March 2021 Covid blog

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.

31 March

Bangladesh: Media reports that amid the recent surge in COVID-19 infection cases, the country’s readymade garment factories will run their operations as usual but the units will have to follow the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association’s health safety protocol strictly. 

Media reports that due to the rising COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh, local brands and retailers are expecting adverse impacts on their business, after having pinned expectations on Eid and Pahela Baishakh to cover last year’s loses.

Media reports that Bangladesh’s central bank, the Bangladesh Bank, has identified 13 sectors of the economy, including the readymade garment and textiles, which have been severely impacted by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Malaysia: Media reports that Top Glove, the world’s largest manufacturer of rubber gloves, has been banned from exporting its products from Malaysia to the United States after the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) made a finding that its products are made using forced and indentured labour. 

Thailand: Media reports that the manufacturing production index (MPI) for February was down 1.08% from a year earlier. Garment manufacturing decreased by 33.32% year-on-year after overseas buyers delayed new orders.

Following the dismissal of over 100 garment workers from the Royal Knitting factory without notice in April 2020, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre have received responses from the brands supplying from the factory, Otto Group and Peter Hahn. They claim their relationships ended with Royal Knitting in 2017.

USA: Media reports that despite garment workers in LA continuing to work on the frontlines in close quarters during the pandemic, they are not considered  essential workers and therefore won’t be eligible for the vaccine until April 15, when eligibility opens for everyone. 

30 March

Bangladesh: Media reports that the pandemic has left migrant workers in Bangladesh struggling to find work when they return to their village or  to Bangladesh, and many have found themselves in debt as a result. Fatima Khatun, a former junior garment worker, who lost her job had to return to her home village and found work packing crabs for export, however due to low exports, she was laid off again. Fatima and her family have had to cut down on food to survive. "We don't have enough money. Now we eat meat just once a month. We rarely buy fish and mostly rely on vegetables," 

Cambodia: Media reports that Cambodian exports of industrial products, including garment products, were worth $6.37 billion in 2020, a year-on-year decrease of 43%. Exports of garments, footwear and travel goods reached only $3 billion, a massive decrease from the $9.32 billion exported in the category recorded in 2019. The huge drop was said to be due to a decrease in orders attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cambodia/Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam-Cambodia trade was up 64% in the past 2 months. Vietnam exported $728.4 million worth of goods including garment-textiles to Cambodia in two months, a rise of 8.6%. Meanwhile, Cambodia's imports totalled more than $603 million, up 335%. 

India: Media reports on the work NGOs and unions have been doing to support garment workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. They believe that despite their efforts, it is not enough to support unemployed workers, and that a joint effort of trade bodies, ministries and NGOs must come together on one platform with a common goal.

Media reports that women in the informal sector, including stay-at-home garment embroiderers,  face double insecurity and gender bias – their income tends to be low and fluctuating, they do not have the bargaining power to seek better terms or working conditions, and they have low social status. During the lockdown, older women in the informal sector were laid off first or their terms of employment watered down. Many companies did not pay their workers, leaving them in distress without savings, food, shelter or any kind of organised support system. This was despite a government advisory issued in March 2020 asking firms to not deduct salaries or lay off employees. The government later backtracked on this. According to a study in the National Capital Region and Tamil Nadu for the June 2020 report 'Garment Workers in India's Lockdown', nearly 82% of garment workers could eat just two or fewer meals per day in this crisis.

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnamese textile-garment exports contracted by 10.5% last year due to the pandemic, raking in $35 billion, in contrast to regional rivals that endured a decline of 15-20%. The sector is poised to fully recover from the crisis in the third quarter of 2022 at the earliest possible time.

Media reports that despite the COVID-19 outbreak, export value in the first three months of 2021 increased to $77.34bn, and GDP grew 4.48% in the first quarter, higher than 3.68% in the same period last year. The main growth driver of the economy in the first quarter was the processing and manufacturing industry, which grew 9.45%. 

29 March

Bangladesh: Media reports that last week, garment workers blocked a highway demanding arrears from ODYSSEY garment factory supplying OVS in Dhaka. Workers said the ODYSSEY garment factory authorities have been holding back two months of salary for the past six months. At present, the salary for the month of February has not yet been paid. Thousands of workers from the factory took a stand in front of the factory, and after nearly an hour of highway blockade, the police brought water cannons and dispersed the workers from the highway. Earlier, on 8 March, the workers observed a morning-to-evening shutdown demanding outstanding salaries and blocked four administrative officers in the room. Furthermore, prior to this, after trying to block a road with the same demand, a woman worker was beaten and injured by outsiders.

China: Media reports that China's textile exports grew by nearly 30% in 2020, despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thailand: Media reports that authorities have ordered Thai lingerie manufacturer Brilliant Alliance Thai Global, supplying brands including Victoria's Secret and Triumph, to compensate more than 1,200 workers who were dismissed without severance pay and wages owed to them when the factory shut down.

Turkey: Workers from Yasin Kaplan Carpets who were fired with Code 29 have been resisting for 45 days, and will file criminal charges against the factory, for their dismissal and for preventing the workers from finding employment. The pressure on union workers within the factory continued while the resistance was going on. 

