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

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

16 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that factory workers from Trousers Land Limited have protested in Ghazipur demanding arrears of salaries and allowances. The workers are owed salaries from the last three months as well as the last Eid festival allowance. The authorities have been threatening to lay off workers if they demanded their arrears. Garment workers also protested at the main gate of Tas Kit and Fashion Limited, demanding two-months’ worth of salary.

Honduras: In relation to a previous report mentioned earlier on Tegra Global shutting factories in Honduras and Nicaragua, supplying Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, another article reports that New Holland Apparel, a factory which mainly manufactures for the Under Armour and Adidas brands, announced its decision to close operations on May 28. This will mean sending the last 1200 workers still working there to unemployment.

India: Media reports that increasing activity  in Chennai, coupled with a smaller migrant workforce has resulted in a hike in the daily wage rates of temp workers. Industrial clusters are working with 80% of migrant workers who returned after the reverse migration seen during the lockdown. As a result, daily wages have gone up from nearly Rs 250 to Rs 350-400. Currently, orders are also good and the workforce has gone up by over 20%, as compared to pre-COVID days at 70-80 workers.

Media reports that migrant workers, who form a major chunk of the workforce in the textile hub of Tirupur have decided to ‘wait and watch’ the turnout of the COVID-19 situation instead of returning home. Many of the workers from North India are apprehensive to go back unlike last year, as they believe that they could overcome the pandemic by staying put in the workplace, rather than endure poverty in their native villages. Additionally, in order to make them stay back to avoid labour shortage, the industrial units have been telling their workers not to believe in rumours and have also taken up measures to build their confidence by organising vaccination drives. 

Indonesia: Media reports that apparel and fabric from Indonesia are expected to decline during the first seven months of this year, mainly on account of the continuing impact of COVID-19 pandemic in the country as well as major regions of the world. Around 70% of textiles produced in Indonesia are exported to the US, EU and Middle East.

Mexico: Media reports that exports of textiles and clothing from Mexico are forecast to move up in the first seven months of the current year. In 2020, exports decreased by 10.52% year-on-year to $3,759.74 million due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During January-July 2021, the monthly average apparel exports are expected to surge to $281.01 million from the monthly average of $218.41 million in 2020.

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam's exports to its partners in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) grew considerably to $34.3 billion in 2019 before dropping marginally to $34 billion last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Exports including footwear and garment-textile recorded good growth.

15 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that garment workers faced immense difficulty today due to the shortage in transport on the roads amid the weeklong "strict lockdown". Dhaka Tribune’s photojournalist Palash Khan saw hundreds of garment workers walking to their workplace. Many were travelling in crowded human haulers that were plying the roads. Very few buses arranged by garment factories were seen on the road. The workers claimed they had to pay up to three times higher fare as there were not many human haulers. 

Another article reports that allegations were made regarding lack of adherence to health directives and related protocols inside the factories, and an overall lack of necessary arrangements in many factories. Babul Akhter, president of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), said at least 20% of workers of a factory use public transport to get to work. They have been suffering the most due to the lockdown. “They are forced to go to work on foot to save their jobs. The government instructed factories to arrange transportation for their workers using their own resources, but not a single factory followed that instruction,” Akhter also said.

Cambodia: Media reports that some garment factories in Phnom Penh and Takhmao City in Kandal province have been ordered to close for 14 days in a move to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Media reports that health authorities detected close to 400 COVID-19 positive cases, which involved workers from at least 14 garment factories in Phnom Penh and the surrounding city in Kandal province.

Media reports that due to the growing wave of COVID-19, the capital Phom Penh will go into a two-week lockdown. Moeun Tola, executive director at labour rights group CENTRAL pointed out that authorities have not announced new restrictions and have not given residents time to prepare. Tola also said the state needs to use appropriate measures to help low-income people. He agreed with the decision to close garment factories for two weeks but said workers should get pay and other benefits. “The state needs to help the factories and enterprises because they do not have the income to be able to suspend,” Tola said.

