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.

17 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the government of Bangladesh has approved two new stimulus packages, whose implementations will begin "immediately". One of the packages is destined to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which, as previously reported on the live-blog, have been struggling without aid during most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reports that a new study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) found that job uncertainty among Bangladesh’s garment workers has been alleviated to 4% in September 2020 from 36% in April, as around 60% of factories have started recruiting new workers. While the study states that some factories are recruiting new workers, it also found that some are still dismissing workers. According to CPD, the garment sector is now making a "slow recovery" from the impacts of the COVID-19 second wave. The article further reports that around 10,000 garment workers have so far been listed as beneficiaries for the EU and Germany's fund, from which each worker should receive Tk 3000 per month (US$35) for three months. Also in this article, Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) reports that over two lakh (200,000) workers have lost their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that overtime has been reduced significantly (which affects workers' pay) due to an overall decrease in work orders.

16 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the government of Bangladesh has said that it is "ready to assist" the country's garment industry once more, hinting that more time would be given to factory owners to repay the stimulus package loans. "We have to see the interest of all people including manufacturers, workers and buyers", Tipu Munshi, Minister of Commerce, expressed.

Cambodia: Media reports that 10 more returning migrant workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Cambodia, bringing the cluster to 66 workers.

Malaysia: Media reports that migrant workers in Malaysia are uncertain about their jobs and income after the country declared a nationwide state of emergency until 1 August to contain the coronavirus. Workers and activists report that many migrant workers have lost their jobs or had their wages cut since February 2020, as many businesses faced closure or downsizing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with a new state of emergency, Malaysia media reports that many more businesses are closing - leaving migrant workers in uncertainty. "I am now just trying to survive", Ismail Sagor, a Bangladeshi migrant worker who was interviewed for the article, expressed. Ismail still has a job at a restaurant but explains that there are very few customers nowadays. He reports that the situation for undocumented migrant workers is even worse, as workers face discrimination and the possibility of arrest. The article reports that while manufacturing, construction and service sectors are open, they are not running at full capacity. Many people are losing their jobs but while Malaysians are able to receive aid through various public social safety schemes, migrant workers are not.

Myanmar: Media reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a second emergency financial assistance package for Myanmar, which aims to “minimise the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”. The IMF reports that Myanmar’s economy is suffering amidst the COVID-19 second wave, which has caused extensive lockdowns and supply chain disruptions.

Pakistan: Media reports that Pakistan's textile and garment industry is running at "full capacity", as US and European buyers are diverting orders from India and Bangladesh to Pakistan, which, unlike its neighbouring countries, has lifted COVID-19 restrictions.

15 January 2021

Global: Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) reports that Dutch retailer HEMA wrote to suppliers in Asia to cancel all orders effective immediately. For goods already delivered to the brand, for which it had not yet paid, the company told suppliers it would pay them 30 days later than originally scheduled. Hema said it does not expect to place any new orders right now. WRC makes clear that while this is "the first example (...) of a major apparel retailer systematically reneging on its financial commitments on existing orders during the current round of lockdowns", reports of order deferrals and reduction of order amounts from original commitment levels had already started to emerge. 

Bangladesh: Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) and South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) published the results of a survey on health and safety measures implemented in Bangladesh's garment factories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey is based on the answers of 1287 garment workers and has now been conducted twice, with the first round being conducted in May. Seven months later, MFO and SANEM surveyed the same workers to see what changed since then. The data shows that factories have been "letting their guards down", as rates of precaution decreased in almost in all health and safety categories compared to May. Among other findings, they report that:

  • While 77% of workers reported being able to maintain proper social distancing while working and during commuting in May, only 56% agreed with this statement in December;
  • While 60% of workers reported that surfaces were regularly cleaned and wiped down in May, only 36% supported this statement in December;
  • Only 53% of workers agreed that their factory had taken steps to ensure social distancing at entry/exit points and at workstations in December;
  • Many factories have ceased to use queue marks, created to help maintain social distancing;
  • Only 38% of workers reported that enough sanitizing dispensers had been placed in their factory.

The study further states that:

  • In May, 80% of workers who said they did not feel safe reporting their illness said it was due to a fear of losing their job - this number increased to 94% in December;
  • 36% of workers reported that they were working fewer hours in December.

Media reports that the owner of Kwun Tong Apparels is trying to sell the factory, which is located in the Adamjee Export Processing Zone, after having struggled due to order cancellations, imposed discounts and unusually long payment deferrals. The owner reports that one of his US-based retailers cancelled work orders worth $20 million and another retailer had to be provided with a discount of $25 million. According to Open Apparel Registry, the factory supplies brands such as Sainsbury's and George (Asda). "I have been doing business over the last 40 years in Bangladesh. I have never faced such a big crisis in my life that I faced last year", the owner expressed. The factory employs around 7000 workers. 

Cambodia: Media reports that 15 more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 56 workers. Another article reports that with the cluster increasing at an "alarming rate", the government has reiterated its call for Cambodian migrant workers to remain in Thailand. Also today, Khmer Times has published an interview with Khun Tharo, from Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), on this topic. Tharo said that Cambodia needs to take urgent and effective measures to prevent another COVID-19 outbreak as well as a migrant worker crisis. 