USA: Media reports that the Biden Administration has awarded two contracts to Parkdale Mills and Ferrara Manufacturing Inc., both members of the National Council of Textile Organizations— to make face masks for community health centres, food pantries and soup kitchens across the country.

28 March

Bangladesh: Media reports that according to an analysis of 610 factories in Bangladesh, 357,000 out of 4.1 million garment employees have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The analysis also confirmed that almost all factories had no financial means to support themselves during the pandemic. Furthermore, the standard number of employees per manufacturing unit dropped from 886 to 790.

Media reports that Bangladesh has reached record growth in its PPE export earnings, manufacturing protection gear including surgical masks, face masks, gloves and medical gowns. For example, exports of masks increased by 63% from March to July 2020. 

Media reports that international buyers are following a 'go-slow' policy in placing orders with apparel suppliers in Bangladesh because of fresh lockdowns and stricter restrictions in key markets amid a rise in COVID-19 infections and piling up of unsold goods amid depressed sales. Local garment suppliers said they were receiving 20% fewer work orders for the next season beginning from June. The fewer order placements are taking place mainly in small and medium enterprises as they have less production capacity and weak financial strength, and a few trade partners or buyers abroad. Moreover, the demand for deferred payment is still as severe as it was in the initial months of COVID-19 in 2020.

Media reports that the World Bank  approved $250 million to help Bangladesh effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic for a faster recovery and stronger resilience to future crises. This financing will support the government in its efforts to protect the earnings of workers affected by the COVID-19 crisis and enable firms to continue paying their workers' wages.

Media reports that a study has found Bangladesh’s s readymade garment factories faced difficulties in performing a number of crucial activities due to lack of sustainability management tools during the COVID-19 outbreak. The report said that 27% of surveyed factories needed to reallocate resources from existing sustainability practices to fight against COVID-19 which resulted in an inability to carry out security awareness training on a regular basis, adjust salaries and compensations, undertake capacity development trainings and maintain regular operations of production process. An associated study highlights 6% of local garment factories have adopted new business models or innovative plans to incorporate sustainability in a post-pandemic recovery. Experiencing the worst of times in the Covid-19's fallouts prompted them to improve efficiency, reduce cost of production and business management and attain more sustainable supply chains.

27 March 

Cambodia: Media reports that Oxfam has welcomed Cambodia’s decision to prioritise front line economic actors who are most vulnerable during the pandemic, including garment workers, to receive the vaccination. “This prioritisation will not only demonstrate the RGC’s commitment to equitable distribution of vaccines but also in keeping the economy running under this challenging circumstance,” Oxfam said.

India: Media reports that migrant workers who have returned to their places of employment after going back to their villages during lockdown last year are unable to find jobs, and as a result struggling to make ends meet, pay rent, buy food, and send their children to school. One worker said: "Look at my phone. How am I supposed to get a smartphone with an internet connection when I can barely able to afford food for my family? And even if I get a smartphone, which child gets to study using it? It seems like all problems of the world conspired to hit us all at once," In addition, there is also a reported gender divide when it comes to lobbying and organising jobs for migrant labourers, resulting in migrant worker women being left behind.

Media reports that a national survey documenting the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on rural India found that at least 23% of migrant workers returned home walking during the lockdown, 18% by bus and 12% by train. While on their way home from the cities, 12% were reportedly beaten by the police. In addition, about 40% of the workforce faced food scarcity during the journey back home, and, while stranded in cities, migrant workers and their families had to skip meals due to lack of money. Over 40% reportedly had to skip one meal a day, as they did not have money to arrange for food. 

26 March

Bangladesh: Media reports that garment workers employed at Anowara Fashions Ltd & Legacy Fashion Ltd, supplying ASDA, staged a protest demanding arrears. Around 3500 workers were employed at the factory and had not received their salary since February. When workers started demonstrating, the police charged at them with sticks, and fired rubber bullets and tear shells. According to the workers, at least 8 workers were injured. The police say that the factory authorities started paying the arrears to the workers in the evening.

Cambodia: Media reports that the government has extended its financial support programmes to aid the garment and footwear sector and poor people for another three months. The extension covers the period of April through June 2021. This is the eighth round of support from the government to the private and public sectors in response to the severe impact of COVID-19.

India: Media reports that the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown-induced economic distress deepened a structural problem that India’s labour market was already witnessing — participation of women in the workforce. According to a study, 49% of the total job losses by November 2020 were of women, and interviews with women workers, employers, experts and officials show three key reasons for working women to face the bigger brunt of the pandemic distress as compared to men. 1) Sectors that employ more women than men, such as textiles, got hit the hardest 2) When schools shut, many women workers, once they lost their jobs, quickly  adopted a full-time role as caregivers 3) Lack of transport - In the initial months after the easing of the lockdown, many factories and companies did not provide transport for women – this was a stronger deterrent for women than men. The article includes the experience of a woman who had been dismissed after Gokaldas Exports shut, which led to months of protest and the reinstatement of workers. It also includes Munni Devi, who worked at Welspun Polybuttons Pvt Ltd before she along with 200 others were laid off.

