UK government announced that it is launching an investigation into claims it sourced PPE from a factory in China using North Korean forced labour following findings from a 3-month investigation published by the Guardian.
23 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that garment exporters in Bangladesh report that they have received 20 to 30% fewer work orders compared to the previous season and that some buyers are trying to renegotiate prices for orders that have already been placed. Similarly to what happened during the COVID-19 first wave, some buyers are yet to pay for goods which have already been shipped. Describing the current situation in Bangladesh, The Daily Star writes: "buyers have reduced the volume of work orders for factories here which spells disaster for the coming months." The editorial further warns that, if the situation prevails, workers will likely face the risk of losing their jobs. In response, the newspaper calls for stimulus packages for the sector (for both factories and workers) amidst the second wave. "While safety and health guidelines such as wearing masks and using hand sanitisers must continue to be followed by factories, the government and the garments sector must find ways to help workers during possible lean periods", the editorial reads.
Media report that 45 former workers of Tazreen Fashions have been staging demonstrations for the past 69 days outside the National Press Club. Many lost the ability to work during the fire in 2012 and have received little to no aid since then. Some used to sell items in order to make money, but their sales have dried up amidst the pandemic, causing hardships in paying rent and sending money back home. In the words of Mosammat Rehena Begum, "Even today, I can't stop having painkillers for a single day. I cannot even clean my room, let alone work jobs. If I knew then that I would have to beg like this, I wouldn't have jumped. I will not return empty-handed, even if I need to die here [staging demonstrations]."
Cambodia: Media report that, according to government officials, at least 110 garment factories closed in between January and September, leaving over 55.000 workers without jobs. Union leaders, however, worry that the figure could be much higher. Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Confederation, warned that the actual numbers might be higher than the figures released by the Labour Ministry and said that more Cambodian workers were losing their jobs and incomes each day. "It is really hard to assess these losses. Workers are still struggling to make a living and certain workers have migrated abroad. But there are still a lot of workers who have no jobs – it is worrisome", he said. Unions called on the government to do more to protect workers jobs and livelihoods, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
India: Media report that a joint committee of 10 central trade unions in India and dozens of independent federations and trade unions are organising a nationwide general strike on 26 November (Thursday) against the central government's policies including the new labour and farm laws, which have severely affected workers. "We are barely able to survive, ground down between price rise on the one hand and low wages on the other. Now, they have changed labour laws so that employers are sitting on our chests", Sukhdev Prasad, a lathe machine operator in one of Ghaziabad's industrial areas, explained. The article further reports that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers across India have been fighting for income support, end to retrenchment and closures, expanding the public distribution system, etc.
Malaysia: Media report that Top Glove will close over half of its factories in Malaysia after a surge in coronavirus cases among workers. More than 1000 cases were recorded today, prompting the government to order the plants to close. As a result, 28 rubber glove factories will close. The company operates 47 factories, 41 in Malaysia, and many of its workers are from Nepal and live in crowded dormitory complexes. As previously reported on the live-blog, these factories have long been accused of mistreating migrant workers. The article does not report on whether workers will be paid during this suspension period.
United Kingdom: Media report that Labour Behind the Label has launched 'Black Friday' campaign urging Boohoo to compensate supply chain workers who were paid less than the minimum wage for making its clothes. The petition can be signed here.
Vietnam: Media report that around 70 enterprises in nearly 40 provinces across Vietnam have been reported to the police, and are being investigated, for non-payment of social security. Very few, however, have been prosecuted. As of the end of October this year, debts owed to the social security fund, including social insurance, health insurance, and unemployment insurance, totalled nearly 20 trillion dongs (around US$800 million).
Media report that 500 garment workers from Perseption USA factory, located in Nghe An province, arrived at work on 17 November to find they could not enter their factory. On the previous evening, factory authorities sent a text message to workers saying that all workers, team leaders and quality controllers should not go to work the following day, as the company would "reorganise production". The message was sent late, meaning that not all workers received it. Phan Van Sam, president of the Nghi Loc district labour federation, said that this company has had a number of issues related to labour relations, including unclear policies and a lack of written agreements regarding overtime. The Nghi Loc district labour federation has met with the company and requested that they undertake concrete actions to ensure stable production.
22 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that, according to a survey conducted by the BGMEA, brands and retailers have placed 30% fewer work orders for the next four months starting December. As a result, The Daily Star reports that "just as Bangladesh's main foreign currency-earning apparel sector had begun recouping from shocks to its exports, a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has started inflicting damages again." The article further reports that brands and retailers are once again putting orders on hold, delaying orders and asking for lower prices. Small and medium enterprises have been the most affected, as they have less capacity to cope up with work order losses due to their size.
United States: Media report that, in only three months, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health received nearly 8000 complaints about workplace safety. Most complaints were issued to employers for not ensuring that workers maintain physical distancing or for failing to correctly report COVID-19 illnesses in the workplace. The article reports on the case of Virgilda Romero, a garment worker in Los Angeles who contracted the coronavirus at work where soap was not provided and social distancing measures were not implemented. In addition to this, factory management did not inform workers when a colleague took time off because he had tested positive for COVID-19. "After I returned to work, the bosses told me a colleague had died from COVID. I'm worried I can get sick again and infect my family", Virgilda Romero explained.
21 November 2020
Global: Borgen Magazine has published an article on the economic and health risks of COVID-19 for migrant workers around the world. The article exposes the ways in which migrant workers are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to their prevalence in lower-paid jobs in critical sectors and sweeping lack of access to healthcare.
Bangladesh: Media report that the profits of several listed apparel companies in Bangladesh dipped between July and September, mostly due to lack of new orders from abroad amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Myanmar: Media report that the government of Myanmar is considering relaxing many COVID-19 restrictions, including stay-at-home orders and travel suspensions, in an attempt to ease the impact of the pandemic on the country's economy. Also this week, the government approved about US$17 million (22.76 billion kyats) in loans for 698 enterprises that suffered financial losses due to the pandemic.
Nepal: Media report that many migrant workers from Nepal are crossing the border into India for work, as they lack employment opportunities in Nepal. Most people are returning after celebrating the festival.
Sri Lanka: Remake has published an article on the Brandix factory outbreak, where over 1000 out of 1400 workers tested positive for COVID-19. The article reports that, according to Laura Gutierrez, Field Director (South Asia) at the Worker Rights Consortium, L Brands (Victoria's Secret and PINK) is the exclusive buyer from this factory. When confronted with this information, L Brands' response, summarized, was that "Brandix had the situation under control." As made clear by Alison Morse, author of this article "Brandix did not have the situation under control. To date, over 1000 of the 1400 workers at the Brandix factory have tested positive for COVID-19."
United Kingdom: The Guardian reports that the British government has sourced PPE from factories in China where hundreds of North Korean women have been secretly working in conditions of modern slavery. The Guardian's three-month investigation further found that forced labour is being used in factories exporting PPE to the US, Italy, Germany, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Myanmar. It is claimed that North Korean workers in Dandong, most of whom are women, work up to 18 hours a day, with little or no time off. Workers are under constant surveillance and are unable to freely leave the factories. In addition to this, sources indicate that these workers have about 70% of their wages seized by the North Korean state.
20 November 2020
Global: Media report that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has published a new report titled "Gendered impacts of COVID-19 on the garment sector". Here, the ILO reports that female garment workers have been disproportionately affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic due to underlying gender inequality challenges, such as discrimination and harassment, underrepresentation of women's voice, wage gaps and unevenly shared unpaid care and family work. In response, the report suggests that COVID-19 recovery policies must include gender-responsive measures. "It is crucial that governments, businesses and other stakeholders understand the multi-dimensional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on both women and men workers, and design policies that enable a smart, sustainable and gender-responsive recovery", Jessica Wan, Better Work gender specialist, made clear.
Bangladesh: Apparel Insider has published an interview with Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim Expert. Here, Uddin reiterates that "[w]e are not out of the woods yet, by any mean", while remembering his own and other manufacturer's experience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
India: Media report that, while India's new social security code may be progressive, definition loopholes are likely to deprive home-based workers, who form 16% of total employment for women and 9% for men, of benefits.
