December 2021 Covid Blog
Lesotho: Time Magazine looks at the effects of Lesotho’s crumbling garment industry during the pandemic through the eyes of one garment worker. Workers suffered mass layoffs. Anna, identified only by her middle name, was one and turned to sex work.
For five years, the 30-year-old mother stitched Levi’s jeans at a garment factory in Lesotho, a small landlocked country within South Africa. The salary wasn’t much; she occasionally had sex with a male colleague for an extra $20 a month to support her family.
In April of this year, management announced that the factory would be closing, due to reduced orders from U.S. brands and other pandemic-related issues. She was let go in August. A week later, she turned to sex work full time.
“I don’t want my husband to know, so I leave home dressed normally, and then I change into a short skirt that shows my thighs,” she says. “My children don’t have clothes; I don’t have food. I have to do this.”
Anna, who asked to be identified by her middle name only for safety reasons, is one of over 6,000 garment workers who recently lost a job with the Nien Hsing group. The Taiwanese company—Lesotho’s largest garment sector employer—owns five major factories, three of which have closed in the past 16 months. Nien Hsing has been a major supplier to Levi’s, Kontoor Brands (owners of Wrangler) and the Children’s Place, but the company has reduced production amid COVID-19 pandemic headwinds.
India: Media report that in recognition of the contributions of women working in garment factories in the city, the Karnataka government in India has decided to provide free bus passes to about 2.5 lakh such workers to travel to their work place.
But 40 per cent of the pass amount will have to be borne by owners of garment factories where the women workers are employed.
Under the project 'Vanitha Sangathi', the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation in collaboration with the labour department has decided to issue free monthly bus passes from January next year.
Sri Lanka: Media report that US apparel and footwear brands and retailers represented by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) have voiced their concerns over the welfare of factory workers in Sri Lanka, urging the country's apparel trade body to ensure worker rights and freedom of association are not limited.
Bangladesh & Cambodia: Media report on how garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia are wearing the cost of COVID-19.
In a new report, Casualties of Fashion: How garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia are wearing the cost of COVID-19, ActionAid Australia in partnership with ActionAid country offices in Bangladesh and Cambodia have highlighted the devastating impact of the pandemic on garment workers in both countries.
Through interviews with 218 garment workers, the research has revealed how two years on from the start of the pandemic, the world’s leading fashion brands continue to push the costs of COVID-19 onto the women garment workers making their clothes.
Global: Is the pandemic reviving purpose? The ninth annual Conscious Consumer Spending Index reports unprecedented levels of social responsibility on the back of the pandemic.
The ninth annual Conscious Consumer Spending Index (#CCSIndex) reveals record-breaking levels of socially responsible spending among consumers, as it climbs to an all-time high and an unprecedented 25 percent increase over the previous year.
Conducted annually each fall since 2013, the #CCSIndex is an ongoing benchmarking study. Good.Must.Grow., a socially responsible marketing consultancy, administers the Index to gauge momentum for conscious consumerism and charitable giving.
After posting a record low performance of 39 in 2019, the Index momentarily recovered during a mid-year checkpoint administered earlier in the pandemic. That momentum was short-lived as the Index retreated back to 39 by the end of 2020. With a score of 51 this year, the Index ends a three-year slide in dramatic fashion.
“Our team is pleasantly shocked by this year’s findings,” said Heath Shackleford, founder of Good.Must.Grow. “We hoped to see a rebound from last year’s data, but to go from an all-time low to a record-breaking high in just one year, that is a massive and surprising turnaround. It’s exactly the kind of jolt we’ve been needing the last few years. It appears the pandemic has re-energized the pursuit of purpose. Now we need to sustain the momentum and build upon it.”
India: Media report on new book 'Homebound’, a fictional account of the tragic migrant labour exodus that followed the COVID-19 lockdown in India, written by award winning journalist and author of Gangster on the Run and The Front Page Murder, Puja Changoiwala.
Homebound captures the hope, resilience and fortitude of the millions of migrant workers, who trudged hundreds of kilometres home, and those hundreds, whom the long walk killed.