Media reports that unionist Rong Chhun's trial started today. 

Malaysia: Media reports that hidden cameras revealed "appalling" conditions in a PPE factory in Malaysia supplying Canadian hospitals. The hidden camera videos showed that Top Glove workers work in unsafe working conditions and hot, cramped living conditions. "They just want product. They don't care about the worker", one migrant worker from Nepal, who works 12 hours every day, explained. 

Media reports that Glorene Das, Tenaganita executive director, has exposed and critiqued Senior minister for security Ismail Sabri Yaakob attempt to shift blame onto migrant workers for Malaysia's surge in COVID-19 cases. She made clear that comments like his "demonise" migrant workers and highlight "deeper failures in the immigration system."

Myanmar: SMART Textile & Garments reports that the extension of the EU Myan Ku Fund will be announced during a conference on Monday, 18 January. 

Information and campaigns

General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry

PayYourWorkers campaign

PayUp campaign page -> coming

Resources

Demands, recommendations, proposals

CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.

Global union and employer joint call to action.

WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.

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

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

Information trackers

WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders

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

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

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

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

ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.

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

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

Background and position papers

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

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

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

ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"

ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.

AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.

Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"

ECCHR-WRC paper "Force majeure"

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

UN Special Rapporteur report "Looking back to look ahead"

WRC and Penn State University paper "Unpaid Billions"

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

ILO research brief "The supply chain ripple effect"

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

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

14 January 2021

Global: In a video published by the Fair Wear Foundation, Ineke Zeldenrust, from Clean Clothes Campaign, sends a message to the garment industry on #TheIndustryWeWant. Zeldenrust makes clear that the post-COVID-19 transition must be just, calling for "relief as well as reform". "The industry we want can start tomorrow with brands publicly committing to ensure workers will be paid their wages in full, and their severance in case they lose their jobs, by paying small price premiums on orders going forward into a global fund", Zeldenrust explains.

Media reports that over 300 industry stakeholders, including brands, manufacturers, government representatives, trade unions and international organisations, are taking part in the "Industry We Want" initiative, which was launched at an online event jointly hosted by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Fair Wear Foundation. 

Bangladesh: Media reports that the Ministry of Commerce has requested that the Ministry of Finance liquidate 133 struggling garment factories, which have remained closed thus far. During a committee inquiry, the BGMEA explained that the factories in question failed to avail government benefits due to overall lack of orders amidst the COVID-19 crisis and the "disruption in shipping consignments due to the political instability in the country".

Media reports that the BGMEA is calling for priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine for its members and their families. The request did not include vaccines for the country's garment workers. 

Cambodia: Media reports that 13 more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 41 workers. 

Nepal: ILO Nepal published a report titled "Impact of COVID-19 on Nepali Migrant Workers", in which it makes clear that Nepali migrant workers faced extreme health and economic challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The ILO reports that, with the economic slowdown, many businesses in destination countries are struggling to continue operations, with manufacturing and service sector being the most affected. As a result, Nepali migrant workers have suffered from reduced work hours, non-payment of wages, forced unpaid leave with inadequate access to health care and food, layoffs and have been made to work in exchange of food. 

Philippines: The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (Philippines) reports that thousands of garment workers from FCF Mfg. Corp. in Bataan, which produces for luxury bags companies such as Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade, held a protest earlier today demanding that the company pay them their full wages and benefits. Workers report that the company is not remitting their contributions to Social Security and other social insurances despite deducting these amounts from their pay.

Thailand: Media reports that some global brands are providing cash and food aid to migrant workers in Thailand amidst the most recent COVID-19 outbreak. While civil society organisations welcome the aid, they make clear "the private sector must also ensure workers are paid decent wages, have access to healthcare, and do not bear the burden of paying for COVID-19 tests or new registration requirements." The article highlights that the current crisis has left many migrant workers unable to find jobs and struggling to survive in Samut Sakhon (where the outbreak started), which has an estimated 400,000 migrant workers, according to activists, and has been under lockdown since last month. Meanwhile, another article reports that Thai health authorities have announced that they will accelerate COVID-19 testing for Myanmar workers in Samut Sakhon, with around 35,000 migrant workers working in 400 factories in the province expected to be tested by 24 January.

United Kingdom: Media reports that, after committing to improving factory conditions in the UK rather than moving production to Asia, Boohoo now admits it will expand suppliers overseas. The article reports that Boohoo sources about 40% of its products in the UK, where labour abuse has become widespread and instances of fraud have been reported. "Instead of taking responsibility and remediating labour rights issues - they are simply cutting and running from the problems", Labour Behind the Label wrote on Twitter.

Vietnam: Media reports that 3000 workers from YSS Garment Company, located in My Trung Industrial Park, are on strike as their Tet bonus, equivalent to a month's salary, is to be cut. The company argues that it cannot pay the bonus due to economic difficulties amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Following negotiations, management suggested paying about one-quarter of what workers were supposed to receive. Workers did not accept the amount and continue to demand their rightful bonus.