Malaysia: Tenaganita, an organisation which promotes and protects the rights of women, migrant workers and trafficked persons, spoke to world leaders at the New Economy Forum. Their message can be heard in this video from 2:23:53 to 2:24:34. "It is really time for us to be inclusive rather than exclusive in all our efforts and initiatives - COVID-19 does not distinguish anyone according to classes", Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita said.
Myanmar: Media report that the Myanmar government has started distributing the third batch of COVID-19 loans. The Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations is yet to announce further relief loans.
Serbia: Media report that at least 42 garment workers from a factory in Alibunar, Vojvodina, have tested positive for COVID-19. This number represents about 10% of all workers. Considering that the town where the factory is located has a population of fewer than 3000 people, this number is worrying. Despite this figure, the factory owner denies that the infections took place within factory walls, claiming that they respected all COVID-19 regulations and recommendations.
Sri Lanka: Media report that more than 10,000 have been linked to the cluster at Brandix factory - half the national total. Since the cluster was first reported, 56 people have died from COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. Investigations into how the outbreak started are still ongoing.
United States: Work Safe reports that the California Occupational Health & Safety Standards Board just unanimously approved an emergency regulation to protect workers from COVID-19. While California is not the first state to enact such rules, the state is now leading the way on important issues like disclosure and required employer response, including pay protection for workers undergoing quarantine.
19 November 2020
Bangladesh: Ecotextile and The Daily Star further report on workers from A-One BD Limited sit-in. According to workers, the factory closed in March and management has failed to pay wages since January. 1100 have received no wages or compensation. In the second article, Asraf, one of the workers, explained that: "We cannot provide for our families. It has been so difficult for us to survive in the last 10 months. This sit-in programme will continue until we receive our due payment." According to Dhaka Export Processing Zone authorities, wages are yet to be paid due to issues regarding the auction of factory equipment, which has been stalled by a stay order from the High Court. "We are trying to vacate the stay order through the Attorney General's office", officials said. They expect a hearing to take place next week. According to another article, the factory shut down because it had no work orders.
Media report that Bogura handicrafts makers have been hit hard by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and heavy rain. Indeed, the article reports that the spiralling prices of raw materials have been taking a heavy toll on handicrafts makers in Bogura, as the COVID-19 outbreak, incessant rain and floodings destroyed the whole supply chain in the district. As a result, businesses in the district now have to spend three times more to purchase raw materials.
Media report that exporters in Bangladesh can breathe a small sigh of relief as the Bangladesh Bank gives them an additional 90 days to realise their export proceeds. Until now, exporters had four months or 120 days to receive sums from abroad. Had the amount not arrived in by then, they were classified as "defaulters", which went on to affect their eligibility for credit in future. As buyers continue to delay payments amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this measure will help some suppliers stay afloat. The policy waiver should remain valid until 31 March 2021.
Laos: IOM Laos has published "Returning Migrants Survey # 2", the second report in a series highlighting COVID-19's social and economic effects on migrants returning from Thailand. IOM reports that, since the COVID-19 outbreak began, more than 200,000 Lao migrant workers are reported to have crossed the border from Thailand to Lao People's Democratic Republic. According to the survey, many migrant workers used to work in factories. They further report that the economic shock due to COVID-19 is adversely impacting the flow of remittances and could push as much as 214,000 people into poverty.
Myanmar: Media report that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Myanmar struggle to stay afloat amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have been disproportionately affected by its impacts. According to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, some businesses have had to permanently shut down amidst the pandemic, although official figures remain uncertain. Meanwhile, the Yangon MSME Association says that it plans to release data showing its members difficulties.
Southeast Asia: International Organization for Migration (IOM) has published a new COVID-19 Flash Update which provides information for migrant workers and their employers on government decisions relevant to migrant workers in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. IOM reports that Thailand has extended its State of Emergency from 1 to 30 November 2020, over 126,000 Myanmar migrant workers have been safely repatriated from Thailand through safe return arrangements and Lao People's Democratic Republic has further eased restrictions.
Thailand: IOM Thailand has updated its "Tips for Migrant Workers Whose Job is Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic", providing information for migrant workers on COVID-19 prevention measures, social protection, access to services, and procedures for changing employers and extending their stay and work permits.
United Kingdom: Media report that MP for Leicester West, Liz Kendall, has described evidence of poor working conditions within Boohoo's supply chain as "one of the worst environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) scandals in modern UK history", and has reaffirmed calls for CEO John Lyttle and chairman Mahmud Kamani to resign.
18 November 2020
Global: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) have increased, in comparison to the last five years. Between March and September 2020, the BHRRC tracked 286 cases of attacks against defenders focused on business-related activities, a 7.5% increase compared to the last 5-year-average during this same period. According to their research report, "Just recovery in peril", defenders have faced greater risks as some governments have misused the COVID-19 pandemic to further curtail civil rights to participate in public decision-making, and deploy state forces to repress legitimate, peaceful protests and obstruct access to justice.
Bangladesh: According to reports from the CCC network, 59,265 garment workers in Bangladesh benefited from actions organised by the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) in the last six months. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the NGWF organised blockades and other demonstrations and distributed emergency food support, safety kits and awareness leaflets.
Media report that workers from A1 BD Limited, a garment factory located in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone, have started an indefinite sit-in in front of the Ashulia Press Club in Savar demanding 10 months of unpaid wages. Over 1100 workers haven't been paid since January, although they have demanded payment many times. Factory management shut down the factory in April but failed to pay workers. They have given over 19 payment deadlines - all of which have been missed. Workers started the sit-it yesterday and won't stop fighting until their wages are paid.
Media report that hundreds of garment workers from Dragon Sweater, which produces for New Yorker, Walmart and Lidl, are taking to the streets again after factory management broke the agreement they made with them. Since 11 November, workers have been protesting continuously in front of the Labour Ministry in Dhaka, demanding to be paid what they are owed. On 15 November, workers blocked Mostafa Golam Quddus, former president of the BGMEA and managing director of Dragon Sweater, as well as chairman of the Dragon Group, inside the Ministry. As Monzur Moin, secretary of the Garment Workers Trade Union Center (GWTUC), explained: "Workers have been struggling for more than six months. Workers (...) demand for the immediate payment of all legal dues. That is why the workers have detained Mostafa Golam Quddus inside the building of the Labor Ministry."
Cambodia: Media report that workers and businesses in flood-affected areas continue to struggle, as businesses have been severely affected by recent floods, which came on top of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jordan: Media report that 1920 garment workers from a factory located in the International Industrial Estate of Aqaba tested positive for COVID-19. Over 85% of the PCR test results came back positive, meaning that most workers in the factory are infected. All workers are migrant workers, mostly coming from South Asia. According to other sources, which the Chief Commissioner of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) described as "rumours", the factory produced face masks amidst the pandemic.
United Kingdom: Borgen Magazine has published an article on Labour Behind the Label's efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
United States: Media report that, according to a new report, US manufacturing industry, including the textile and garment sector, is on the verge of severe negative impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report said many manufacturers could see a significant decrease in revenue and face difficult decisions on how best to navigate these difficult times. Of the 31,735 manufacturers of clothing and textile products that were reviewed for the report, 5.8% of them are likely to face severe risk.
17 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that the Ministry of Commerce is looking for ways to liquidate 133 garment factories amid complexities over loan payments and interest liability. The article further reports that the Ministry has requested that the BGMEA and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) provide a detailed report about the current situation of their member-factories.
Media report that the children of garment workers who were injured in the Tazreen Fashion fire participated in a 2-month-long sit-in programme yesterday and wrote open letters to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requesting her to arrange compensations for their injured parents. Former workers of Tazreen Fashions have been staging the sit-in since 18 September, as their already dire situation is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They demand compensation for the injured, amendment to a section of the compensation law, long-term medical treatment to the injured and dignified and practical rehabilitation.