Media reports that a year after lockdown was announced, around 250 warehouses in Noida that once were factories for garment exporters are still looking for tenants. With workers leaving for their hometowns and international orders drying up, it is difficult covering even the minimum costs in what was known as the ‘City of Apparel’.

USA: Media reports that the US textile industry is seeing steady growth in the manufacturing sector, after the pandemic led to manufacturing output falling in the first five months of 2020. While output was down for all of 2020 versus 2019, the last several months of 2020 saw an upward trend as shipments gradually recovered from a low in April. US exports were also down last year compared to 2019.

25 March

Global: Media reports on the accounts of five garment workers’ from Los Angeles, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Cambodia, addressing how cancelled orders and factory closures during the pandemic have impacted them. A worker from Bangladesh explained: “I didn’t get my full severance pay and had to take out a loan of 40,000 taka [about $472]. We were renting a house before, but we’ve had to move as we could no longer afford the rent. We can pay for basic food, but don’t have meat with our meals any more, and we can’t afford the medicine we need.”

Asia: An interview with Anannya Bhattacharjee of Asia Floor Wage Alliance addresses the work AFWA is doing to campaign for collective industrial bargaining in the global garment industry, and the impact COVID-19 has had on garment workers. “Many workers, and their families, are on the verge of starvation and homelessness as they have suddenly been left with no income, debt, and no social support. Healthcare or paying school fees for their children are luxuries when there is no money for food or rent. Many women workers find themselves at a loss to provide for their dependents and have had to consider other avenues of income, such as sex work. Migrant workers face the additional hardship of not knowing whether to stay and wait for reemployment, or return home and face the unemployment and hunger which made them migrate in the first place.”

India: Media reports that local garment manufacturers in Ludhiana are expecting good gains during the summer season, as a result of the reduction in imports from China and Vietnam, caused by the pandemic. The local garment manufacturers believe that if this continues for some more time, the local garment industry will benefit hugely and buyers will start reposing confidence in ‘Make in India’ products.

Swaziland: Media reports that 200 employees at the Great Spring Textile were sent home for not meeting the employer’s target, resulting in tension among other employees who demanded their re-instatement with immediate effect. One of the employees at the textile factory said that they subsequently engaged on a strike action following the suspension of their colleagues, who were later re-instated. “The management sent them home yesterday for failing to meet their daily score (target)...When they came back this morning, the boss denied them access cards and that’s when we decided to down our tools and fight for them. The other problem is that we are not given equal targets.  The boss drove us out of the factory and sought audience with the suspended workers, he scolded and ordered them back to work. We understand that the management is trying to frustrate long service employees so that they could quit their jobs, in that way the company would save a lot of money in terms of terminal benefits.”

Turkey: Media reports that factories Öztek Tekstil and ST Clothing threatened about 600 workers who started organizing with the TEKSİf union and said, "If you become a member of the union, I will close the business". Ersin Celik, General Organization and Education Secretary of TEKSİf Union, said, "Our struggle will continue both on the ground and on the legal level." It is reported that one of the factories is manufacturing for Zara and other Inditex brands, and the other is producing for the defence industry. 

UK: Media reports that Boohoo has published a full list of the UK clothing manufacturers it works with, after severing ties with hundreds of companies following a damning review last year of its supply chain during the pandemic. The group now works with 78 UK suppliers after the review by Alison Levitt QC found the fast fashion retailer had been working with up to 500 UK suppliers when subcontractors were included. Dominique Muller from Labour Behind the Label said: “It seems as though Boohoo has held off publishing this list until every factory is squeaky clean, but it doesn’t excuse past behaviour. We want Boohoo to ensure it is part of a collaborative approach to improve conditions in Leicester as whatever it does will impact other brands.”

Vietnam: Media reports that 35% of businesses in Vietnam had to terminate employees after being hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The textile and garment was the sector with the highest number of companies reporting negative impact, at 97%. 

Media reports that according to the Binh Duong Provincial Confederation of Labour, the first quarter of 2021 saw 10 collective labour disputes and strikes with nearly 3,400 participants. This is an increase of 3 cases and nearly 1,000 people over the same period in 2020.Cases of labour disputes or strikes were caused by their company salaries and unpaid benefits.

24 March 

Bangladesh: Media reports that international retailers and brands are again demanding unusual deferral payment from local apparel suppliers, the second time in a year, saying sales have dropped after Western nations reimposed lockdowns and tougher restrictions because of a surge in coronavirus infections. In most cases, the bills are settled between 30 days and 60 days. Last year, buyers demanded the abnormal deferral of the payment because of the disruptions in the global supply chain due to the pandemic, seeking deferral payments for 120 to 220 days. While this improved in recent months, over the last one month, buyers have been demanding 120 days to 150 days as the payment period. This is despite the fact that arrears from last year have not been cleared yet. For example, one factory owner did not get $1.4 million from JC Penney yet as the company was sold out." The management of the new company said it would pay the arrears after the settlement of the transfer of the ownership,". Meanwhile it is still uncertain whether Debenhams will complete payments to 47 suppliers, although both management of Debenhams and suppliers have settled the payment issue at 5 per cent to 25 per cent discount. After the discount, Debenhams owes $25 million to local suppliers. Small and medium enterprises are the worst sufferers of the unusual delay in payment and the non-payment of arrears. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the  Prime Minister of Cambodia has decided to provide additional funds to 11 provinces to assist Cambodian migrant workers returning home. About 11,000 migrant workers have been being quarantined in the 11 provinces.