13 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that knitwear shipments, which dropped 31% in the January-June period, increased in the year's second half, as longer home stays raise the use of casual wear.

Cambodia: Media reports that six more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19 earlier today, bringing the total cluster to 33 workers. The article further reports that more workers are returning from Thailand every day, following the COVID-19 outbreak near Bangkok.

India: Media reports that the garment industry has been one of the worst affected sectors in India amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the article makes clear that most companies in this sector are small and medium enterprises, which have small financial margins. With this in mind, the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) is calling for solid support from the Government in order to survive. In this sense, the Association made some recommendations that it believes should be incorporated in Budget 2021. Among other suggestions, CMAI asks for benefits and tax reliefs.

Malaysia: Media reports that the government has announced that it will provide assistance to migrant workers who need help during the newly imposed state of emergency. The assurance comes after calls from NGOs urging that the government provide support to migrant workers during this time. Focusing on Cambodian migrant workers, Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, explains that [m]any of the Cambodian workers in Malaysia have been suffering from financial problems as they have been laid off by their employers due to the economic crisis." They warn that, with these new measures, migrant workers' situation is only set to worsen. Indeed, the article makes clear that thousands of migrant workers in Malaysia, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, have suffered wage cuts and layoffs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are yet to return home or find new jobs. 

Myanmar: In line with yesterday's reports, Myanmar Times reports that around 1000 workers from Supreme Asia Garment Limited, which produces for German brand Tchibo, protested outside the factory against labour violations, including a "questionable termination". The article clarifies that the Human Resources manager was dismissed over alleged health problems. In the words of Ko Kyaw Kyaw, organiser of Actions of Labour Rights, "the Human Resources manager with five years experience was suspended from her job for four months pointing out she is having health problems caused by diabetes." Workers are fighting for reinstatement, one hour break from work, ending the practice of unpaid overtime on Sunday and higher wages. At least 1000 of the 1878 workers have been protesting for changes in factory policies. While management has agreed to give workers "casual leave" on Sundays, the HR manager is yet to be reinstated.

12 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that Garments Trade Union Centre (GTUC) staged a demonstration in front of the Narayanganj Press Club against a recent police attack on garment workers who were peacefully demanding their dues. During the protest, the union and workers also demanded that Kwun Tong Apparels Ltd, which produces for George (Asda) and is located in the Adamjee Export Zone, be reopened and that all workers be paid their dues. In August 2020, management closed the factory on the pretext of announcing a two-day holiday without paying any dues to the workers. Workers haven't been paid since. In one of the peaceful protests workers organised, they were met by police who injured at least 20 workers.

Media reports that Tangail's sari industry is "in tatters" due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. When lockdown ended, manufacturers had no other choice but to take out loans in order to reopen, but sales have been far from what they needed in order to continue operating. As a result of low orders, manufacturers have decreased workers' wages.  

Cambodia: Media reports that many Cambodian migrant workers who returned from Thailand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are struggling to find jobs in Cambodia. With zero income for nearly ten months, many are severely struggling. "I started looking for jobs and till today I cannot find one", Son Seiha, who started looking for jobs in Cambodia's factories, exclaimed. Some workers are thinking about returning, but with the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand, they had to postpone that idea once again. 

Media reports that 129 garment factories closed in Cambodia over the course of 2020, affecting over 70,000 workers. In the meantime, 112 new factories opened, creating more than 20,000 jobs. While many factories opened, it is clear that the number of jobs created is much lower than the amount of jobs lost. Of the 71,202 workers who lost their jobs in the garment industry in 2020, 57,794 are women. 

Myanmar: Media reports that about 300 workers from Supreme Asia garment factory, which produces for German brand Tchibo and is located in Shwe Pyi Thar Township, protested against workplace discrimination after a HR manager was dismissed without any notice. During the protest, workers also demanded better working conditions and pay. Following the protest, workers met with management and negotiations were "successfully made". "We got satisfactory results through negotiations. Some points we demanded will be settled in the meeting and some will be done in accordance with the law", one of the workers explained.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that several private companies, including Brandix Lanka Limited (owner of the Minuwangoda garment factory where a COVID-19 outbreak took place a few months ago), aim to contribute with Rs 10 billion (US$52.6 million) towards the government's efforts to procure new COVID-19 vaccinations and contain the spread of the virus in Sri Lanka.

11 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that workers of Bata Shoe Company's Dhamrai manufacturing report having been forced to resign in September 2020. Yesterday, around 100 workers along with their family members staged a demonstration demanding reinstatement. Mahbubur Rahman, one of the workers present, explained that around 210 workers of Bata's Dhamrai and Tongi manufacturing plants were forced to resign and that management cited losses amidst the pandemic as the cause. Workers explained that, when they denied signing the resignation papers, management threatened to deprive them of their rightful benefits. Workers are calling on the government to intervene.

Meanwhile, media reports that workers from Radisson Fashion Ltd, a garment factory in Tongi which produces for Lidl, protested against the harassment of workers by their line chief today. During the protests, three workers were injured after the industrial police charged them with batons. The article further reports that factory management has decided to close the factory indefinitely, stating that workers went on strike "illegally".