Media reports that people suffering from COVID-19, are not getting medical treatment, as vacant hospital beds in the city are running out and the government is scrambling to create health facilities. A couple who contracted COVID-19 while working at the adidas supplier Din Han Enterprise waited weeks to go to a medical facility or COVID-19 hospital, as the husband Oeun Sokheng’s symptoms got worse. His wife Phat Rath said, “They listed our names [as COVID-19 positive], but they didn’t come to take us for treatment. “I called the 115 [COVID-19 hotline] many times and I was told to wait...They said there is no space for treatment. I don’t know what to say.” Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said garment workers should be transferred to treatment facilities immediately because they live in congested housing, which was not safe for their health and could potentially infect others.

Haiti: Media reports that the IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is supporting the garment sector in Haiti to help companies and workers navigate the COVID-19 crisis through job and investment retention, and in the medium term, attract private capital and create more employment. In the first phase, IFC will focus on a targeted response to help manufacturers quickly convert to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) and expand apparel production to meet a shifting global demand to navigate the COVID-19 crisis retaining jobs and investment.

India: Media reports that half of the manufacturing units in Maharashtra could remain shut for the next fortnight as the state’s new 15-day curfew and restrictions come into effect, after rising COVID-19 cases. These include appliance and apparel makers, which fall in the non-essential category.. According to the order, all factories producing essential goods and services will remain operational at full capacity. Export-oriented units will remain open to fulfil their export obligations. Industries that require continuous manufacturing, too, can operate with 50% workforce. Relaxation has also been provided for factories that offer in-house accommodation. But, all other factories must stop their operations for the next 15 days.

14 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that readymade garment exports from Bangladesh declined by 2.55% year-on-year in the first nine months of fiscal 2020-21, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.

Media reports that factory owners including Mostafiz Uddin are in support of garment factories remaining open during the lockdown. Uddin said: “During the last heavy lockdown, many factories were prevented from completing critical orders. This has happened time and again these past 12 months, destroying confidence with customers – many of whom may never return if they start to believe we are in a perpetual state of closing down and opening up. This is doing untold damage to our reputation as a garment hub.”

Media reports that speakers in a webinar on Monday asked the government to extend food and cash aids to the poor with the enforcement of the strict ‘lockdown’. They also asked the government to involve communities and non-government organisations for a coordinated approach in maintaining health guidelines. Bangladesh Garment Sromik Samhati president Taslima Akhter and IndustriALL Bangladesh Council general secretary China Rahman said the fresh ‘lockdown’ would take a toll on readymade garment workers .They feared the recurrence of job cuts in the RMG sector.

Media reports some of the steps being taken to ensure factory owners strictly follow health & safety rules during lockdowns. The labour ministry has asked factory owners to follow a staggered schedule for workers, while the state minister for labour and employment called for ensuring that masks were worn alongside social distancing in the factories. She said 23 committees formed earlier would monitor factories in different zones to ensure that the health safety guidelines were being followed. Factory owners were also urged to ensure timely payment of wages to workers during the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr. 

Media reports that around 250 workers from the Versatile Attire factory blocked a highway, demanding 2 months’ worth of salaries. According to the workers, on 31 March, the owner closed the factory without paying the workers for February and March. Later, a complain was lodged with the Industrial police and a meeting was held with workers. The meeting decided that workers would be paid their monthly wage on 8 April. However, workers were later informed by factory authorities that their salaries would not be paid, resulting in the protest.

Cambodia: A recent update on COVID-19 cases reports that up to 650 garment factory workers from 16 different factories have tested positive for COVID-19.

Media reports that four more vaccination sites in Phnom Penh have been added to speed up the vaccination of garment workers. As of April 13, a total of 68,119 workers registered for the vaccinated. 65,823 workers have been vaccinated but the rest were denied access due to pre-existing health conditions.

Latin America: Media reports that a study has found the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that textile and apparel manufacturers in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic can be a viable source for the Canadian and the US markets. According to the report, the pandemic revealed a number of factors that could prove beneficial for textile and apparel manufacturers in these countries, for example, vulnerabilities in brands’ supply chains that are prompting them to consider changes such as hub and sourcing models, vertical manufacturing in individual countries or regions, and nearshoring. 

13 April

Bangladesh: Media reports on the impact of lockdown on garment workers. Aslam Kaler, a garment worker from Gazipur, explained that he had walked about 6km to reach his factory, as public transport was closed. In the factory, there was no hand sanitiser nor hand-washing system. Manjur Moin, the International secretary of the Garment Workers’ Trade Union Center said that the Department of Factory and Establishment Inspection has not clarified what kind of hygiene rules must be followed in factories. Unions are now.