India: Media reports that Telangana has sanctioned ₹338 crore for the welfare of handloom weavers. According to the state finance minster T Harish Rao, loans of handloom weavers have been waived, cotton and chemicals required for weaving are provided at half rates by the government, and the government has placed orders sarees and school uniforms.  The state government has also reportedly released ₹96.43 crore under the Cheyutha Scheme to the weavers, allowing handloom workers to save 8% from their income and government adds an additional 8% to the same. 

Media reports that members of Citizens Committee and Forum For Protection of Adolescent and Women Workers in Tamil Nadu have placed a charter of demands on behalf of workers in garment units functioning in Tirupur district before the candidates of major political parties in the district. The members requested the candidates raise their voices for their demands in the assembly if voted to power.

Media reports that migrant workers who returned home during the lockdown last year have received salary cuts, to reimburse the travel costs of employers bringing workers back to work. A garment worker who returned to work at a factory in Mumbai had to repay the full amount, ₹4,800, spent on him to return to work. “They [employers] have taken what we owed. If we did not work, then we would not have jobs... how would I then have fed my parents.” Jharkhand’s labour commissioner, Muthu Kumar, said the deductions amounted to a violation of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936. “We will write to all those employers for immediate action. It is inhuman that people were doing this during the lockdown. We see a clear violation of laws.”

Sri Lanka: Global Labor Justice reports that six Sri Lankan unions and workers’ organizations are challenging the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s due diligence and labor rights components of their economic and social action plan for a $50 million loan to Brandix Lanka LTD, which is proposed for approval this month. The unions and workers' organisations report that the IFC’s mandatory public disclosures fail to address that Brandix Lanka LTD owns and operates a factory where a sweeping industrial COVID-19 outbreak occurred in October 2020,  and submitted reports showing that Brandix failed to follow COVID-19 guidelines. They urge the IFC to delay its vote on the Brandix loan and a revision of the Environmental & Social Action Plan for the loan to include ensure workplace health and safety and freedom of association in compliance with the IFC’s Performance Standard 2.

Labour rights advocates published a brief on the situation of the Sri Lankan garment industry during the pandemic, which reveals that apparel brands, retailers, and manufacturers have continued to take in huge profits while cutting costs at the expense of workers' health, employment security, and income. The organisations behind the brief are urging brands and employers in the Sri Lankan garment sector to start a national dialogue with unions to ensure workers’ rights, wages and health are safeguarded.

23 March 

Asia: AFWA has created a one year series on Twitter, reflecting on the conditions of garment workers one year since the largest garment-producing countries - including IndiaCambodia and Sri Lanka – witnessed complete or partial lockdowns, causing severe challenges to their livelihoods.  AFWA highlight that one year later, workers still suffer from unfair labour practices, including wage theft, illegal termination of workers, non-payment of gratuity, mass retrenchments and gender-based violence.

Bangladesh: Media reports that at least 30 of the approx. 500 workers dismissed from Dragon Sweater factory in March have filed a case with the labour court.  One Dragon Sweater worker explained that the workers were fired under the pretext of COVID-19, and that they didn't get their fair dues according to the law, despite the factory signing a tripartite agreement committing to paying workers. "There was therefore no other solution but to go to the labour court". So far 28-30 cases have been filed against the owner, with more cases in the process. In total, there are about 70 cases against the factory, and many old cases have yet to be settled yet. Due to COVID-19, the owner is able to delay the cases, so it is difficult to say when the proceedings of these cases will end. 

Media reports that under the Social Protection Programme for Unemployed and Distressed Workers in Export Oriented RMG, Leather Goods and Footwear Industries, the Ministry of Labour and Employment have started providing protection allowances to the workers affected by the pandemic in December 2020. Of the list consisting of almost 20,000 workers, only 6,032 could be verified as the rest of the NID numbers were invalid. Consequently, around 6,032 workers so far have received the protection allowance of Taka 52,500,000 in three phases in the month of September, October and November of 2020 while a list of around 5,000 workers is pending, which, reportedly, needs to be updated by the factory owners, the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and the BGMEA. Due to the  significant number of workers being laid off initially, the factory owners are having a hard time to find information about them as a result of which the ministry is not able to proceed without the updated information.

Media reports that the Bangladesh Bank has allowed joint venture apparel exporting companies operating in the country’s export processing zones to take loans from the BB’s export development fund, to help entities offset the financial crisis induced by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Media reports that Mostafiz Uddin, the owner and CEO of Denim Export Limite,d has written letters to heads of governments in the Western world, to highlight the suffering the apparel industry in Bangladesh is facing as a result of store closures. In a letter to Angela Merkel, he pointed out that Germany, the second-largest export destination of Bangladesh garments, is a strong source for the well-being of the four million workers employed in the apparel industry in Bangladesh. “As the stores are closed, the German brands and retailers themselves are struggling to survive. But on their very survival and smooth business hinges the lives and livelihoods of millions of apparel workers in developing countries like Bangladesh. Therefore, I would earnestly request you to consider opening the retail stores in Germany,” the letter stated. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) has called for the vaccination of garment workers, as the government prioritised them in the list of people to be vaccinated against the COVID-19. In a letter, the MoLVT asked the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) to work with garment factories to make a list of medical staff  to get trained for COVID-19 vaccination work. “To protect the health of garment workers and employees as well as for the benefit of factories from the COVID-19 infection, the Royal Government will conduct a COVID-19 vaccination campaign for free of charge to garment workers and employees in the near future,” read the letter. 