Media reports that after months of local protests and organising, along with international solidarity actions, workers from Dragon Sweater factory in Dhaka have finally been paid their owed wages and severance. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the families of activists who were jailed following protests for unionist Rong Chhun's release are now struggling to make ends meet. "With his imprisonment, all his projects have been suspended and there is no income. I already sold our car because I didn’t have money to pay back the banks - next, I will have to sell the house" Dos Kimteang, Chhour Pheng's wife, explains. 

Media reports that 157 Cambodia migrant workers working in Thailand have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, another article reiterates that around 12,000 migrant workers have returned from Thailand thus far. Also on this topic, media reports that the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has announced that it will provide 20,000 jobs in Cambodia to migrant workers who have returned from Thailand. Jobs are expected to be provided in various industrial sectors, including manufacturing.

Myanmar: Media reports that while regional authorities report that 65,000 factory workers in Yangon lost their jobs over the past year as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade unions warn that the "real number" is closer to 100,000 workers, as many factories did not inform the government of their closure. Moe Moe Suu Kyi, Yangon's employment minister, explained that at least 70 of the region's factories permanently closed, costing almost 25,000 jobs, while 200 more closed temporarily or laid-off workers, affecting another 40,000 workers. Most of these workers young women and migrant workers, who are struggling to find new jobs. "There are no jobs. The cost of accommodation is high, they're facing shortages of food. They're having a really hard time", Ye Naing Win, secretary of the Cooperative Committee of Trade Unions, expressed.

Vietnam: Media reports that the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) warned that Tet bonuses would be reduced this year, as a number of enterprises are facing hardships due to the economic impact of COVID-19 and the new labour code now allows employers to pay Tet bonuses in goods rather than money. Consequently, it is expected that strikes and disputes will break out. 

Meanwhile, media reports that the VGCL calls for the minimum wage to be raised on July 1 2021, as workers have suffered hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will face even more difficulties if minimum wages are not increased until 2022. The VGCL argues that this can be done as the country saw positive economic growth in 2020. 

The General Statistics Office has released a report which assesses the impacts of COVID-19 on labour and employment in Vietnam during the last quarter of 2020. The report states that the number of those in informal employment has increased and that average monthly incomes have decreased across all sectors.

10 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that, while garment workers who were previously laid-off are being rehired, workers are being rehired at lower pay and therefore continue to struggle to make ends meet. Shirin Akter, for example, used to make Tk 10,000 (US$117) a month, but her new factory only pays her Tk 8,800 (US$103). "Had I switched jobs during normal times, I could have negotiated for better wages. But I had no option but to take the lower pay", Akter expressed. The article makes clear that "[t]his is only a story among countless others who also lost their jobs during the pandemic, but got rehired elsewhere." Unions explain that factory owners are taking advantage of the abundance of unemployed workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and their need to make a living to offer lower wages. In the same article, Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, reports that many garment factories are "downsizing their operations due to the current business situation".

Cambodia: Media reports that more than 12,000 migrant workers have returned to Cambodia in the past two weeks amidst Thailand's most recent COVID-19 outbreak. The article further reports that four more returning migrant workers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing total cluster to 26 workers.

9 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) is demanding a 30% annual risk allowance for Bangladesh's garment workers, as workers have been repeatedly risking their lives to work in this industry, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Media reports that, according to a study conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), a total of 593 labour protests took place in different industrial hubs across the country last year, mainly due to non-payment of wages and deprivation of rights. 264 of these protests were organised by garment workers, who protested demanding that factories be reopened, laid-off workers be reinstated and wages, bonuses and other allowances be paid. The same report further reports that at least 729 workers died in workplace accidents across the country in 2020. In addition, 433 workers suffered injuries due to workplace accidents. 

Cambodia: Media reports that another returning Cambodian migrant worker tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the cluster to 22 workers. 

Myanmar/Thailand: Media reports that following Thailand's latest COVID-19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon's seafood market, discrimination has become a part of Myanmar migrants' daily lives in everything from transportation to banking. While the article reports that Thai authorities seem to have made an effort in avoiding to single out Myanmar migrant workers in COVID-19 updates, it makes clear that "the problem still persists." Indeed, just yesterday, two Myanmar migrant workers were denied entry to a Krungsri Ayudhya bank branch in Bangkok due to their nationality. "The manager told me that there is a Thai rule that they don't allow Burmese into their bank", Ma San a migrant who speaks Thai and helped the two migrant workers, explained. Meanwhile, the same article reports that Thailand has reported a total 9841 cases with 205 new cases yesterday.

Thailand: Media reports that an NGO reports that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Thailand are at risk of losing their legal status as hospitals refuse to conduct health checks on migrant workers amidst the recent COVID-19 outbreaks. Migrant workers need a health certificate to renew their work permit, meaning that this suspension impedes them from doing so and puts workers at risk of losing their legal status.  

8 January 2021

Cambodia: Media reports that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 120,000 out of 1.2 million Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have returned home. Following their return, many are facing difficulties to sustain themselves and their families. While the government encouraged workers to apply for IDPoor cards (in order to receive food and cash relief), only a few have been able to do so thus far. The article further reports that a survey conducted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), based on interviews with over 1000 migrant workers who returned to Cambodia, found that 61% are looking to migrate for work again. 