India: Media report that garment workers from factories supplying Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury's, and Ralph Lauren, are being subjected to exploitative conditions. Workers have been forced to stay overnight to complete orders, sometimes requiring them to sleep on the factory floor. "We're made to work continuously, often through the night, sleeping at 3 am then waking up by 5 am for another full day. Our bosses don't care. They're only bothered about production", one worker explained. In addition to this, workers are denied water and toilet breaks, and barely get time to eat their lunch. "They've increased our workload. We're forced to stay late to finish it - or they yell at us and threaten to fire us. We're scared as we don't want to lose our jobs", another worker said. While the situation has likely been exacerbated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Action Aid says that forced overtime, verbal abuse and poor working conditions are routine at these factories. The BBC, who published the article, said that they asked all four brands to comment on living wages, but all of them failed to respond to this specific issue.
Malaysia: Media report that over 160 migrant workers from a manufacturing factory in Klang tested positive for COVID-19 after checking into a hotel in Seri Kembangan to undergo mandatory quarantine after other workers tested positive. According to local sources, the factory failed to take the necessary preventive measures to protect the migrant workers, as most have been infected.
Myanmar: Union organiser reports that union members at Dihuali Factory in Yangon, who make clothes fro Mango and Lidl, have won reinstatement. They returned to work yesterday.
Media report that protests have erupted in Myanmar, as the COVID-19 subsidy programme for low-income households fails to reach all those who need it. Protestors are demanding more relief measures. Meanwhile, the government says that it has distributed food to 4.6 million households in April and that those who did not receive food were given K15,000 ($12) each in June. Also according to the government, households without stable income received K20,000 ($15) in July, August and September.
16 November 2020
Global: Media report that Clean Clothes Campaign has launched a global week of action to pressure brands into signing up to a wage assurance scheme that guarantees supply chain workers are paid in full during the pandemic and beyond.
Bangladesh: Media report that many large garment factories in Bangladesh incurred loss in the July-September quarter. According to industry insiders, the woven sector has been the most affected. "The overall situation will not improve until the pandemic goes", Chowdhury, a former president of the BGMEA, said. "Many retailers thought that they would do good business during Christmas, but it might not happen because of the second wave", he added. Indeed, another article reports that, overall, garment exports from Bangladesh declined slightly by 1.2% year-on-year between July and October, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
Cambodia: Media report that Cambodian borrowers owe an average of US$3,800 each (the highest figure in the world), as COVID-19 widens a longstanding debt crisis. Lack of enforcement also has allowed illegal lenders to offer insanely high-interest rates of up to 30% over a year. "Because of Covid, we could not find jobs … and my sons do not have money. Now, I cannot clear my debts", Roeurm Reth, a farmer in Cambodia, explains. Her case is not an isolated one, as more than 2.6 million people in Cambodia have had to turn to microfinance due to limited access to traditional banking. Human rights groups have called for the government to put a freeze on repayments and demanded lenders return more than one million land titles held as collateral, but little has been done so far. Thousands - if not millions - of workers continue "strangled by debts."
Media report that a group of United Nations rights rapporteurs has called for the Cambodian government to stop the "systemic detention" of activists and human rights defenders, a reference to the slew of arrests following unionist Rong Chhun's arrest.
India: Chila Labour Bulletin has published a case study on the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU). Here, they report that, for the tens of thousands of garment workers in Karnataka, the pandemic and resultant lockdown presented a series of severe and immediate challenges that were further intensified in June. During this time, KOOGU, with around 3000 members in Bengaluru and Davangere, has played a key role in making sure workers' rights are protected. Post-lockdown, many workers reported that factory management was forcing them to work 1-3 hours of overtime each day and even to forego public holidays to make up for "lost time" and production. As previously reported on the live-blog, proposed changes to labour laws that would weaken workers' protections was another major cause for concern. The failure of many factories to restore transport arrangements for workers when production resumed provoked a determined response from KOOGU and workers. The union's intervention did force some factory managers to backtrack, but the transport issue remains a major cause for concern. The article reports that the union fears that management will use the current situation as an excuse to fire pregnant workers.
Malaysia: Media report that a Top Glove factory in Meru, Klang, has reported 214 COVID-19 cases, 53 of which were reported yesterday. Despite cases, the factory remains in operation. Workers report that they are "really scared" of going to work, as they fear contracting the virus. "For the workers who are keeping the glove factory running, walking through its gates every day is a daunting task", the article reads. Around 300 workers are currently undergoing quarantine in hotels in the area.
Media report that, while Malaysia has launched a plan that gives undocumented migrants stuck in the country a chance to work in certain industries, labour rights groups warn that the initiative has not done enough to protect victims of human trafficking and forced labour. "It appears they are answering the call from some industries that want migrant workers – it's not crafted with the interest of the workers in mind, that's clear", Irene Xavier, co-founder of Sahabat Wanita Selangor, a local group assisting migrant workers, said. Indeed, the government said it expected to collect at least RM90 million in fines and other payments from migrant workers or their employers participating in the scheme. They did not disclose how much individual workers would be fined.
Philippines: According to reports from the CCC network, over 200 workers from D'luxe Bags Philippines Inc. in Tarlac, which produces for Coach, Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Tory Burch, tested positive for COVID-19 on 8 November. As a result, the provincial government has ordered a lockdown of the factory and surrounding areas to prevent further transmissions. Around 3000 workers are affected by this temporary shutdown. As most workers are under a "no-work-no-pay" scheme and the company does not offer paid pandemic leave or any form of aid, workers will be without income for at least two weeks. Workers are demanding paid pandemic leave and for health and safety measures to be respected at the workplace. They are also appealing to the local government and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for financial aid to feed their families during the 2-week lockdown.
Sri Lanka: Media report that, since the COVID-19 outbreak at Brandix factory, garment workers are being denied housing, treatment, food and public transport. The family of the first worker to be diagnosed with COVID-19 were evicted from their rented home and other Brandix employees reported being denied treatment in hospitals. Garment workers from Brandix report that local grocery owners, who know where they work, won't serve them anymore and that they are no longer welcome on public transport.
Vietnam: Media report that production and new orders for export-oriented manufacturers are beginning to increase again. Consequently, many factories are looking to hire workers. This includes Pouyuen shoe factory, which is hiring 2000 workers. In the summer, the company laid off nearly 2800. Le Minh Tan, the director of Ho Chi Minh City DOLISA, said that it is estimated that in the last three months of the year, businesses in the city will recruit 62,000-65,000 employees.
15 November 2020
Cambodia: Media report that civil society organisations are calling on the government of Cambodia to lower the price of working papers needed to work abroad in order to reduce migrant workers' debt. In the article, the Center for Labor Alliances and Human Rights (DICT) explains that most migrant workers are currently in debt because they have to pay a lot of money to be able to work abroad. They urged the government and relevant institutions to facilitate costs, including lower prices for work permits, to reduce workers' debt.
Thailand: Media report that tens of thousands of migrant workers in Thailand whose work permits are expiring have been granted permission to stay in the country for another two years, as previously reported on the live-blog. However, migrant workers who wish to extend their permits will have to undergo health checks and pay a fee of 1900 baht ($63). Campaigners warn that the cost of the extension could fuel debt bondage and worker exploitation. "There will be lots of profiteering ... by brokers, by employers", Khun Tharo, program director at Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, exclaimed.
14 November 2020
Ethiopia: Media report that 104 Bangladeshi garment migrant workers from DBL Industries PLC factory are currently stranded in a "conflict zone" in Ethiopia. According to M A Jabbar, managing director of DBL Group, DBL Industries PLC's factory premises have been bombed and the workers need assistance to leave the region. According to local sources, workers will be relocated to a "safe zone" soon.
Myanmar: Media report that workers who supply European brands and retailers have been fired in Myanmar for requesting clean drinking water. The article calls out several brands, such as Mango, Zara, Regatta Outdoor, and Primark, and mentions three union-busting cases, all of which have been previously reported on the live-blog: Amber Stone factory, Rui-Ning factory and Dihuali factory.
Romania: Media report on how one garment worker's bravery to speak out on COVID-19 pay cuts led to a viral media campaign which held brands accountable for their actions. The article quotes the worker, Angelia Manole: "I hope that from now on all dissatisfied garment workers will have the courage to fight for their rights."