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, workers at the Esquel Koggala plant started a campaign demanding their bonus, and the withdrawal of the suspension of 40 employees who allegedly engaged in on-floor actions. The management verbally promised to withdraw the suspension of 40 employees, however, when workers tried to come to work today, there was no transport provided, they found the factory closed, and some employees received WhatsApp messages that the factory has been closed until further notice. Today when the workers went to the BOI office they were informed the company has been given a 14-day holiday.

According to reports from the CCC network, workers at Star Garment who rallied in demand of their unpaid wages during the #PayYourWorkers week of action, together with Sri Lankan workers from other factories, have announced that the factory has now decided to pay the arrears payments they did not receive on March, April and March 2020.

Star Garments payyourworkers

USA: Media reports that last week, garment workers in Los Angeles gathered in honour of colleagues who have died of COVID-19, and called for better sanitary conditions at factories and minimum wage. The Los Angeles Sewing Workers Center has lost two members, Maria Elena is one of them – the mother of two adult children – who died after contracting the coronavirus.

22 March

Bangladesh: Media reports that despite expectations that the lockdown situation in European countries would improve by March, in many cases, lockdowns have been extended, disappointing factory owners who have received no new orders. The Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) recently published a research report showing that in the last 6 months, more than 350000 garment workers have lost their jobs. A survey of 700 factories also found that in the last 7 months, 8% of garment factories have closed, while 30% of garment workers could not pay the salary allowance.

Media reports that the Bangladesh Bank has announced the readymade garment sector needs to be supported in the long run to recover from the losses induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. It recommends that the number of export destination countries be increased besides expanding the size and tenure of ongoing stimulus packages, and observes that the current situation can be overcome by ensuring a safe working environment and product diversification. It is believed that the incentive packages being implemented and the vaccination drives launched in various countries around the world will soon bring about a positive change.

Canada: a new report released by the Steelworkers Humanity Fund establishes for the first time a clear connection between Canadian retailers and specific garment factories in Bangladesh that trap workers – primarily women – in lives of poverty and never-ending struggle. The report calls on Canadian retailers and brands to commit to a living wage for garment workers and contribute to a severance guarantee fund to support garment workers affected by pandemic-related factory closures. “When I see the children’s faces when I serve them the food, my heart breaks. I am working as hard as I can, but what’s the point if I can’t even feed them properly?” said a woman working at YoungOne (CEPZ) Ltd., a factory supplying Lululemon. 

India: Media reports that a new documentary chronicles the journey of India's millions of migrant workers as they walked, pedalled and hitchhiked home during the coronavirus lockdown. The film '1232 KMS' follows a group of seven men travelling home to their villages after losing their jobs, and highlights the hardship, discrimination and abuse they endured on the week-long journey. 

USA: Media reports that disruptions in Texas and the South West caused by the cold weather and the pandemic have caused congestion at several ports, disrupting supply chains. For example, Nike said its sales of shoes and sportswear were being affected by this congestion. 

21 March

Bangladesh: Media reports that increasing cotton prices globally have affected Bangladesh’s local yarn during the pandemic, with a rippling impact affecting clothes, especially knitwear shipments.

Media reports that between January and November 2020, Bangladesh exported face masks worth $95.9 million. Bangladesh exported masks worth nearly $40 million to the USA (mostly surgical and KN95 masks), which, reportedly, accounted for over 41% of the total shipment, while Canada imported Bangladeshi masks worth $7.7 million during the 11-month period. The United Kingdom, France and Poland also reportedly imported face masks from Bangladesh.

India: Media reports that a new report by the Garment and Textile Workers' Union and Alternative Law Forum (ALF) has documented the alarming figures of forced resignations in the Bengaluru garment industry in 2020. The report stated that 9 out of 25 garment factories have closed down, resulting in more than 5,600 workers losing their jobs during the pandemic. The other 16 factories surveyed also reported job cuts resulting in 11,000 more workers losing their jobs. This included units of Shahi Exports, Texport Creations, Shalini Creations, Supreme Overseas, among several others. The report documented how the factories were shut down stealthily and workers were asked to resign. Workers in 17 of the 25 factories surveyed said that they had been asked to resign due to losses suffered by their employer. The report said that 81% of the workers surveyed had resigned, while the rest were protesting the closure of the factory. 60% of the factories that closed down employed less than 100 workers, which meant that the factory owners did not have to apply for permission from the state government before closure. The report also highlighted how the job cuts had adversely affected the nutrition of the workers and their families, with some of them reporting that they had to cut down from three meals in a day to two meals.