Media reports that for the seven-day 'strict' lockdown declared by the government, the Ministry of Labour has formed 23 special crisis management committees to monitor the factories that will remain open during the lockdown, in order to ensure that these are adhering to the health and hygiene guidelines. The industrial police and local administration will assist the committees. while the BGMEA and BKMEA, will also monitor whether the health rules are being followed in the readymade garment factories. Leaders of these two associations have said that stern action will be taken this time against any factory where the health protocol is not being followed. If necessary, the factory will be shut down too.

Cambodia: Media reports that adidas supplier Din Han Enterprise, which has seen hundreds of workers test positive for COVID-19, is struggling to pay last month’s paychecks to workers placed in lockdown. With workers unable to leave, the factory is finding it difficult to confirm their payment details or otherwise get the money to them, a factory administrator said. In the meantime, some workers said they were struggling to make ends meet.

India: Media reports that the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), which includes 4,500 members of the country's apparel manufacturing and retail market, has appealed to the government of Maharashtra against imposing a complete lockdown, following growing COVID-19 cases. It says the lockdown could further cripple the financial health of the state’s garment manufacturing units, and manufacturers are also concerned that lockdowns could again lead an exodus of workers from the state, something which has already started.

South Asia: Amnesty has called on governments in South Asia to ensure that vulnerable groups are not excluded from access to COVID-19 vaccines, while also calling on the international community to enable the production of vaccines at the national-level to address the severe shortfall in supply across the region. It states that groups, including garment workers, have so far been denied access, due to a lack of awareness and limited access to technology in most places.

USA: Media reports that US denim apparel imports declined in February 2021 by 17.22% compared to January 2021, despite showing signs of improvement in January. US denim apparel imports have also declined year-on-year by 9.8%in value and 4.78% in volumes.

12 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that apparel workers must walk to their respective factories on foot during the upcoming weeklong strict lockdown, despite the government's instructions for apparel factory owners to ensure their own transport systems. The factory owners claim that since most of them live within the vicinity of their workplace, they can easily walk to the factories during lockdown. Faruque Hassan, newly elected president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), added that only factories which have work orders may continue their operations despite the lockdown. Ruhul Amin, president of Bangladesh Federation of Workers Solidarity (BFWS), said that this decision may not affect those living near their factories, but will adversely affect those others who live far away. "Many workers live more than 5km away from factory are at risk of getting infected. If any worker gets infected, the whole factory will be at risk. Moreover, the responsibility will fall on the workers if they cannot reach the factories on time. Thus, we cannot accept the decision in any way."

Cambodia: Media reports that the AM2 factory has closed and workers sent for testing, following 27 positive cases found there. According to authorities, all workers were quarantined for 14 days but the 23 who had direct contact with the positive cases were put in isolation. The remaining 450 workers had not been infected. For those locked down or in quarantine, the government would pay utility bills for two or three months, respectively, he said, adding that microfinance institutions and banks have agreed to delay payments for two months for patients.

Media reports that thousands of Cambodian garment workers continue to be crammed in trucks for the journey to their factories each day, raising fears among workers of contracting COVID-19.

China: Media reports that Chinese manufacturers exported 3.4 billion garments in January and February of this year, an increase of 38.4% over the same period a year earlier. Over these two months, the combined operating revenue for 12,438 major garment firms surveyed rose by 21.4% year-on-year. However, China’s garment manufacturing sector has yet to return to pre-pandemic output or revenue.

India: Media reports that due to the economic impact of the pandemic, industrial production contracted for the second straight month by 3.6% in February, due to poor performance of manufacturing and mining sectors, official data showed on Monday. The manufacturing sector - which constitutes 77.63% of the index of industrial production - declined by 3.7% in February 2021.

Nicaragua/Honduras: Media reports that Tegra Global have revealed plans to shut two key activewear factories by May, axing 5,200 jobs in Nicaragua and Honduras. “They claim they are closing because of a financial and technical reorganization but what they want is to move production to El Salvador so they can save $5 million in social benefits,” top union boss Pedro Ortega told SJ shortly after Tegra’s labor relations director Julio Pineda informed workers of the decision. The union is calling for Under Armour, Nike and Adidas, who have their garment manufactured by Tegra Global, to put an end to this, or pay compensation to the workers.