India: Media reports that unemployment in India rose again in December. According to the article, the sudden rise in the unemployment rate is due to a significant number of workers returning to the labour market in the search of jobs.

Myanmar: Media reports that garment factories in Myanmar continue to use the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic crisis as an excuse to lay-off workers, particularly those who are unionised. Phyo Sandar Soe, assistant general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM), explained that another strategy Myanmar's factory owners have been employing is to shutter facilities temporarily so they don't have to compensate workers for lost wages and, in the meantime, reopen a new factory under a different name, leaving workers with no wages or compensation. "This keeps the workers waiting in the hope they will be re-hired when the factory opens. But the owners simply restart another factory so they can avoid the whole issue", she said. 

Thailand: Media reports that, according to the new COVID-19 report from Thailand's Department of Disease Control, migrant worker communities have been hard hit by the recent outbreak. As reported by local media, at least 153 Cambodian migrant workers have so far tested positive. Meanwhile, another article reports that migrant workers in Thailand are struggling to find work and survive after the outbreak. NGOs report that migrant workers are being asked to obtain medical certificates showing negative COVID-19 test results in order to return to their jobs. Those deemed "low risk" of having COVID-19 have to get tested privately, where they can be charged over 4000 baht ($133). Migrant workers are unable to pay this charge and therefore unable to report to work. One migrant worker at a factory in Samut Sakhon, for example, said he had been asked to stop working without pay after being unable to afford a COVID-19 test and obtain a negative certificate to show his employer. "Even if I'm not working, I should at least receive half of my wages. I want the same rights as other workers", he made clear.

United Kingdom: War on Want reports that the collective action of garment workers from Next Manufacturing Ltd in Sri Lanka has resulted in Next agreeing today to pay their full bonus. 

Vietnam: Media reports that about 1.3 million people in Vietnam lost their jobs last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the General Statistics Office (GSO). The article further reports that, according to the same source, 32.1 million people reported having their jobs affected by COVID-19 as of December 2020:

  • Nearly 70% had their income lowered;
  • 40% had their working hours reduced;
  • About 14% were forced to temporarily suspend their work.

7 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the BGMEA has once again urged the government to extend the moratorium on the COVID-19 stimulus package by six months and the tenure of the loan by one year. "Without the moratorium of the salary stimulus package being extended by six months or the tenure of the loan being extended by at least one year (currently 24 months) the industry will collapse", Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, said in the letter. 

Media reports that the National Garment Workers' Federation (NGWF) has called for opening A-One BD Limited, while also demanding salaries and allowance of the 1100 workers, which have been without pay for a year. Workers demand that: 

  • The factory be reopened;
  • Actions be taken to prevent the factory owner from fleeing Bangladesh;
  • Arrangements for legal compensation and ensuring workers' jobs be made;
  • Payments of remaining of salaries and allowance be made.

Cambodia: Media reports that, according to the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation, 100 factories closed down in Cambodia due to "COVID-19 related factors", such as the lack of raw materials and lack of orders. According to the article, most of these factories produced garments. The article further reports that, according to the latest data from the General Department of Customs and Excise, Cambodia's exports in clothes, footwear and travel goods declined by 9% amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Media reports that 108 Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have tested positive for COVID-19. Also today, another article reports that two more migrant workers who returned to Cambodia from Thailand tested positive, bringing the cluster to 20 workers.

India: Cividep India reports that the COVID-19 crisis and the nationwide lockdown have had a devastating impact on workers in India's leather and footwear manufacturing industry, as many were unpaid during the lockdown period and thousands have since been laid-off or terminated. Indeed, a study conducted by Cividep India on the impact of the COVID-19 induced lockdown on leather sector workers in Tamil Nadu found that:

  • Over 50% of workers reported that they had no income during the period of intense lockdown (nearly three months). Almost all respondents reported a reduction in their household income during the lockdown period;
  • Around 50% of respondents reported having to resort to borrowing money, primarily for essentials such as food, groceries and medical care;
  • Many respondents reported that their eating habits had changed during the lockdown, with the majority being forced to forego essentials;
  • Most workers were not able to avail the "special withdrawal scheme" announced by the central government amidst the pandemic;
  • Many workers were laid-off after the lockdown period. None were served formal notices in writing;

Workers who were able to keep their jobs report a cut in wages and benefits. They report that, in the absence of transportation (which used to be arranged by the factory), commuting to work has become a challenge. In addition, the majority of employed workers reported a sharp fall in monthly wages, with more than half of workers being paid below the legal minimum wage.

Myanmar: Media reports that a study by IHS Markit has found that new orders for manufacturing in Myanmar further declined in December 2020. As a result, terminations in the sector have also increased. The article further reports a shortage of raw materials. It states that "decline in new orders and the labour force, coupled with a shortage in raw materials, led to a sharp increase in incomplete works, the fastest to be recorded since the survey began in December 2015."