Serbia: Media report that workers from GEOX factory, located in Vranje in south Serbia, are striking for full overtime pay, full sick leave pay and for payments to be made on time, as they have already been delayed. Workers have not been paid for overtime hours, which were increased without their consent. In addition to this, the article reports on frequent abuses in the factory, including pressuring and intimidating workers and union-busting practices. Plus, according to a local doctor, workers from this factory are often forced to avoid taking sick leave when they are ill out of fear of losing their job. Factory management has remained silent in regard to these statements.
Sri Lanka: Media report that a garment factory in Vavuniya has refused to grant a holiday on Deepavali to its workers. Instead, factory management has insisted that workers report to work and threaten to cut the bonuses of workers who miss work today. In addition to this, it has also been reported that the factory forced workers to work until 1 AM last month in order to meet targets.
Media report that the recent unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases following the detection of a COVID-positive garment worker at Brandix factory has brought into focus a host of long-ignored socio-economic issues confronted by Free Trade Zone (FTZ) workers that have been further exacerbated amidst the pandemic. The article reports that, despite worker's "massive contribution to the economy", stigmatisation of and discrimination against FTZ women workers.
13 November 2020
Global: Media report that recent apparel trade data reveal both the global impact of COVID-19 and signs of the sector's recovery. Overall, China's recovery seems to be faster than in any other countries. According to the recently published USDA report, the decline in textile and garment exports amidst the pandemic was felt in all major markets, but not equally. Exports from Bangladesh and India fell by 85 and 90% respectively, while shipments from Pakistan, Turkey, and the European Union witnessed 60% declines. Vietnam textile and garment exports fell roughly 30%.
Labour Behind the Label has published an op-ed for the Thomson Reuters Foundation in which they call out Primark for mistreating garment workers in their supply chain throughout the COVID-19 crisis. As reported on the live-blog, brands have cancelled orders, delayed payments and enforced discounts on suppliers – all of which is leading to a humanitarian crisis for workers who were already only earning poverty wages. Primark was no exception, as it was one of the big brands who initially cancelled all existing orders. Following many months of campaigning, Primark agreed to #PayUp, but questions remain over whether workers in their supply chain have been paid their legally owed wages. Indeed, workers who make clothes for Primark have been protesting in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia over unpaid wages, reduction in pay and mass dismissal.
Bangladesh: Remake reports that garment workers held a protest outside the press club in Dhaka demanding social protection for all workers and that brands and retailers stop cancelling orders and asking for discounts. The demonstration was organised by the Awaj Foundation.
Media report that local exporters fear a "slow recovery of apparel shipments" as many buyers are "thinking twice" before placing work orders because of the COVID-19 second wave. The article further reports that new figures show that garment exports from Bangladesh continued to decline in October. According to the BGMEA, buyers have not yet cancelled payments during the second wave. However, some have delayed shipment and payments by up to a month and new orders are completely on hold. According to Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, "a financial crisis in the sector looks imminent."
Cambodia: The Sourcing Journal published an interview with Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC). In the article, GMAC reports that, from its 505 members, 95 factories have closed, while 58 new factories opened. "Every year, factories open and factories close", he said, but this year "the number [of closed factories] is bigger than previous years", which is likely related to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regarding exports, Ken Loo reports that, during the pandemic, garment factories in Cambodia have been receiving orders that were initially destined to factories in Myanmar, as COVID-19 surge in Myanmar. He makes clear, however, that prices have been exceptionally low. "We are accepting quite ridiculous payment terms", he said. In some cases, factories are accepting orders at a loss. According to GMAC, about 60,000 workers have lost their jobs due to factory closures across Cambodia.
Sri Lanka: Media report that Sri Lanka's garment sector's recovery has been severely hit by the COVID-19 second wave in the country. Prior to the second wave, there had been "a slow return to orders coming in", but now manufacturers expect a drop of around 24.5% in exports compared to last year. According to Tuli Cooray, secretary-general of the Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAFSL), payments of at least 50% of garment workers' salaries will continue to be paid to furloughed workers until the end of the year.
12 November 2020
Global: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) published new findings today outlining how the fashion industry is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their research, which is based on interviews with 34 fashion companies (50 were invited to respond), found a clear lack of policy development to ensure workers' rights are adequately protected amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Research findings include:
- More than half (29) of the brands recorded profits since the onset of the pandemic;
- Of these, nine have still not committed to paying for all orders.
- Only one company, PVH Corp., has implemented a pandemic policy with factory suppliers to ensure vulnerable workers are not being disproportionately targeted for layoffs;
- However, 25 other brands indicated that they have a pre-existing policy which covers this;
- However, 25 other brands indicated that they have a pre-existing policy which covers this;
- Only three companies – Aldi Nord, Aldi Sud and Lidl – have implemented a new policy not to ask factories for price reductions/discounts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Over a third of brands (19) have still made no public commitment to pay suppliers for all orders;
- 20 brands indicated they received reports of non-payment of workers' full salaries between March and October;
- All 20 said that they were actively involved in resolving these payment disputes.
- All 20 said that they were actively involved in resolving these payment disputes.
- 25 brands said that they are monitoring if garment workers are receiving all outstanding wages and legally mandated severance payments when they lose their jobs;
- At least 11 companies have extended payment times during the pandemic.
Topshop, Boohoo and Debenhams failed to respond to BHRRC's queries. Brands' actions and responses can be accessed on BHRRC's COVID-19 Apparel Action Tracker. These findings have also been reported by just-style, Ecotextile and Sourcing Journal.
Bangladesh: The Daily Star has published an op-ed by Mostafiz Uddin, Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited, titled "What does the second wave of COVID-19 mean for the apparel industry?" Here, Uddin writes that, while he was "hopeful that the worst might be over", "the mood has changed once again", as brands are putting major orders "on hold." "I fear a future in which many will face destitution if this crisis goes on for many more months", he adds, calling for a global safety-net for garment workers. Uddin warns that without support, Bangladesh's garment industry faces a large financial crisis, with the "potential loss of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of factories and millions of jobs."
Cambodia: Media report that the assets of Dignity Knitter Limited and Eco Base factories, both owned by the same person and located in Kandal province, will be auctioned to pay workers their severance. Over 1000 workers and unions are calling on authorities to speed up the process so that workers can receive their payments as soon as possible. Kong Athit, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers 'Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), called for the auction to be concluded by December, without delay.
Media report that, according to GMAC, Cambodia has exported over $5.8 billion of garments, footwear and other textiles in the first seven months of this year, down around 3% compared to the same period last year.
Media report that about 500 migrant workers from Cambodia protested at a factory in Thailand yesterday. They demonstrated against pay cuts, full cut of overtime pay despite workload increase, lack of benefits and unequal treatment compared to Thai coworkers. While Thai nationals are allowed to leave factory premises to get food, workers from Cambodia are forbidden from doing so. When asked for a justification, management said that they couldn't go because of COVID-19. While the factory in question is a food production factory, NGOs say that this is not an isolated case. "Many migrants work in sectors heavily impacted by the pandemic and have been made unemployed or forced to work for much-reduced pay", the Mekong Migration Network reports. They added that, on top of that, the vast majority of migrants and their families have little or no access to social protection safety nets.
India: Media report that India's government has announced new measures to support the manufacturing sector and create jobs after the central bank warned that the country is set to enter a recession. Indeed, the country's economy has been severely hit amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with growth shrinking by a record 23.9% between April and June.
Jordan: Better Work reports that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reduced business activity in the garment sector. COVID-19 cases have been rising in Jordan since late August. According to the report, several factories have confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. Most of these factories are located in the Dulayl and Sahab Industrial Zones. Based on a survey which counts on the responses of 1750 workers from 72 factories across Jordan, Better Work reports that hours and monthly pay both dropped after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. On average, workers reported working six hours less per week, with migrant workers facing the largest reduction in average weekly hours as factories reduced overtime work. This was accompanied by a 5% cut on monthly wages.