11 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh’s apparel and textile manufacturers on Sunday demanded that the government should allow them to keep their factories open during the complete lockdown. Garments and textile sector leaders, holding a press conference, said that if the government brought the apparel sector under lockdown, the export sector would lose its share on the global market as the factories of competing countries remained open amid the pandemic. Media reports that following the press conference, the apparel sector leaders said the government had assured them that factories would remain out of the purview of the ‘complete lockdown’.

Cambodia: In relation to a previous report on the Meng Ieng Garment Factory outbreak mentioned below, a recent article reports that the factory, along with 7 houses rented by the workers, in which authorities discovered 9 COVID-19 cases, has been locked down by authorities. The location has been cordoned off by banning entry and exit. The 9 patients are waiting for a team of doctors to receive treatment.

 In relation to a previous report on the Din Han Garment Factory outbreak mentioned below, a recent article reports that the street of the factory is located on has been closed. The factory has become the first factory cluster for COVID-19, with hundreds of cases. As of the morning of 10 April, 638 workers were infected. Several villages around the factory and where workers live have also been locked down.

India: Media reports that more apparel manufacturers are coming forward to get their workers and staff vaccinated within the company premises. Gurugram-based Richa Global Exports, one of the leading apparel export houses in India, has also worked towards getting the nearby factories and villagers vaccinated too, alongside its own workers. 

10 April 

Bangladesh: Media reports that the Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity today in a statement demanded that 100% of workers' wages are paid during the  lockdown. The organisation in its statement said, "During the last lockdown, we have seen that government officials took salaries and other benefits from the government without attending offices but the opposite scenario was found in the context of garment workers." The workers won't let this happen this time, reads the statement calling upon government to take precautionary measures.

Cambodia: Media reports that the Prime Minister announced the government will pay 5 months worth of water and electricity for families whose members have died of COVID-19, in addition to a gift of $2,500 and food supplied provided by the Ministry of Health. For the household with members infected with COVID-19 but still alive, the government will pay their utility bills for three months. Meanwhile, the government will do the same for 2 months for families who are in quarantine or stuck in the lockdown areas as well as food supplies. “A garment factory worker who lives alone in the lockdown area or is in quarantine shall be counted as a family,” he said. “However, if few of them are living in the same room, the government will pay the utility bill for them as a single household.”

9 April

Global: Media reports that supply chain compliance experts QIMA report an "alarming spike" in ethical risks in factories around the world which supply western brands and retailers. A new 'barometer' study by QIMA says the percentage of factories which it ranked 'red' - for critical non-compliance issues - doubled in the second half of 2020. Issues included increased risks of modern slavery, workers being pushed to work long hours to meet global demand for PPE, and factories docking employees' wages for toilet breaks.

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh’s earnings by exporting readymade garments to the United States in January-February of 2021 fell by 13.11%, as the consumption of apparel items still remains low due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reports that the Bangladesh government is going to enforce a week-long lockdown across the country starting from April 14,  since the existing lockdown has proven to be ineffective in ensuring full implementation of health safety rules. During this lockdown, all ready-made garment factories and transport services will remain closed. Another article reports that factory owners are urging the government to allow the apparel sector to operate during the lockdown, arguing it will have a significant financial impact, since factory owners still have to pay salaries and festival bonuses during the pandemic. 

Cambodia: Media reports that from January-February, Cambodia exported $1.12 billion of goods to the US, a 3.3% increase compared with the same period last year.

Media reports that the Meng Ieng garment factory, supplying Target, will cut wages by 50% for those workers affected after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in authorities cordoning a street where many workers from the factory were staying.

Media reports the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has announced the provision of financial assistance to 6,303 workers suspended from 34 factories and enterprises in the garment sector. The suspensions were due to global economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn said the cash assistance was not sufficient to resolve their more pressing problems such as debt or to enable them to send money to their families. “The government should create a reserve fund or an unemployment insurance programme like other countries have that would help those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, but also those who lose their jobs in more ordinary circumstances...”