Global: Media report on how fashion brands owe $18 billion in outstanding payments - remarkable in light of the “pretty strong economic comebacks” that many brands have experienced since the release of Covid-19 vaccines.
An upcoming report by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, which Sourcing Journal has seen, will describe how brands’ actions violated their due-diligence obligations under international instruments governing responsible business practices, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) is in agreement with advocacy group Remake about the biggest offenders, naming many of the same brands on the negative side of its “Covid-19 tracker” based on public statements by the companies, direct correspondence with the WRC and information provided by suppliers.
The report flagged Kohl’s for paying shareholders $109 million in dividends just weeks after canceling more than a billion dollars in goods, much of which had already been manufactured, at the outset of the pandemic.
China: Media report that multiple companies have suspended operations in one of China's biggest and busiest manufacturing hubs as authorities double down to contain a COVID-19 outbreak, halting some production of goods from batteries and clothing to textile dyes and plastics.
At least 20 listed companies have shut operations in virus-hit areas in Zhejiang. Ningbo Mengheng Costume Accessories Ltd, an unlisted maker of garment materials, has shut all of its factories in Zhenhai, said a staffer at the company's logistics department.
Sri Lanka: Media report that Sri Lankan port and free trade zone workers back global inquest into the COVID-19 Pandemic. Katunayake Free Trade Zone (KFTZ) workers denounced the government’s failure to control the pandemic. They also shared their bitter experiences over the past two years.
A female worker from a village in the Puttalam District, who had been working at a Smart Shirt factory in the KFTZ for about six years, explained that its employees had been vaccinated with two doses in July, but conditions remained unsafe. The coronavirus had not stopped anywhere and new variants were emerging
Bangladesh/global: Media report on the Rana Plaza tragedy anniversary, remembering how the death of factory workers in Bangladesh opened up the way towards new safety regulations. With the broadening of its mandate beyond fire and building safety issues, the Accord now also responds to changing health and safety needs during this global pandemic. It’s time for those brands which have been brutally and repeatedly confronted with the consequences of their negligence to finally take responsibility for the safety of the workers in their supply chain by signing the International Accord.
Cambodia: Media report on the possibility of introducing digital payments for garment workers, particularly in light of the pandemic which has accelerated online payments by minimizing human interactions during money exchanges, reducing travel and keeping commercial establishments less crowded, and managing health risks.
In Cambodia, where only 18% of adults have a bank account and 85% of garment workers are women, most garment sector wages continue to be paid in cash.
Asia: Media report on a new study by looking at women garment workers’ experiences of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Asian production countries. It elaborates “economic harm” as a form of GBVH, underscoring how the business models of global apparel brands and their actions during the pandemic-induced recession exacerbated women workers’ vulnerability to violence both inside the factories and in their homes, families, and communities, leading to the feminisation of the COVID-19 crisis.
Pan-Asia: As part of the 16 days campaign, Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) is releasing a new report documenting gender-based violence in fast fashion supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report, based on interviews and discussions, with 400+ women workers across 6 garment production countries, explores how the business models of global fashion brands exacerbated women garment workers' vulnerability to violence both inside the factories and in their homes, families, and communities.
The report launch will feature a panel discussion with women trade union leaders from across Asia on the violence experienced by women workers during the pandemic, their resistance efforts, and the urgent steps needed to end gender-based violence in fast fashion supply chains.
Date: 8th December 2021 (Wednesday)
Time: 5:30 PM IST / 7:00 PM ICT / 7:00 AM EST / 1:00 PM CET
Venue: Zoom (Online Event)
Bangladesh: Media report that the BGMEA has issued 18 directives, including separate shift for workers and mandatory wearing of masks full-time at work to prevent the spread of 'Omicron'.
At the time of entering the factory, workers should be sent for body temperature measurement and if necessary for health check.
Factories have been asked to provide adequate soap and water for hand washing in the area adjacent to the main gate for workers entering the factory. It is also advisable to encourage workers to avoid crowding at work.
BGMEA Secretary Faizur Rahman said the level of Covid-19 infection in the garment industry was very small.
South Africa: Media report that the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) says 74% of users of the union’s clinics are vaccinated against Covid, more than double the national average.