Myanmar: Media report that, according to the World Bank's latest firm-level survey, which was conducted in September and covered 500 firms across Myanmar, the economic impact of the COVID-19 second wave has been more severe on Myanmar businesses than the first one. Of those surveyed, 66% reported that they were not well-prepared to withstand the impact of the second wave - smaller firms being particularly affected. In addition to this, firms reported less confidence that they would be able to remain open.
Pakistan: According to reports from media and the CCC network, a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to register home-based workers in Sindh has been signed between the Labour & HR Department of the government of Sindh and the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF). This registration drive will enable home-based workers to avail social security benefits, marriage, death grants and have the right to unionize for collective bargaining. In the media article, Zehra Khan, from HBWWF, said that the number of home-based workers is growing as factories turn to them amidst COVID-19 lockdowns.
11 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that garment manufacturers in Bangladesh fear further losses as the second wave hits destination countries in Europe and the possibility of a second wave at the national level grows. While lockdowns in Europe are likely to mean less new orders and, in some cases, cancelled orders and delayed payments for garment exporters, a lockdown in Bangladesh is likely to mean a return to stronger containment measures at the level of production. According to Shams Mahmud, president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), "[f]or Bangladesh, a second wave, if that happens, will be disastrous." Md Saiful Islam, president of the Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association of Bangladesh, on the other hand, says that the "sector is going to face the heat of the second wave whether there is any second wave in Bangladesh or not", as brands and retailers will cease to place orders. He warned that, if brands and retailers are hard-hit by the second wave, stocks are likely to pile up in Bangladesh's factories and orders are likely to be slowed down, postponed or even cancelled, as seen during the first wave. "The second wave could further delay the recovery and will put some factories, particularly small and medium firms, in a struggle for survival", he added. Indeed, according to Asif Ibrahim, from Newage Group of Industries, buyers have already been cancelling export orders since the beginning of the present month. Mahmud, from the DCCI, said, however, that orders may not come to a standstill for Bangladeshi exporters, as online sales are up in Europe.
Media report that experts and policymakers called for more investments and policies targetting jobs and income creation activities for the newly unemployed and returnee migrant workers. In addition, they suggested that more relief measures that target low-income families should be implemented, as many are struggling to purchase basic necessities amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, media report that about 1200 returnees from Bahrain, who have been "stuck" in Bangladesh for months amidst the pandemic, are facing uncertainty over going back work abroad, as their visas expired. "The pandemic changed everything. I remained stuck and saw my visa get expired. Now I see a bleak future ahead", Imdad Ullah, a migrant worker who came home in February for what he thought would be a 3-month vacation, explained. Imdad's story is not an isolated one, as hundreds of migrant workers from Bangladesh have been stranded across the country following the suspension of global air communications. Most have been without income for several months and, as a result, are finding it hard to meet their family's expenses. Workers are urging the government of Bangladesh to diplomatically negotiate with Bahrain authorities to allow them to return for work. Until now, however, the Bahrain government has not allowed for the renewal of expired visas.
Cambodia: Media report that unionist Rong Chhun, whose arrest (July) sparked a series of protests, appealed for bail in the Supreme Court. As previously reported on the live-blog, Chhun's bail application was previously rejected by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Appeal Court. Supreme Court prosecutor Chan Dara Rainsy argued that Chhun's release "could cause further social unrest", but the final decision of the Court will only be announced on 25 November.
India: Media report that over 800 female garment workers from Indian Designs Exports Private Ltd., Andhra Pradesh, launched an indefinite strike demanding that:
- Salaries be increased by Rs 5000;
- Transportation allowances be provided;
- Harassment of female workers be stopped;
- Free canteen facility be created;
- Bonuses be paid on time;
- Workload be reduced;
- ESI allowances be provided.
Workers are currently being paid as low as Rs 6000, equivalent to $80, per month. "Of the Rs 6,000 salary they get per month, workers have to pay Rs 700 to Rs 1,500 for their transport charges depending on the distance of their villages from the company", Venkatesh, Anantapur district secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), explained. This protest is not an isolated case. As previously reported on the live-blog, about 4000 textile workers in the Anantapur district, held a week-long protest demanding that minimum wages be increased. According to CITU, protests have been growing in the district because workers are paid lower wages compared to workers in the bordering state of Karnataka.
Media report that, according to the Interstate Migrant Policy Index, most Indian states failed to integrate migrant workers. The study found that social security schemes are rarely portable across state boundaries, meaning that interstate migrant workers cannot access them when they leave their home states.
Myanmar: Media report that some garment factories in Myanmar shut down due to lack of raw materials, leaving thousands of workers unemployed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The article further reports that the cut-make-pack (CMP) garment sector, which contributes to 30% of Myanmar's export sector, is "bracing for a downward trend" due to cancelled orders from European buyers.
United States: Media report that Los Angeles County supervisors have approved a new programme which will see apparel factories establish health councils to oversee if employers are respecting COVID-19 safety guidelines. As previously reported on the live-blog, garment factories in LA have been amongst the hardest hit by COVID-19 outbreaks. According to supervisors, the Public Health Councils will protect thousands of workers and provide the tools needed to curb workplace infections amidst the pandemic.
10 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that a new study has found that nearly 40% of migrant workers' families had no income during April, May and June in the country this year. Also according to the study, some families had no income until November. The survey, conducted by Karmojibi Nari, Manusher Jonno Foundation and UK Aid, also found that the average monthly income of migrant workers decreased from Tk 47,272 to Tk 9,361 ($110) after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers called for job creation for migrant workers and for "easy term" loans.
Japan: Media report that Japanese apparel maker Renown Inc. will go into liquidation due to plunging sales amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Myanmar: International Labour Confederation (ICL-CIT) reports that, according to the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar (FGWM) and Solidarity Centre, many textile and garment companies in Myanmar have been using union-busting strategies since the end of summer. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse, many union members have been fired and security personnel in the factories have been involved in attacks and assaults. Other measures to hinder workers' organisation have also been adopted by companies. They make clear that "These are not isolated cases, but rather a phenomenon that is repeated in many factories, with a similar pattern." Some of the cases reported include:
- Myan Htat Pin Factory, where union representatives were dismissed;
- Amber Stone Factory, previously reported on the live-blog, where 270 union members were fired in September. The factory produces for brands such as Springfield and Guess Jeans;
- VIP Factories (2 factories owned by the same company), also previously reported. All union members were fired in one factory and most were fired in the other.
Companies using social distancing measures as a cover for union-busting practices. Assemblies, wildcat strikes and rallies at factory gates, usual methods of organisation and struggle for FGWM, are forbidden amidst the pandemic, as the max number of people in any meeting is six. Nevertheless, this rule has not prevented thousands of workers from gathering at factory gates at the beginning of each shift. Indeed, according to ICL-CIT, "COVID-19 is just an excuse used by the companies to unleash a wave of union repression against a very militant organisation that had been growing strongly in the sector (FGWM)." This statement is backed by reports that new workers have been quickly hired to replace dismissed union members. Despite challenges, FGWM and workers continue to fight for their rights.
Media report that around 40,000 people are currently in quarantine in Yangon Region, where most garment factories are located.
Sri Lanka: Media report that recent data shows that a total of 1041 workers from the Brandix factory tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, another article reports that, according to experts, COVID-19 is further marginalizing low-income workers in Sri Lanka, as lack of access to resources, opportunity and health care, which already make them and their families more vulnerable, are exacerbated in a health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thailand: Media report that migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia whose work permits expire next year are being allowed to continue working in Thailand for up to two more years - a decision which is expected to benefit around 130,000 migrant workers across the country. The article reports that the main motivation behind this policy is to respond to labour shortage issues in Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
United Kingdom: Labour Behind the Label (LBL) has launched a new campaign which calls on Primark to publish on their website, their commitment to ensuring that all workers in their supply chain are paid their legally mandated or regular wages and benefits, whichever is higher. This includes wage arrears (back pay) and, where applicable, negotiated severance pay. "If Primark truly believes that their wage fund has been implemented successfully, they should have no problem guaranteeing that all their workers will be paid throughout the pandemic and beyond", LBL writes. The petition can be signed here.