United Kingdom: War on Want reports that whilst Next UK makes record-high profits amidst the pandemic, its 2350 workers from Next Manufacturing Ltd in Sri Lanka (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Next UK) are yet to be paid their full annual bonus. Following a walkout by hundreds of workers, management release 50% of the bonus pre-Christmas, but the factory is still holding back on paying workers the full amount. As made clear by the article, "many garment workers depend on this bonus to supplement their poverty wages – which are less than a third of the Sri Lankan living wage." Workers need this money to purchase essentials for them and their families and to pay off debts. "Annual bonuses are not just a little money for us", one garment workers from Next Manufacturing Ltd explained. 

6 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that about 43% of female garment workers in Bangladesh report not having enough food and therefore suffering from malnutrition. The article further reports that this is not exclusive to the garment sector. In response to these findings, the State Minister for Labour and Employment said that the government is "committed to facing this challenge". 

Cambodia: Media reports that the government of Cambodia has announced that it will continue to offer subsidies to the garment and textile industry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The article also reports, however, that there is still fear that these government subsidies may come late or be insufficient to pay workers' allowances. According to the Prime Minister, at least 44 garment and textile factories suspended operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting over 14,500 workers. The article reports that some of these factories are starting to reopen for production. 

Cambodia/Thailand: Media reports that 106 Cambodian migrant workers working in Thailand have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, one more migrant worker who returned to Cambodia tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 18 workers. In Thailand, media reports that 365 more people tested positive for COVID-19 today, 99 of whom are migrant workers. 

Gulf: Migrant Rights reports that migrant workers who returned from the Gulf face uncertainty as there are little to no job offers now and those hiring offer low salaries compared to previous years. "I looked for new jobs in the Gulf. I got a few too. But the salary offered is US$400, which is around a 35% decrease compared to what I was getting earlier. With that, it is difficult to save anything", Anish, a migrant worker from India, explained. The article further reports that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have put tens of thousands of migrant workers in a dire situation. With no social security or unemployment benefits, an increase in wage and benefits theft, workers are getting into more debt in order to survive.

Malaysia: Media reports that a raid on Brightway Holdings, a glove-making factory in Kajang district, found hundreds of workers living in cramped, dirty metal shipping containers stacked behind the premises. 

Myanmar: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that Mark's Work Wearhouse, Lidl and s.Oliver, who all sourced from the Young Clothing garment factory before it closed in September said they had investigated reports that over 1000 workers were yet to receive severance pay and wages and confirmed that most workers had been paid by 18 December 2020. Mark's Work Wearhouse confirmed that as of 31 December 1171 workers had been paid in full, while 65 workers were still in negotiation with the factory's human resources. 

Singapore: Media reports that a Bangladeshi migrant worker is suing his ex-employer and dormitory operator in Singapore, accusing them of "false imprisonment" after he was locked in a room with 20 other migrant workers for almost two full days after one of the workers developed COVID-19 symptoms.

South Africa: Media reports the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South African Federation of Trade Union (SAFTU) fear that workers will be more exposed to coronavirus infections when returning to work amidst the COVID-19 second wave. The article further reports that South Africa's unemployment rate is currently standing at over 30%, with 6 million people losing their jobs in 2020 alone, and warns that, amidst the second wave, more people could lose their jobs. 

United Kingdom: Media reports that Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Britain's investigative agency for labour exploitation, which recently probed 172 facilities, is "working through a list" of factories in the UK to uncover health and safety violations, such as lack of COVID-19 preventive measures. In its most recent investigation, GLAA reports having uncovered evidence that factory owners are shuttering their businesses only to reopen them under different names. GLAA said that, while it hasn't closed any of the factories it inspected, some owners may face criminal charges.

5 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's export earnings fell by nearly 15% in 2020, according to Export Promotion Bureau data. The article reads that the decline is mostly due to lower shipment of garment products amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In the garment sector, export earnings in the second half (July-December) of 2020 were almost "back on track" but the COVID-19 second wave has "caused more woes to the exporters." Overall, garment exports unprecedentedly declined by nearly 17% in 2020. Exporters fear that the downward trend in export could continue until April this year. 

Cambodia: Media reports that a total of 6465 migrant workers have so far returned to Cambodia from Thailand over the past two weeks. Of these, about 130 workers have now returned to their homes after undergoing mandatory quarantine upon arrival.

India: Media reports that, according to the Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, India's factory sector registered rising demand in December. Despite this growth, the article reports that manufacturers continued to cut jobs.

Myanmar: Media reports that Hong Yun, a garment factory in Yangon, Myanmar, has paid its 300 workers' due wages and compensation, following the factory's permanent closure on 29 December. While the factory owner says that the factory closed due to cancelled orders, workers said that the employer wanted to start a new factory under a new name with new workers.

Media reports that the Myanmar labour attaché has urged Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand not to travel home following the COVID-19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon province. The article further reports that, according to the Aid Alliance Committee, a migrant workers' aid group in Thailand, Myanmar migrant workers are being charged 4500 baht (US$150) for a virus-free certificate, which they need in order to be able to return to work. Due to this measure,"[p]eople are losing their jobs and have to depend on donations for food", Ko Ye Min, the group's spokesperson, explained. 