Japan: Media reports that Japan recorded a year-on-year downfall in apparel imports in  January 2021.  The country imported garments worth 201.48 billion yen ($1.85 billion) in January 2021, as compared to 288.68 billion yen ($2.66 billion) in the same month of 2020.

20 March

Global: Media reports on the success of the #PayUp campaign, which secured $22 billion from brands who had initially refused to pay for cancelled orders at the outset of the pandemic, It was one of the most successful labour rights campaigns in the fashion industry in modern times. However, worry trends are arising from brands that are squeezing factories for lower costs and pushing them for faster turnaround. In addition, one year after the founding of PayUp, garment workers who are struggling for survival have yet to see any financial relief from brands, while many workers remain at risk of being infected with COVID-19. The report highlights that in Sri Lanka, more than half the nation’s total COVID-19 cases were traced back to a factory that manufactures clothing for Victoria’s Secret.

Bangladesh: Media reports that digital awareness among garment workers has increased manifold in the past year, as workers are now able to get paid through mobile banking.  In May 2020, 53% of women workers were able to cash out on their own. In September, this increased to 75%. During the Corona period, about 1200000 workers from 960 factories received salaries of Tk 3,600 crore directly in their accounts. Prior to the pandemic, the number of workers receiving their salaries and allowances digitally was just 400,000.

Media reports that A total of 1,042 readymade garment factories, which gave discounts up to 10 per cent on export value for buyers amid the COVID-19 outbreak, need to get approval by March 31 from the Bangladesh Bank’s discount committee for non-repatriation of the proceeds. Sector people said that the total amount of such discounts given from December 12, 2019 to February 28, 2021 would be around $0.5 million. Exporters have to show cause of non-repatriation of export proceeds after 120 days of shipment of products. 

19 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh's apparel exports declined by 5.71% year-on-year in February 2021 year-on-year. This is the 5th consecutive month where Bangladesh has reported a negative year-on-year export value. Bangladesh's apparel exports amounted to $ 2.62 billion, compared to $2.78 billion in February 2020. A fall in export values was also recorded on a month-on-month basis, falling by 8.39%.

Media reports that local weavers are concerned the recent rise in COVID-19 cases could induce another lockdown, jeopardizing their efforts to make up for last year's losses following the first lockdown. After losing work and many weaver falling into debt, many skilled weavers are leaving the profession for other occupations. However, loom owners and workers are hoping to recoup last year's losses this upcoming Eid. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the Thai Government has contributed $100,000 assistance to Cambodia as a support to help improve the well-being of Cambodian migrant workers in different quarantine centres on the borders.

India: Following previous reports of Shivaram Hebbar addressing the Assembly with concerns about women garment workers in Bengaluru who lost their jobs, media reports that he also explained how cases have been booked against 239 people (owners) for not providing minimum wages to women employees. Notices have also been served to 396 garment units for not providing facilities to women employees as per rules. He told The New Indian Express, that the USA, the UAE and European countries are the major markets for the garment units in Karnataka, “Ever since the pandemic hit, followed by a lockdown, they were not able to export garments. Also, they could not take up fresh orders as they did not have storage space. This has been a major issue. However, for the last couple of months, things are improving and they have started work,."

According to activists, the situation started to improve and many factories reopened, however the workers are not being hired as employees, as this would mean the employers have to provide salaries along with benefits. The women are now getting piece-work. A survey in Bengaluru found that around 65 units in Bengaluru had shut down since April 2020, and 50% of workers were forced to resign. This is because units having a certain number of workers have to provide mandated benefits to employees.

Southeast Asia: On an episode of Bloomberg Equality, Nilim Baruah, senior migration specialist at the International Labour Organisation discusses how COVID-19 has significantly affected migrant workers in Southeast Asia, who are among those most affected by the pandemic.

18 March 2021

Global: In response to H&M, in collaboration with IndustriALL, reiterating its commitments to working with suppliers to support the recovery of the garment sector, a media report suggests that there are several omissions in the agreement,. These include, living wage, gender-based violence, and occupational safety and health.

Bangladesh: Media reports that the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) recently requested the government to raise alternative cash incentives from 4% to 7% for the upcoming fiscal, to fight the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The association also called for reducing source tax to 0.25% from the existing 0.50% for the next fiscal. 

Cambodia: Media reports that exports to South Korea, which consist largely of clothing and footwear, continue to recover in 2021. Data from the Korean International Trade Association showed that during January and February Cambodia exported about $64 million of products to the east Asian country, an increase of over 2.9% compared with the same period last year.

Media reports that A 21-year-old  who works as a security guard at Trax Apparel (Cambodia) Company, which supplies Adidas and New Balance, tested positive for Covid-19, and was sent for treatment. Six others who had been in direct contact with her were ordered to quarantine for 14 days in their rental rooms. An administration officer at Trax Apparel said officials from the Health and Labor Ministries visited the factory to advise its owners and they sprayed the building with disinfectant.  The factory closed for half a day on Wednesday, Since the guard was responsible for checking the health of all who entered and exited Trax Apparel, the factory should test all the workers, Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers said.

On Twitter, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has shared a video from Remake, of a worker from Violet Apparel – a supplier to Nike and Carters – explaining that they are still awaiting severance and benefits after the factory suspended operations in last year during the pandemic.