9 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that brands and retailers continue to ask for discounted rates from suppliers in Bangladesh, putting the jobs and income of thousands of garment workers at risk. As previously reported on the live-blog, the prices of garment products feel by over 5% in September alone, according to the BGMEA. In the last few weeks, Dhaka Tribune, which published this article, interviewed 20 large garment exports, asking them about price cuts. All suppliers said that buyers were quoting 8 to 10% less than before the pandemic. "Retailers always tended to bargain for lower prices -- it is a common practice. But during the pandemic, they went one step further", a garment exporter who ships to major American retailers, exclaimed. Another supplier explained that, for a pair of cotton pyjamas which a particular buyer bought for $1.20 last year, that same buyer would now be negotiating for $1.10 a pair. Manufacturers said that this would ultimately impact workers, as employers would cut working hours, wages and jobs if price cuts continue. Confronted with this scenario, the BGMEA has called for responsible buying practices from brands.
Media report that Envoy Textiles, a leading textile exporter, has seen its profit crash nearly 77% year-on-year between July and September, mainly related to lack of orders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cambodia/Thailand: Media report that ministry representatives from Cambodia and Thailand held a meeting to solve labour migration issues between their countries amidst the pandemic. According to a statement by Cambodia's Ministry of Labour after the meeting, both countries agreed to allow migrant workers from Cambodia who are currently in Thailand to extend their contracts. The statement further reports that both sides also discussed the migration of workers from Cambodia into Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that this would take place per health regulations. Representatives said that they would work together to provide legal assistance to workers and prevent migration through informal routes.
India: According to reports from the CCC network, SAVE, a Tirupur-based NGO, has supported 300 interstate migrant families by giving flour, edible oil and Dhal in the areas of Karaipudur, SIDCO, Indra Nagar, Aathupalayam, Velliyankadu and other areas of Tirupur district.
Singapore: Media report that the Government has set up a new task force that aims to enhance mental health care support for migrant workers in the country, providing better access to related services. The task force has since announced that its strategy will be implemented over the next two years.
United Kingdom: Media report that, according to new research, the second UK lockdown could cost non-essential retail £6.8 billion.
United States: Media report that US denim imports - 97% of which are jeans - had decreased by nearly 30% in September, according to the Commerce Department's Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA). Among the US's main suppliers, only Vietnam and Cambodia were able to post increases in shipments amidst the pandemic. Imports from Bangladesh declined by nearly 6%, while imports from China plummeted by over 57%. Meanwhile, imports from Pakistan decreased by nearly 14%, Sri Lanka by over 14%, Egypt and Lesotho by nearly 39% and Nicaragua by 28%.
Vietnam: Media report that remittances have been predicted to fall for first time in 11 years, according to a recent World Bank report which estimates that remittances to Vietnam will fall to $15.7 billion. This is the first time remittances to the country have fallen since 2009. The predicted fall in Vietnam, however, is less than global remittances as a whole, which are predicted to fall by 14%. The main reasons are the economic impacts of COVID-19, as less people migrate for work and the incomes of those who are abroad decline.
Media report that the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs has requested not to raise the minimum wage, or legislate for an hourly minimum wage, in 2021, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Various experts say that the priority is to protect jobs, which would be lost by raising the minimum wage.
8 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that economists have warned that a potential COVID-19 second wave in Bangladesh is likely to cause even "bigger damage", disproportionately impacting the poor and low-income groups. They said that, if the second wave hits, the cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises (CMSMEs) would be the hardest hit again, and called for strict health protocols in order to avoid a surge in cases in Bangladesh. The article also reiterates that the stimulus package for CMSMEs is yet to show results, as these enterprises continue to struggle due to lack of funds.
Sri Lanka: Media report that the government of Sri Lanka has announced that it will lift the ongoing capital district lockdown from tomorrow, warning people to be "more vigilant." Health authorities, however, have expressed that these areas, particularly Gampaha district, where the Brandix factory is located, are "still unsafe" - reiterating that the risk of COVID-19 infections prevails. The article further reports that Dr Sudath Samaraweera, Chief Epidemiologist, said that COVID-19 cases have been reported from several companies, although he did not specify which ones.
7 November 2020
Global: Clean Clothes Campaign has announced a global week of action from 16 November to call out global brands to take responsibility and #PayYourWorkers. As reported on the live-blog, millions of garment workers have been left underpaid amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This action aims to call out brands to take responsibility for filling that gap.
Bangladesh: BBC has published a documentary which reports the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on garment workers and garment factories in Bangladesh, focusing on factory owner Mostafiz Uddin and on workers who have lost their jobs amidst the pandemic. In the video, one woman shares she fears starvation more than the virus. The documentary can be accessed here.
Indonesia: IndustriALL reports that Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI) and Confederation of All Indonesian Workers' Union (KSPSI AGN) have filed a legal challenge on the controversial Omnibus Law at the Constitutional Court, claiming the law violates workers' rights and represents a step that will put workers at risk of modern slavery. Since January, the Omnibus Law on Job Creation that amends 73 legislations has caused widespread protests across the country. As previously reported on the live-blog, the parliament fast-tracked the debate and approved the law on 5 October, forcing workers to take the matter to the streets again through national strikes. Millions of workers joined the strikes and numerous unionists were arbitrarily arrested and detained by Indonesian police.
Media report that over 200 undocumented migrant workers from Indonesia returned from Malaysia today. Last month, on 10 October, 500 migrant workers returned. According to authorities, over 4500 migrant workers from Indonesia are still in Malaysia.
Myanmar: Media report that nearly 5000 Myanmar citizens have returned from Malaysia, over 1450 of whom spent time in detention centres in Malaysia. The Myanmar embassy has since received a list with the names of over 10,000 Myanmar migrant workers who are likely to return soon.
6 November 2020
Cambodia: Media report that a senior official of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) has called on international buyers to continue buying garment products from Cambodia to improve workers' livelihoods and working conditions. According to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), orders have declined and become very volatile. Buyers are placing small orders and requesting fast delivery, making it hard for manufacturers to "plan ahead" and therefore creating uncertainty among suppliers and garment workers.
As previously reported on the live-blog, the government announced that informal workers in Cambodia will be able to receive free medical care by signing up for the National Social Security Fund. Media reports from today, however, make clear that questions about the accessibility of the registration process remain relevant.
Indonesia: Media report that Indonesia's economy is in its first recession since the Asian financial crisis, which took place over 20 years ago. Activity slumped nearly 3.5% year-on-year in July-September. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, several million workers in Indonesia have been laid off or furloughed. Indeed, another article reports that Indonesia's unemployment rate has currently surged to its highest level in almost a decade. According to official figures, nearly 2.7 million workers have lost their jobs amidst the pandemic. In the manufacturing sector, the workforce had already been cut by 1.3% in August compared to the same period last year. The article further reports that the country's Planning Minister estimates that, by the end of the year, 5.5 million people may have lost their jobs.
Media report that the government of Indonesia has allowed factories to operate amidst the pandemic if they are able to prove that they have established strict health protocols in their facilities. In addition to this, companies have been required to share weekly reports on their operations amidst COVID-19 restrictions. The article reports, however, that only half of manufacturers are complying with the reporting requirements. The article further reports that, since restrictions started and permits were given to factories which were allowed to remain open, the Ministry has revoked the licenses of about 180 companies, either because they repeatedly failed to provide reports or because their data wasn't accurate.
United Kingdom: According to reports from the CCC network, people are organising for trade unions in Leicester factories. Organisers say that the response has been very positive so far.
5 November 2020
Global: Media report that as the UK, France and Germany close clothing and other non-essential stores amidst new lockdowns, fears for garment workers in brands' supply chains start to emerge. In response, brands and retailers are being urged to "do better" during new lockdowns amidst the COVID-19 second wave. This demand has been made to avoid a repetition of what happened in March and April - when brands cancelled billions of dollars worth of orders and left garment workers in their supply chains to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis.