Philippines: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reports that workers from the First Glory garment factory, which supplies J.Crew, are currently striking over their employer's refusal to reinstate 300 fired workers, including the union's president and all its officers. As previously reported on the live-blog, the factory initially pointed to losses caused by the J.Crew's bankruptcy as the reason for dismissals. J.Crew intervened but First Glory says it will still not reinstate fired workers.

Thailand: Media reports that 527 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in Thailand today, most of whom are migrant workers who were already in isolation. 

United Kingdom: Labour Behind the Label (LBL) participated in an online conversation organised by Fashion Roundtable about how COVID-19 has hit the garment industry. It can be accessed here.

4 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that unions in Bangladesh report that workers are doing much less overtime due to lack of work orders. The consequent reduction in additional income is making it harder for workers to make ends meet. The article further reports that Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) described the BKMEA's request to suspend the 5% annual increment of garment workers' wages as "illogical, unacceptable, illegal and shameful". Labour leaders warned that "tough movements" will take place if any such increment suspension is implemented.

Media reports that the central bank has once again extended the deadline for banks to disburse stimulus funds to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The deadline has been extended by three months. In the meantime, many SMEs across the country continue to struggle amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reports that a new study has found that mere months after Bangladesh's garment industry embraced digital wage payments for workers amidst the COVID-19 first wave, garment factories are backsliding to cash payouts. Presented with these results, Microfinance Opportunities and SANEM, who conducted the study, asked the question: "why are factories sliding back to cash?" They say that they need "to do more work on this", but present as a possible explanation that many factories never fully abandoned cash, simply adding digital payments to their cash processes. Their study found that many workers reported receiving some payments in cash and others digitally. "This was especially the case in July when many workers received their regular salaries digitally but other Eid-related payments in cash", the study reads. 

Cambodia: Media reports that over 3400 migrant workers have returned to Cambodia in the past week, following the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand. The article further reports that another returnee has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cluster to 17 returnee migrant workers. As previously reported on the live-blog, all workers have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

India: Media reports that a study by the Alternative Law Forum which examines the time leading up to a Karnataka garment factory's sudden closure in May 2020 suggests that a period of inaction from Karnataka's authorities enabled the factory owner to underpay staff and sidestep affording compensation. 

Mexico: Media reports that concerns remain regarding Mexico's labour law reforms, as a report finds that many of the changes that promised to improve workers' lives, in terms of union democracy, freedom of association and collective bargaining, are yet to be implemented. "Most unionised workers are not yet able to democratically elect their leaders or ratify their collective bargaining agreements. The system of protection contracts, sustained by employer payments to union leaders, remains intact at this time. COVID-19 has caused thousands of deaths and millions of job losses. Workers who attempt to challenge these conditions by demanding union democracy, higher wages, or even protective equipment have been fired, jailed and – in too many cases – murdered", the report, issued by the Independent Mexico Labor Expert Board, reads.

Myanmar: Media reports that the World Bank said in its December 2020 Myanmar Economic Monitor that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic response had hit the "poorest and most vulnerable" hardest, and that poor and vulnerable households are being forced to turn to loans and cutting back on food spending to get by. The article further reports that hundreds of thousands of poor and vulnerable families missed out on the government's November COVID-19 cash handouts despite being in financial straits. In response to people's complaints, the government announced that those who are eligible for a cash handout but missed out in November could apply for one until 7 December. Despite promising a speedy resolution, all those who applied are still waiting and officials say additional cash distributions for those who missed out in November could still be months away. 

Thailand: Media reports that 470 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Thailand's Samut Sakhon province earlier today. Once again, most cases (390) are migrant workers. Media reports that migrant workers from Myanmar continue to be blamed for the re-emergence of COVID-19 in Thailand. Meanwhile, rights activists continue to stress that there is no concrete evidence that migrant workers were "responsible" for triggering the second wave of infections. Rather, they made clear, the fact that a large number of migrant workers have been infected could be the result of cramped living conditions in often unsanitary circumstances.

3 January 2021

Bangladesh: Sommoilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF) sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour and Employment urging the government to ensure that the 5% yearly increment on garment workers’ wages is maintained. This letter is sent following the BKMEA’s request to suspend the rise for two years. In their statement, SGSF further reports that wage cuts, dismissals, layoffs, forced resignations, discriminatory dismissals are still taking place in Bangladesh’s garment sector. Indeed, media reports that Bangladesh's garment exporters and workers are still facing uncertainties and anxieties amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to livelihood uncertainties amidst the pandemic, workers faced high risks of infection as the health safety measures were not adequate in the factories to prevent COVID-19. The article further reports that, while BGMEA estimates that 76,000 garment workers lost their jobs amidst the pandemic, with nearly 40% having been reinstated in recent months, labour leaders place the figure at over 100,000 garment workers. In addition, thousands of workers (who kept their jobs) suffered wage cuts. According to the president of the Bangladesh Garment Industry Workers Federation (BGIWF), many workers are suffering from physical and mental health issues due to the additional pressure of work at factories amidst the pandemic. He reports that while the government provided health guidelines for garment factories, many failed to comply.