Canada: Media reports that Canada’s apparel import values were down in January 2021 compared to Janary 2020, However, there was growth when comparing values in Jan 2021 to December 2020. The country imported $ 651.51 million worth of garments in the first month of 2021, shrinking from $790.05 million in the same month of 2020 but upping from US $637.41 million in December 20. Major Asian apparel export destinations (except China) to Canada experienced a month-on-month rise.

India: Media reports that amidst the second wave of COVID-19, garment workers in Punjab’s industrial town Ludhiana are facing lower wages. Due to the lockdown last year, many migrant garment workers had no choice but to return home by foot, due to little money or food to survive on, “But the 1,000-kilometre walk home was equally hellish. The police beat us on the way, there were days of sheer hunger. I even saw people collapse,” says one worker, Ved. However, after returning to Ludhiana, Ved found that his wages were less than half his pre-lockdown earnings.  Less workers are also being employed due to the ongoing economic slowdown and lack of demand and consumption. The industry was also hit by a hike in raw material costs, preventing factories from taking bulk manufacturing orders and leaving them unable to run factories at full capacity.

Media reports that COVID-19 cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks in Maharashtra’s industrial towns, such as Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik and Nagpur, which are home to textile factories. 

Media reports that Karnataka Labour Minister A Shivaram Hebbar stated in the Legislative Assembly that over 100,000 women who were employed in garment factories in the state are left without a job, as many units that were shut due to COVID-19 pandemic related situation, have not reopened. "As many as 983 garment factories were functioning last year and 2,86,747 women employees were working, this year almost over 100,000 women have not been able to join duty yet as many garment factories have not opened yet, after COVID."

Media reports that unorganised workers gathered in protest, demanding that the government fulfil promises made during the pandemic, including: implement the draft policy for migrant workers., recognise sex work and domestic work, end evictions from slums, the construction of workers’ hostels in all districts and register all migrant workers.

Japan: Media reports that around 70% of Japanese firms keen on pursuing overseas operations are rethinking or have reviewed their business strategies amid global risks like the COVID-19 pandemic.

17 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that many garment factories that disbursed wages to workers digitally during the pandemic through BKash are gradually returning to cash payments. Many factories have been facing a cash crisis, while many small factories are paying wages phase by phase, resulting in a decline in the digital wage payment. There are also other providers aside from BKash, through which factories paid wages, and many factories paid wages through bank accounts too. In addition, because BKash's cash-out charge of 1.8% was added to workers' salaries during the disbursement, factories are now no longer able to bear the cost due to the capital shortage.

Cambodia: Media reports that Cambodia is forecast a GDP growth of 3.5%, a reversal of 2020’s contraction of 3.1%. The overall industrial sector is forecast to grow by 5.9% because of increased garment exports, but will be held back by low capital investment in construction. The ministry projected that the garment sector will grow by 4.6% in 2021 versus its 6.6% pre-pandemic growth due to an anticipated slow recovery in external demand. 

Media reports that domestic and global COVID-19 vaccination rollouts has bode well for investment in the Kingdom’s garment industry, still impacted by the pandemic, as Cambodia receives at least 20 new project proposals for garment and footwear factories in the southwestern province . It is expected that production in these factories could start when the COVID-19 situation improves.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that the President of Sri Lanka has stated his plans to enhance productivity and quality in the garment industry, including proposals to relax certain health guidelines introduced during the pandemic.

According to reports from the CCC Network, management at Lanka Leather Fashion Pvt Ltd  in the Katunayake FTZ, which produces leather jackets for Hugo Boss and also supplies Michael Kors, Damen, Roundtree & Yorke are engaging in tactics of union-busting. After facing unbearable working conditions during the pandemic, with increased production targets for the fewer employees who remain, workers decided to join the Free Trade Zones &  General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU). However, since the branch was formed, management has repeatedly refused to acknowledge or engage with the union, and delayed its recognition.

According to reports from the CCC Network, following unpaid wages and forced resignation of workers at Chiefway Katunayaka Pvt. Ltd, which supplies Levis, reported in June 2020, the company has agreed to recognise the FTZ&GSEU union as a bargaining agent. However, there has been no proper discussion between the branch union and factory management. Last year, the factory announced there would be no payment of December bonuses, resulting in unrest, and when employees inquired about the bonuses, the factory temporarily closed. The factory management later alleged some employees had assaulted managers during the unrest, and stated they would launch a domestic inquiry. Six employees were suspended, and when the factory re-opened on 2nd January, another 9 workers were suspended. In a discussion between the management and the union at the Employers Federation of Ceylon office, the company agreed to pay the half-month bonus in January, increase wages, allow union notices on the company notice board, and permit duty leave for the committee members to hold meetings and finalise the domestic inquiry. However, factory management later called on workers without discussing with the union, and told them they would pay the bonus in April, and that when the factory reopened after the new year festival period, those who did not want to work according to the management's rule should not report for work.

16 March 2021

Global: Media reports that most economies will not return to pre-pandemic activity levels until 2022, with a slow and bumpy global recovery expected. Risks remain more significant for the sectors most vulnerable to restrictions on their normal activities.