SACTWU said in a statement that 25,107 people registered in the union clinic system had received their vaccines, out of a total of 33,906 people.
In February 2021, SACTWU released a ten-point plan to promote vaccination against Covid, which included educating shop stewards and workers on the benefits of vaccination, dispelling popular anti-vaccination myths, and using the union and factory clinics to administer vaccines to workers
USA: Media report on Amazon’s secrecy and obstruction during the Covid-19 crisis.
A new report released by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) shows that Amazon, despite having announced publicly in October 2020 that it had identified nearly 20,000 COVID cases nationally among its employees, subsequently reported only 27 cases of “respiratory conditions” (the category in which COVID cases are reported) to OSHA for all of 2020.
This means that Amazon claimed to OSHA that almost none of the tens of thousands of COVID-19 infections among its workers were work-related, an accomplishment so extraordinary as to be unbelievable.
Amazon, the nation’s second largest private employer, put workers’ lives at risk by depriving OSHA of information about COVID-19 cases in its facilities, undermining the agency’s ability to identify workplace hazards and to hold the company accountable for unsafe conditions.
The SOC, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Warehouse Workers Resource Center and the Awood Center sent a complaint to Assistant Secretary of Labor Douglas Parker, urging OSHA to investigate Amazon’s disturbing pattern of misleading or grossly incomplete information provided to authorities around COVID-19 cases in its warehouses.
Myanmar: Media report that urban poverty is on course to triple in Myanmar, pushing nearly half the population below the poverty line next year, the United Nations said, as the twin impact of the pandemic and a military coup threaten progress made in the past decade.
The army seized power from the elected civilian government of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, unleashing political and economic turmoil as it sought to crush opposition and hurting efforts to fight the coronavirus.
Based on a survey of 1,200 households, the UN Development Program (UNDP) said Myanmar was set to return to levels of deprivation not seen since 2005, before democratic reforms began.
Major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay, formerly home to a growing middle class, have seen disruptions to small businesses and sectors, from construction and hospitality to retail and textiles, bringing job losses and reduced wages, the UNDP said
Cambodia: Media report that factory workers to receive better health and nutrition benefits with foreign aid. The GIZ-MUSEFO project will be financing the improvement of health and nutrition benefits for factory workers.
Vietnam: Media report that factories in Vietnam are struggling for staff after many migrant workers returned home when a coronavirus lockdown that had kept them in Ho Chi Minh City for months last year was eased, a partner at venture capital firm Cento Ventures told Reuters.
A mass exodus from the city and its nearby industrial provinces has raised fears labour shortages will hamper the recovery from a record GDP slump in the third quarter.
"When the heavy hand of the government ... causes hundreds of thousands of workers to stay in factories to keep the exports churning, eventually when this heavy hand is withdrawn, workers go back to the villages and they do not return," Cento's Dmitry Levit said at the Reuters Next conference on Thursday.
Global: The Global Council of Unions, representing 200 million workers, is calling for urgent action by governments. It has been nearly two years since the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Workers have stepped up, putting themselves at risk to safeguard people's lives, livelihoods, and the global economy, and driven outstanding advances in science and medicine with the rapid development of Covid-19 tests, treatments, drugs, medical devices, personal protective equipment and, most importantly, vaccines.
Laos: Media report that more than 20,000 garment workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Laos have received emergency financial support worth about US$1.85 million from the German government.
The funding, channeled through the International Labour Organization (ILO), paid out about US$85 to each of 20,698 employees at 47 garment factories between March and October this year.
Vietnam: Media report that on the evening of November 30, the Center for Disease Control of Ha Tinh province announced that from 6 pm on November 29 to 6 pm on November 30, Ha Tinh had 43 more Covid-19 cases, including 17 community cases.
Of the 17 community cases, 13 are related to Garment Factory No. 3 owned by X19 Garment (with an address in Gia Ngai 1 village, Thach Long commune, Thach Ha district
Information and campaigns
General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry
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"
BHRRC report "Wage theft and pandemic profits"
IHRB and Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh studies at UC Berkeley report "The Weakest Link in the Supply Chain - How the Pandemic is Affecting Bangladesh’s Garment Workers"
Basic health information
Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet
Covid blog archive:
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