Cambodia: Media reports that two more migrant workers who recently returned to Cambodia following the COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand tested positive for COVID-19 earlier today. Following the new cases, the cluster has been brought to 16 workers. 

Thailand: Media reports that 541 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in Thailand's Samut Sakhon province earlier today. Most cases (448) are migrant workers.

2 January 2021

Bangladesh: New Age has published an interview with Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA. Here, Huq made clear that global brands and retailers adopted an "unfriendly approach" towards garment suppliers in Bangladesh amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, severely impacting the sector and its workers. "Western buyers have apparently shown their real faces amid the COVID-19 spread. Faced with economic uncertainty, they basically tried to shift the burden to us", she said. Expressing fear over the impact of the COVID-19 second wave, Huq said that the garment sector posted nearly 18% negative growth this year, mainly driven by order cancellations, deferrals, discounts and lack of new orders. "The challenges that we face today are the uncertainties regarding the placement of orders by the buyers, (...) the bankruptcies of brands and lack of protection at our end and the deferred payments and discounts", she said. Also in this interview, the BGMEA president once again called for a fresh stimulus package from the government to pay workers' wages for four more months. "At this point of time, we would need a fresh wage support package for four months starting from January 2021 at 2% service charge with a payback period of 60 months and a moratorium of 12 months", she said. The article further reports that, as per the BGMEA, 317 of its 2282 member-factories have closed amidst the pandemic.

India: Media reports that monthly wages in India's manufacturing sector have actually increased by around 8% due to labour shortage. In addition, the article reports that a slight increase in additional benefits, like transportation, food and accommodation can be seen. These benefits, however, are being provided by employers informally (non-contractually) or through short-term contracts – indicating that these are likely temporary changes.

Myanmar: Media reports that government authorities report that, since January 2020, 29 factories in Yangon temporarily closed, 70 permanently closed and 170 laid-off workers, leaving over 65,000 workers unemployed. Most of them are garment factories. Government authorities said that labour cards would be issued to the laid-off workers so they could be prioritized if other factories need new employees. 

Media reports that Hong Yun (Myanmar) Garment Factory in Shwe Pyi Thar, Yangon, shut down on 29 December 2020 due to lack of orders. While the factory owner has signed the agreement to pay wages and compensation as per the law, workers are worried that the owner may flee before doing so, as has happened in other factories. In order to make sure this does not happen, workers are watching the factory day and night and "keeping a watchful eye on him." According to the article, the owner should pay workers their dues by 5 January. One of the workers expressed that they have been severely impacted by the closure, as it is difficult to find new jobs amidst the pandemic. The article further reports that another factory, MP Garment Factory, in Hlinethaya Township, closed down on 24 December 2020, citing COVID-19 impact and "inadequate order" as the reasons for closure. 

Media reports that U Aung Kyaw, co-founder of the Bangkok-based Migrant Workers Rights Network, reports that discrimination towards Myanmar migrants in Thailand has started to decline. "After the Thai PM put the blame on us, Thai people started to bar us and refuse to sell us food", U Aung Kyaw reported in an interview. Following campaigns and actions against this sort of discrimination, however, discriminatory actions started to decline.

1 January 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that garment exporters in Bangladesh hope that the sector will start to recover from June 2021, after vaccines come into effect. They also warned, however, that the recovery would likely be slow - particularly for small and medium enterprises, which have been disproportionately affected and received little to no financial assistance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Also in this article, exporters made clear that the COVID-19 second wave has hit the sector, with the president of the Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh reporting that orders for next season decreased by 30% in the leather sector.

Cambodia: Media reports that the Ministry of Health announced 12 new cases of COVID-19 among Cambodian migrant workers who returned from Thailand following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Media reports that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has approved for a new garment factory to be built in Sangkat Svay Rolum, Takhmao town. The factory, owned by Jiayuan Hengrun International Textile Co. Ltd., is expected to create a total of 1929 jobs in the area. 

Ethiopia: Oh So Ethical has updated the Call to Action targeting The Children's Place after a recent article on COVID-19 and garment workers in Ethiopia exposed inaccuracies in the brand's statements. While the brand insisted that it has been working with suppliers in Ethiopia to pay for all orders, the article shows that very little has changed for garment workers, who are still struggling - facing forced overtime and wage cuts, while enduring the constant fear of catching COVID-19 in unsafe workplaces. 

Myanmar: Media reports that an announcement lifting restrictions on three Yangon townships (Seikgyikanaungto, Twante and Kungyangon) has caused widespread confusion, with many instead thinking much of the city was no longer under stay-at-home orders. After a few days of confusing statements, it seems that only the above-cited townships have been released from stay-at-home orders.

Philippines: Partido Manggagawa (PM) reports that employers have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny workers their rights and benefits. They also make clear, however, that workers are fighting back. As previously reported on the live-blog, the First Glory labour union has voted to go on strike to demand the reinstatement of 300 unfairly dismissed workers. PM further reports that workers in four big garment factories in the Mactan Economic Zone have organised into unions as a result of recent grievances over lack of aid amidst the pandemic and long-running issues over wages and benefits. Certifications elections are due to be held soon.

published 2021-01-17