Bangladesh: Media report that garment suppliers in Bangladesh fear the potential impact of the COVID-19 second wave in Europe. As new lockdowns are put in place across Europe and clothing stores close once more, manufacturers fear that what happened after the first lockdowns will repeat itself - being left with debts and cancelled orders. The article reports that some suppliers are already seeing their orders be delayed by brands and retailers. Supplier associations say that the country's RMG factories should be able to run up to December or January with the number of work orders they have at present, but that the future remains uncertain, particularly beyond that point. Concerning this, another article reports that some suppliers can breathe a small sigh of relief as Primark sent an email to its over 100 exporters in Bangladesh on 2 November saying that it would take all orders placed. As the UK announced a new lockdown and Primark started reporting losses, suppliers in Bangladesh feared for already placed orders, but the brand has committed to "honouring all orders placed." The article further reports that the BGMEA believes that brands will be more "matured and empathetic in their action and commitments this time."
Media report that, according to a study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue today, only 8% of Bangladesh's employed workforce has so far benefitted from the stimulus packages linked to the coronavirus pandemic. In response to these findings, the Centre called for the support schemes to be widened.
India: Media report that at least 12 workers have been killed at the Kanika Texo Fab garment factory in Gujarat after an explosion originating in a warehouse storing chemicals nearby sparked a large fire at the factory.
Malaysia: Media report that research has found that Malaysia has done little to protect low-wage migrant workers from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of migrant workers have reportedly lost their jobs and reports of migrant workers being unfairly terminated or not getting paid have also emerged. Meanwhile, over 1000 undocumented migrant workers were arrested in May and were placed in overcrowded detention centres that later became coronavirus hotspots. The Malaysian government has provided limited help to the workers, with a senior minister arguing in April that migrant workers are the "responsibility" of their respective embassies.
Academics from the University of Warwick and J-PAL report that, based on a phone survey of 2259 interstate migrant workers from Bihar and Jharkhand that aimed to assess how the nationwide lockdown affected interstate migrant workers and gauge their willingness to migrate again in the future:
- 45% of all interstate and intrastate migrant workers returned home;
- 32% of respondents in salaried jobs became unemployed;
- 37% of respondents who remained employed were put on unpaid leave;
- Only 31% of respondents who were still in employment in June and July 2020had received support from their employers;
- 51% of respondents received government assistance, mainly in terms of financial aid and food supplies;
- 31% of respondents did not receive any support from any source;
- Respondents reported higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of life satisfaction vis-à-vis pre-lockdown;
- Among the migrants that returned home, the willingness to re-migrate was substantially lower among females as compared to their male counterparts.
Myanmar: Media report that Myanmar's government announced that it will provide a fourth round of cash handouts for those struggling because of COVID-19. However, only the Yangon regional government has announced the cash plan and it is still uncertain if it would be replicated elsewhere. The government of Yangon will provide 40,000 kyats (US$31) per household, although the date is still not decided. The article further reports that there have been issues regarding the previous rounds of cash handouts, as some recipients did not receive their full handout while other households received double payments and some "well-off families" received handouts.
United States: Media report that, while US apparel imports increased overall in September, imports from China and Indonesia declined by 10.9% and 22.7%, respectively. Increases, meanwhile, were recorded by Cambodia and Bangladesh, whose shipments were up 8.6% and 2.8%, respectively. Growth was also recorded by Mexico and India, where volumes increased by 1.3% and 0.9%, respectively.
4 November 2020
Global: Open Apparel Registry (OAR) has written an op-ed for the Thomson Reuters Foundation calling for a global database of apparel factories which would allow major brands to be held accountable for worker exploitation.
Bangladesh: Media report that Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim Expert Bangladesh, called on garment suppliers to come together to create a "safety net" for workers so that a repetition of the consequences seen as a result of the first COVID-19 wave can be avoided. The article adds that, due to order cancellations or requests for delayed delivery, Uddin's factory is still full of thousands of pairs of finished jeans, piled on to workstations and in on-site warehouses, that the factory is unable to dispatch.
Cambodia: Media report that workers at the Dignity Knitter and Eco Base garment factories, embroiled in a labour dispute for 11 months, say they will reconvene in 10 days after the Kandal provincial governor visited and asked that they give the courts more time to process their employer's bankruptcy proceedings. The dispute began in December due to late wage payments, leading the workers to keep up a 24-hour vigil outside the factories to prevent owners from fleeing with equipment. In April, the factories were closed. Bankruptcy proceedings are currently before the Kandal Provincial Court to sell off property and pay owners' debts. Kong Atith, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), said workers would likely consider bigger protests if the delays continued.
Media report that the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok has announced that Cambodian migrant workers stranded in Thailand will be able to extend their travel documents after Thailand declared that its borders will remain closed during the month of November in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Jordan: Media report that trade unions and rights groups in Jordan called on the Ministry of Labour to amend articles 2, 44 and 98 of the labour law in relation to collective bargaining and freedom of association.
Sri Lanka: Media report that garment workers are at the front line of Sri Lanka's coronavirus outbreak. Currently, the district of Gampaha, where Brandix factory is located, is at the centre of Sri Lanka's biggest outbreak, counting over 7000 cases - more than half of the national total. More than 1000 of the factory's 1400 workers have tested positive for COVID-19. As previously reported on the live-blog, Sri Lanka's attorney general has ordered an investigation into the factory outbreak. Meanwhile, Brandix, which employs about 35,000 workers at plants across the country and is owned by the private Sri Lankan company Phoenix Ventures Ltd, has launched its own investigation. The article quotes garment workers from the factory, who explain that workers who fell sick were asked to carry on working despite reporting COVID-19 symptoms. "Some even fainted, but the company doctor gave basic medicines. All these sick women worked again, though they had some difficulties", one worker, who asked not to be named in fear of repercussions, said. The article further reports that, since the outbreak, garment workers, particularly those who worked at Brandix, are being stigmatised by association. Workers said that, because of this, they are now unable to find accommodation in the area. "It is really sad to see how the general public see us now. My boarding house owner asked me not to come until the COVID-19 menace is over. I don’t know where to go from here", Kumari, a sewing machine operator for Brandix, explained. Meanwhile, another article reports that many workers in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, where the outbreak took place, have lost their jobs as a result.
3 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that the financial hardship of garment workers in Bangladesh has increased. In the last few months, many factory owners failed to provide full bonuses to workers while others faced layoffs, and as a result, the workload weighed heavily on the remaining garment workers. The scenario improved in June, July and August, but it set to considerably worsen due to the impact of Europe's second wave on exports. "As uncertainty looms regarding the employment situation and food security, the government must not forget the plight of RMG workers", the article reads. Indeed, The Daily Star reports that, according to official data, Bangladesh's merchandise exports declined by over 4% year-on-year in October due mainly to negative growth in the readymade garment sector. RMG exports recorded negative growth of nearly 8% in October. In response, exporters said that the figure was a warning of faltering recovery in global demand and trade for the sector. "It would be difficult for us to cope up if EU’s demand for clothing and its sourcing is troubled further", Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, warned. Meanwhile, another article reports that a recent study shows that more than half of garment suppliers in Bangladesh had the majority of their orders cancelled during the pandemic.
Media report that over 40 (former) workers of Tazreen Fashions Limited have been staging a protest on the sidewalks outside the Press Club for the last 45 days, demanding a dignified life, rehabilitation and justice for the crimes committed against them. Most were permanently disabled when they jumped from the upper floors of Tazreen Fashions to escape the fire that killed over 117 workers eight years ago on 24 November. They were breadwinners of their families prior to the fire, but have had to live off of people's charities and loans for the last eight years. With COVID-19, the charities and loans have dried up, and even the shops won't sell food on credit anymore. Workers are demanding amendments to compensation laws and provision of "dignified" compensation to permanently disabled workers. In the words of Aleya Begum, former Tazreen worker: "We want what is our right. It is not our fault that we lost our ability to work. We were robbed of this ability."
Cambodia: Media report that informal workers in Cambodia will be able to register for their Health Equity Fund membership card from the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), giving workers access to the same treatment at state hospitals as formal workers. While Vorn Pov, president of Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economy (IDEA), welcomed this announcement, Pov made clear that the lack of accurate census of informal workers will make it difficult to put this directive into practice.