8 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that according to a study, 79% of marginalised households in Bangladesh experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic.  As a coping strategy to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, 80.6% of households cut down on food expenses and 64.5% cut down on non-food expenses. In 70% of marginalised households, at least one family member lost their job or had to shut down business.

Media reports that between July 2020 and March 2021, exports declined by 0.12%, to $28.93 billion.

Cambodia: Media reports that Adidas supplier Din Han Enterprise, which employs nearly 3,000 workers, has been shut down and thousands of workers ordered to take COVID-19 tests, after 50 workers tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, a worker at D’Luxe International factory, which employs about 9,000 people, has tested positive. Mann Seng Hak, deputy president of the Free Trade Union of Kingdom of Cambodia raised concerns about workers cramming into the back of trucks to and from factories and then working at close quarters for long hours, increasing the risk of further outbreaks. 

India: Media reports that garment manufacturers in Tiruppur, who are already struggling to stay afloat due to the soaring prices of cotton yarn and a drop in export orders, are worried the second wave of the pandemic could further worsen production at their units. “Several top brands and showrooms have been shut in Europe due to COVID-19, so they can’t even accommodate our old orders that have been exported. This has caused a reduction in the number of new orders,” explained Tiruppur Exporters Association president Raja M Shanmugam. A manufacturing unit owner pointed out that many units have facilities to house workers, so it is difficult to monitor workers' health.

Myanmar: Media reports that garment factory owners have been struggling to continue business, due to reduced orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the coup which has resulted in stalled orders from buyers. One owner, who has been operating on about 20%, and surviving only on orders placed before the coup explains “We would have no choice but to give up on Myanmar if there are no new orders in the next few months.”

Sri Lanka: Asia Floor Wage reports in a press statement that six months after the COVID-19 Outbreak at Brandix Minuwangoda, where 1000 out of 1400 factory workers tested positive for COVID-19, Sri Lankan unions are demanding respect for workers’ rights from Brandix and the World Bank. This comes after the news that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a part of the World Bank Group, is considering a $50 million loan to Brandix, despite reports from Brandix workers that their concerns were repeatedly ignored and criticised, and COVID-19 guidelines were broken. The unions are asking the IFC to highlight and address the impact of the outbreak on women workers, engage in substantive consultations with unions and workers’ organisations, and revise its environmental & social action plan for the loan to ensure workplace and safety and freedom of association.

UK: Media reports that the UK government is facing legal action over links between personal protective equipment and alleged modern slavery, after NHS staff were provided with PPE sourced from Malaysian manufacturers that have a history of exploiting workers. The lawyers involved are representing former and current migrant workers who worked for manufacturers Brightway, Supermax and Top Glove. 

USA: Media reports that apparel imports have fallen by 8.7% in February 2021 year-on-year. The country imported US $ 5.39 billion worth of garments in February this year as against US $ 5.91 billion in the same month of 2020.

7 April

Cambodia: Media reports that garment workers who aren’t vaccinated for COVID-19 could be barred from factories and lose their jobs. The country began its vaccination program for factory workers on with the labour ministry stating  280,000 of about 700,000 workers in the garment sector, or 40%, had voluntarily registered to receive the vaccine as of this weekend. Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodia Alliance of Trade Unions, said the number of registered workers was still low because some had not yet received clear information about the effectiveness and quality of the vaccines. There should be better information rather than pressure, she said.

Media reports on a case mentioned earlier in the live-blog, that the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions is calling on Tripos International to stop threatening workers’ jobs as they try to unionise. Sleh Farita, a factory worker who is leading the attempt to unionise, said management had repeatedly told her and about 10 others to give up their efforts or face termination. “For me personally, I will not give up, I still represent the union to protect the rights and interests of workers, because this factory oppresses workers very much,”  

Media reports that 103 non-governmental organizations, farmer communities, associations and worker unions publicly called on the government to direct financial institutions to suspend all loan repayments and interest accrual for at least three months. Yang Sophorn, president of Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions, said workers are currently earning far less as they struggle for employment. “Some of them just work part-time on a reduced workload. They earn not even enough for daily living, so how can they spare some [money] to pay an interest rate or principle,” she said, pointing to research suggesting about 90% of garment workers are indebted to MFIs. 

Sri Lanka: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre reports that following a global campaign, Next has agreed to recognise the rights of the FTZ&GSEU Union to be a representative of its workers in the Next Manufacturing Ltd Katunayake Plant, and that it will now begin a bilateral engagement with the union to be the agent of collective bargaining in the plant.

United Kingdom: Media reports that garment workers supplying Lara Intimates in a London factory face “extremely unsafe” conditions, with reports of bullying, no social distancing on the factory floor, workers displaying symptoms of heatstroke working in hot temperatures, and pressure to reach impossible targets.

6 April

Global: A new report from Worker Rights Consortium reveals that many garment workers are being denied some or all legally-mandated severance benefits most garment workers are owed upon termination, in violation of the law and labour rights obligations of the brands and retailers whose clothes they sewed. The WRC has identified 31 export garment factories in nine countries where there is definitive evidence that the factory fired workers and then failed to pay them severance they legally earned. In total, the wage theft at these 31 facilities robbed 37,637 workers of $39.8 million. In total, WRC projects that severance theft in the global garment industry during the Covid-19 pandemic is between $500 million and $850 million. Media coverage from New York Times shares worker accounts of those who have yet to receive compensation.

Bangladesh: Media reports that export earnings rebounded sharply with a 12.59% year-on-year rise to hit $3.07 billion in March, thanks to the recovery in garment shipment over the last few months on the back of relaxed lockdowns. However, apparel export fell 2.55% year-on-year to $23.48 billion in the July-March period this fiscal. year.

Media reports that many workers and employees had to walk to factories on the first day of lockdown, due to a ban on public transport during the week-long pandemic. Despite measures on social distancing, workers on the first floor of Brannserson Apparel Factory factory in Mirput were seen working very close to each other, and most were not wearing masks. Workers’ leader Joly Talukder questioned the decision to keep the factories open amid a surge in the virus cases. She also said the transport shutdown made the lives of the workers difficult. “I don’t think it will be possible to contain the outbreak by keeping the factories open. It will only bring suffering to the workers.” 

Cambodia: Media reports that the Ministry of Health has said it has prepared enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the first phase of inoculating Cambodia’s labour force, which aims to vaccinate 100,000 garment workers. However, while unionized factory workers are set to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, the fate of employees in the informal sector remains unclear—even with union support. Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the Ministry of Health to give priority to informal workers in Phnom Penh to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but the recently established curfew in the capital has seen informal workers harassed—often with no home to return to. Vorn Pov, president of Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economy (IDEA) also encouraged those working in the informal economy to get vaccinated, but was unsure what mechanisms were in place to facilitate this.

South Africa: Media reports that the Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) has concluded South Africa’s first ever COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Campaign Industry Framework Agreement, that will covers the domestic clothing industry, and commits the employer and trade union parties to facilitate vaccination in the textile and garment industry.

Sri Lanka: According to the CCC network, Sri Lankan media has reported on last week's press conference Sri Lankan unions partook in, covering non-payment of bonuses and wages, the $24 million owed by employers, the refusal to set up bipartite health committees, and the need for JAAF to engage with unions.

Vietnam: Media reports that a survey evaluating working conditions in industrial parks in has found that income in the first 6 months of 2020 of textile and footwear workers decreased sharply, on average by 22-29% compared to 2019. Loss of income had a huge impact on workers’ ability to feed themselves and their families, with 86.9% of workers stating their income could not meet basic family needs including food, electricity and water. Mental health issues and gender-based violence also increased. The rate of violence against women in the home during COVID-19 doubled (53.2%) compared to 2019. Additionally, in the workplace acts of gender-based violence also increased, with scolding and cursing reported by 64.5% of the workers. 12% of workers said there was an increase in sexual harassment of female workers such as crude jokes about body parts.  

5 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that industrialists, including garment manufacturers, have found it difficult to instantly implement emergency measures and continue the smooth running of manufacturing operations, after the government suddenly announced a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Cambodia: Media reports that in the latest round of financial assistance, the Labour Ministry will distribute $26 million to 9,972 employees at 40 companies, who have lost their jobs in the garment and tourism sectors.

The Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) has published a media statement, condemning Tripos International Cambodia Co. Ltd’s persecution and discrimination of leaders, members and activists of the Cambodian Union of Tripos. Management has continually threatened members of the Cambodian Union to resign from the union and submit resignation letters to the union. The company has also, on three occasions objected to the registration of the Cambodian Union. CATU calls on the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and brands sourcing from this factory, such as Clarks, to intervene and ensure that leaders, members and activists of the Cambodian Union of Tripos can fully exercise their rights and freedoms in forming and joining as members of the Cambodian Union.

India: Media reports that India’s factory activity grew at its weakest pace in seven months in March, as renewed lockdowns to curtail a resurgence in COVID-19 cases dampened domestic demand and output, a private survey showed, resulting in a spike in layoffs. Despite foreign orders growing at a faster pace in March, overall demand has declined to its lowest since August 2020. Output also grew at its weakest pace in seven months. Survey participants indicated that demand growth was constrained by the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the rise in input buying was curtailed by an intensification of cost pressures. Factories intensified the rate of layoffs to its strongest in six months in March.

Media reports that 2 clusters have been reported from the Kolar district where  33 garment workers from a factory have tested positive for COVID-19. Following one positive case at the garment factory, all 1000 workers were tested for COVID-19.

4 April

Global: Media reports that a study by supply chain compliance solutions provider QIMA found that in 2020, Taiwan scored the highest in an ethical auditing survey, followed by Bangladesh and Vietnam. The demand for inspections and audits in Southeast Asia rose 19% year-on-year across the board last year, likely propelled by  factors including increased orders for PPE. The study also found that intertwined challenges of the  pandemic have strongly exacerbated human rights risks in global supply chains, including modern slavery, child labour, labour violations in factories and less scrutiny on non-virus related safety measures due to health and safety resources being stretched thin. Some of the most pressing issues at re-opened factories are working hours and wage compliance.

Bangladesh: Media reports that public services in Bangladesh will be suspended, as the government begins a countrywide lockdown to control the rise in COVID-19 cases. Another article highlights that there has been no indication as to how garment workers will commute to and from factories in a series of specified directives, and emphasises that the poor have not been considered in these restrictions. Meanwhile, the notion of setting up field hospitals near garment factories has also been mentioned in these directives.

Cambodia: Media reports that bilateral trade between Cambodia and ASEAN was valued at $11,330 million in 2020, a year-on-year increase of 22.42%. The figures from the Ministry of Commerce shows that from January to December 2020, Cambodia exported $3,722 million goods to ASEAN, up by 185% compared to the same period last year.

3 April

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh’s readymade garment factories will remain open, despite the government's announcement of a weeklong lockdown across the country to curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic's second wave. The garment factories have been given directives to comply with during the lockdown, such as implementing social distancing, to prevent workers being infected. 

India: Media reports that a garment export unit at Washington Nagar in Kannakampalayam panchayat was shut down for 2 days after 31 workers out of 165 in the firm tested positive for COVID-19.

2 April

Global: just-style has published an in-depth evaluation of trade trends in the world’s three largest apparel exporters – China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh – during the pandemic, and highlights the export performances of these countries in 2020. It finds that COVID-19 significantly impacted apparel exports of all three countries, resulting in both unexpected and expected trade patterns. Furthermore it suggests that it is impossible to predict how soon exports will return to pre-COVID levels, and new order cancellations or postponement this year are not unlikely. Among the three countries, Vietnam is in the best position to expand its apparel exports in 2021.

Media reports that there were definite signs of improvement in global manufacturing in March as demand grew and new orders increased. However, the global pandemic is still leaving its mark around the globe in limiting expansion. The article looks into manufacturing in USA, Canada, Eurozone, Brazil, UK, China, Vietnam.

Bangladesh: Media reports that workers from Apex Weaving garment factory in Ghazipur, Bangladesh protested and blocked roads demanding unpaid wages from February.

Media reports that a study from the BGMEA and Global Reporting Initiatives of the United Nations Development Programme mentioned previously in the live-blog found that the first wave of COVID-19 hit workers in 1 in 4 garment factories. Additionally, on average, workers remained absent for 25 days and 13% of the factory owners had to lay off workers due to losses in business.