Media report that, according to a World Bank report, remittances by Cambodian migrant workers in 2020 are projected to decline to $1.4 billion because of COVID-19. If correct, this projection would make this the steepest remittances decline in recent history - steeper than the 5% reduction recorded during the 2009 global recession.
Cambodia/Thailand: Media report that a current labour shortage in Thailand coupled with the economic fallout of widespread flooding in Cambodia is putting pressure on authorities to reopen borders to migrant workers. Meanwhile, the Centre for the Alliance of Labour and Human Rights has advised Cambodian workers to wait until formal channels for migration, such as the latest plan for 500 workers, are reopened before heading back to Thailand, as border arrests continue to take place on a weekly basis.
India: Media report that, according to a survey, India's factory activity expanded at its fastest pace in over a decade in October, as demand and output continued to recover strongly from coronavirus-related disruptions. The same survey found, however, that, despite growth figures, firms continued to cut jobs during this time.
Myanmar: Media report that hundreds of migrant workers from Myanmar have been deported from Malaysia, after spending several months in immigration detention centres, which have seen several COVID-19 outbreaks amidst the pandemic. Malaysia is set to deport 960 migrant workers to Myanmar this week. The article further reports that around 10,000 undocumented Myanmar workers in Malaysia have so far registered at the embassy requesting assistance to return home.
Vietnam: Media report that, in the first nine months of 2020, 42,837 Vietnamese workers went to work abroad (16,373 of which were women), a decline of 59.1% compared with the same period in 2019. The decline is due to travel restrictions and the economic impacts of COVID-19. September figures show signs of recovery, as 3508 workers (1409 women) went abroad, an increase of 9% compared to August figures.
2 November 2020
Bangladesh: Media report that a study conducted by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) in association with Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) found that unemployment in Bangladesh's garment sector deepened in September, raising questions about job security in the industry amidst the risk of a potential second wave of coronavirus infections. According to the study, about 8% of garment workers reported that they were unemployed in September, up from 5% in August. The study is based on the answers of over 1000 workers. It found that the percentage of workers that were subject to factory closures, leave without pay, suspension, underemployment or layoffs was 21% in May. While these figures seemed to recover in June, July and August, unemployment among garment workers clearly increased in September. The article further reports that, in response to these figures, Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers' Solidarity, called for the immediate development of a "back-up plan" for the garment sector, able to safeguard workers from the impact of a potential COVID-19 second wave.
Media report that, according to a new survey, over 60% of the poor and low-income population who suffered income losses because of the coronavirus-induced economic downturn did not receive any support from the public and private sectors. Meanwhile, another article reports that, according to a study report, nearly 80% of households in the country experienced a significant reduction in income amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Media report that the Bangladesh Bank has extended the deadline for banks and non-bank financial institutions to execute the stimulus package for cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises by another month, grating them one more month to complete loan disbursements.
China: Media report that Xinjiang is reporting a second cluster of coronavirus cases beginning in a clothing factory. The region is pass testing and has gone into lockdown to avoid more cases. Xinjiang health authorities say they have tested all 4.7 million residents in Kashgar prefecture already. As of Friday morning, they discovered 197 cases.
Ethiopia: Media report that authorities in both the United Kingdom and Germany have established a fund that will provide subsidies to companies in Ethiopia's textile and garment manufacturing industry. According to another article, this fund could save thousands of jobs in the textile and garment industry, as the wage subsidy will cover a portion of total employment costs for garment workers in Ethiopia’s industrial park. Meanwhile, the second article reports that Ethiopia's Jobs Creation Commission estimates that between 1.4 and 2.5 million jobs could be lost nationwide in the next three months if safety nets aren't put in place and that 13 textile firms have stopped operating due to low demand so far.
Myanmar: Media report that over 60 workers from Springair Ace Factory in Mingalardon, Yangon, have filed a complaint that about 200 workers are not allowed to enter the factory although the factory has been permitted to reopen as it meets the A level criteria set by the government. A female worker explained that they were not informed about factory reopening and when they went to work, they were not allowed to enter.
Media report that, according to the Yangon Region Investment Committee, local and foreign investments are still flowing into the country even though garment factories have been hugely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has approved two projects for footwear and garment production that are expected to create 607 local jobs. While new investments are taking place, the jobs created are still far from compensating for jobs lost amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Media report that up to 133 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at Asia Tharmardi and K Won garment factories in Insein township. The article reports that, according to the health department, no more cases of COVID-19 have been found among factory workers in the area.
Nepal: Media report that, without pay or medical help during amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, migrant workers from Nepal in Romania are struggling to get by. While not all the workers have lost their jobs, many are simply not being paid. Padam, who was interviewed for the article, and eight other colleagues have not received their wages in four months.
Sri Lanka: Media report that COVID-19 cases related to the Minuwangoda Brandix factory cluster are still emerging.
Turkey: The web portal meslekhastaligi.org, created to prevent occupational diseases by directly informing workers about the sector they work in, has launched a campaign for COVID-19 to be recognised as an occupational disease in Turkey. They make clear that, in addition to healthcare workers, COVID-19 is an occupational disease for workers in sectors with a high risk of developing occupational diseases if necessary precautions are not taken - where the textile and garment sector is included. The petition can be signed here.
Vietnam: Media report that, by the end of October, unpaid money owed to the Vietnam Social Security Fund totalled 21.685 trillion dong, a rise of 0.5% compared to the same period last year. A number of enterprises try to find ways to avoid paying their contributions and take workers' contributions to use for other purposes. Some companies, which have not been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, are using the pandemic as an excuse to not pay social security contributions. The Social Security Fund has prepared 70 documents to sue enterprises for social insurance debts since the beginning of the year.
1 November 2020
China: Media report that China's factory activity expanded at a slightly slower pace in October but was still above analysts' expectations, suggesting a continuing economic recovery amidst the COVID-19 crisis. According to the article, "China's vast industrial sector is steadily returning to the levels seen before the pandemic."
India: Media report that Aajeevika Bureau, a labour rights organisation, conducted a telephone survey with 426 migrant workers from Udaipur, Dungarpur, Pratapgarh, Banswara and Sirohi in order to understand how the vulnerabilities distinctly specific to migrant workers were aggravated in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown. The survey found that:
- 100% of respondents had lost their jobs, with workers being out of work for 38 days on average during March and April;
- 92% of respondents said that they had cut down their daily expenses. Daily food consumption took the greatest hit;
- 44% of respondents did not receive any form of financial support;
- 57% of respondents did not have any cash in hand, while 22% only had between Rs. 100-Rs 500 ($1-7) towards the end of the 2nd phase of lockdown;
- Almost 48% of respondents had to take out loans/borrowings;
- About 30% of respondents were yet to receive their pay for work done prior to lockdown.
Regarding the question of "Why are migrant workers returning to the cities they fled during the COVID-19 lockdown?", the survey found that a large section of migrant workers who want to return are the single earner of their family, with family sizes ranging from four to eight dependents. In addition, the lack of access to paid employment, other than the insecure, informal and devalued work accessible in cities, has forced workers to return.
Indonesia: Media report that Jakarta will increase minimum wages next year for selected businesses despite government advice to keep pay unchanged because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. West Java, however, which is Indonesia's most populous province and home to various industrial estates, will not raise wages. Unions are calling for next year's minimum wage to be increased by 8%. As previously reported on the live-blog, Indonesia has recently passed labour reforms which have been met with mass protests. The latest has scheduled for Monday (2 November).
Malaysia: Media report that the government of Malaysia is considering issuing temporary work permits to undocumented migrant workers amidst labour shortage in local industries.
Myanmar: Union organiser reports that Lidl has denied responsibility for the workers who make their goods in Myanmar, saying that it does not source from the Dihuali Garment Factory, where over 700 union members were fired in July after asking for clean water and COVID-19 preventive measures.
Media report that Mandalay Region, where many garment factories are located, has extended its COVID-19 preventive measures until 15 November. Curfew from 12 AM to 4 AM, which was implemented on 1 November, will remain in place.
According to reports from the CCC Network, local organisations are providing food and health equipment to pregnant women.
Covid blog archive:
Results: 11 Items