Cambodia: Media reports that despite the global economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia's total trade volume remains positive, reaching $35.8 billion last year, a rise of 2.5% compared with the year before. Cambodia’s total exports were worth $17.21 billion, up 16.72% year-on-year in 2020, its major export products including garments at $7.42 billion (a YoY decline of 10.24%), and footwear at $1.11billion (down 11.6% YoY).

Media reports on the hardships factory workers have faced amidst the COVID-19 crisis, which left them facing economic hardship, loss of income and inability to pay for water, electricity and rooms. One worker explained: “ I am a worker who is in a very difficult situation to earn money, I especially need to spend a lot on daily food, market goods, room for rent and 4,000 riels per cubic meter of water. I work hard even though the situation of COVID-19 is spreading, so please consider my life as a worker. At the time of COVID-19, I lost my income because I was suspended from work for medical treatment, but my monthly expenses, rent, water and debt continued." 

Dominican Republic: Media reports that Alta Gracia, a factory hailed for providing living wage and labour rights to its workers has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic, as workers were furloughed without pay and work was temporaily suspended for three months.  Union leader, Eduardo Cabrera, said: “They gave us two options. Temporarily suspending activity or definite closure.” The Dominican government gives furloughed factory workers a monthly subsidy that represents only 30% of the monthly living wage of 27,027 pesos ($475). Since the Guardian started reporting, the company secured funding from private donations and committed to paying 50% of the living wage for six weeks to compensate for some of the workforce’s loss during the furlough. In addition, workers will continue to be entitled to the government subsidy.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that Sri Lanka’s leading trade unions pointed out at a press conference that during the pandemic, apparel brands, traders and manufacturers in the garment industry in Sri Lanka are slashing workers’ health, job security, as well as workers' rights and making huge profits from their oncome. They requested brands and employers of the Sri Lanka apparel sector to initiative a national dialogue with the trade unions to ensure the protection of the rights, wages and health of workers in the garment sector.

1 April

Global: Media reports that  garment manufacturers in nine countries spanning Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have banded together to demand better contract terms from global clothing retailers. The suppliers hope their united front will prevent retailers from playing them off against each other in search of more lenient terms after suffering from widespread cancellations and payment delays at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. A garment owner in Dhaka said: “Buyers are asking for drastic cuts and delays in payments...but if I refuse, they will go to another supplier. We need a fair policy, badly, or the garment industry will not survive.” 

Bangladesh: Media reports that readymade garment factory owners have expressed their unwillingness to comply with the government directive of running factories with 50% workforce amid the recent surge in the number of COVID-19 infection cases and deaths. In a letter to the labour secretary KM Abdus Salam, the BGMEA said that if factories ran with 50% of existing workforce as per the government directive, RMG exporters would miss shipment deadlines and incur huge losses.

Italy: Media reports that fabrics and apparel exports from Italy are likely to fall to a monthly average of $1.73 billion in the first half of 2021, with a drop of 15.57% over the monthly average of 2020, as the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic has hit the country.

Myanmar: Media reports that hundreds of garment workers are fleeing joblessness and state violence in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township, after enduring mass dismissals during COVID-19, followed by factory closures during the military coup. Ma Marlar, general secretary of the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar, said: “Throughout COVID-19, employers slashed wages and laid off workers. Workers have faced massive hardships. Now, as we’ve started to just barely see the end of COVID-19 in sight, we’ve been crushed by the military again. We know they’re a threat to our livelihoods, and even our lives.”

Turkey: Media reports that the Turkish manufacturing sector continued to recover in March. with the Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector climbing to 52.6 in March, up from 51.7 in February.

Information and campaigns

General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry

PayYourWorkers campaign

PayUp campaign page -> coming


Demands, recommendations, proposals

CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.

Global union and employer joint call to action.

WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.

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

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

Information trackers

WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders

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

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

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

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

ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.

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

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

Background and position papers

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

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

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

ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"

ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.

AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.

Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"

ECCHR-WRC paper "Force majeure"

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

UN Special Rapporteur report "Looking back to look ahead"

WRC and Penn State University paper "Unpaid Billions"

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

ILO research brief "The supply chain ripple effect"

WRC research report "Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain" & Spanish version

BHRRC report "Wage theft and pandemic profits"

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

published 2021-04-08