Bangladesh: Media reports that at least nine people have been shot and injured in a series of clashes between workers of two factories owned by Patriot Group and the police in Dhaka’s Tejgaon area. The situation arose when the policemen started to disperse the workers who had taken to the streets demanding arrears of four months and protesting sudden layoffs at their workplaces, Apparel Stitch Limited and Stitchwell Designs Ltd.

Malaysia: Media reports that Top Glove, was charged with providing poor housing for its workers after thousands were infected in a coronavirus outbreak last year. It was hit with 10 counts of failing to provide certified accommodation for its workers.

Philippines: Partido Manggagawa (PM) report that many workers remain on a ’floating status’ after losing their jobs last year. This means that although they are out of work, they are not being terminated, so their status remains ‘employed but not at work’. The group said employers resort to floating their workers indefinitely to avoid paying them separation benefits.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that in 2020, Sri Lanka’s batik, handloom and apparel industry faced a loss of $1.2 billion due to COVID-19, since the exports amounted to $5.6 billion in 2019 in comparison to $4.4 billion in 2020. There is now an export target of $6 billion set for 2021.

Media reports that the manufacturing PMI for February showed a recovery in the textile and wearing apparel sector which saw a boost in new orders and production. The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) in January also showed an increase in the apparel and textiles sector.

Thailand: Following our previous update on the closure of Brilliant Alliance Thai Global, which supplies Victoria's Secret, Triumph and other global brands, IndustriALL reports that prior to its closure, the factory level union sought to meet with management  to address concerns about working conditions, but meetings were delayed due to the pandemic. In January 2021, union representatives met with the Hong Kong-based company owner via Zoom and were told that there were not enough orders to keep the factory operational. On 3 March, company management informed the union the company could only continue to operate if there was a change to the collective agreement, with workers accepting a four-month furlough at 50% of their salaries. A vote was taken, where 88% of workers voted to reject the company’s offer. However, the union remained open to negotiation, and had a meeting scheduled with management on 9 March. In the intervening period, trucks were seen removing material from the factory. On 6 March, the company announced a four-day vacation. When workers arrived for work on 10 March, they found the factory locked, with a notice on the gate saying it had permanently shut down.

Turkey: Media reports that nearly a year after the pandemic adversely impacted the garment industry, manufacturers are once again facing ill-treatment by major brands. With sales dropping for brands due to the second wave and extended lockdowns, certain buyers are ending long-standing relationships with manufacturers despite prior pledges to commit to sustainable sourcing and partnerships. Hadi Karasu, president of the  Turkish clothing manufacturers’ association TGSD said: “Turkish manufacturers are in deep shock about the treatment of certain brands [who] are using the pandemic to phase out manufacturers to consolidate elsewhere. While understandable, it is not fair to just leave in the middle of the night.”

15 March 2021

Global: Today marks the beginning of the #PayYourWorkers week of action, where a coalition of more than 200 organisations around the world demand brands and retailers provide cash relief for suffering garment workers and reform of the industry. This also coincides with the launch of the #PayYourWorkers website, and a petition urging brands including Nike, Amazon and Next to contribute funds to sustain workers' income throughout the pandemic.

IndustriALL reports that in order to minimise the impact of the pandemic, H&M and IndustriALL publicly reaffirm and strengthen their commitments to work together with suppliers in a joint agreement. The joint agreement includes respecting freedom of association and collective bargaining, promoting social dialogue, reaffirming commitments for responsible purchasing practices, requiring protective measures and necessary protective equipment from direct suppliers and subcontractors, and working with governments and business to promote their engagement under the ILO Call to Action and similar initiatives.

Bangladesh: Media reports that readymade garment exports from Bangladesh declined by 3.73% in the first eight months of fiscal 2020-21 compared on a year-on-year basis. Bangladesh's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Cambodia: Media reports that Cambodia’s exports to Japan declined in January against year-on-year figures. Cambodia exported $138 million in goods to Japan in January, down 7.8% compared with January 2020 figures.

India: Media reports that the garment industry and business in Tiruppur came to a standstill on Monday as units and shops downed shutters demanding a reduction in prices of yarn. The one-day strike resulted in ₹200 crore loss. The president of Tiruppur Exports' Association, Raja M. Shanmugham, said: "The prices of yarn started going up in December. Usually, the hike will be temporary. However, this time it is on the rise frequently and availability is an issue."

Media reports that a new lockdown in the Nagpur district has resulted in migrant workers returning to their native states in exodus. The lockdown measures have left the workers struggling, as they were employed in various units, trying to make ends meet.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that 21 patients suffering from COVID-19 were working at an apparel factory that employs around 1,700 workers, located in Vavuniya.

Media reports that January showed a gain in apparel manufacturing, following a decline in December, indicating that orders are being restored, as the West expects to re-open with the current vaccination drive.

Vietnam: Media reports that since the COVID-19 vaccination programme began,  textile and garment orders have increased again. Statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Trade show that total export turnover of textiles and garments reached US$5.954 billion.

14 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that the garment industry started showing signs of a steady recovery from the disruption caused by the pandemic towards the end of 2020. This was driven by three factors: increased orders from the West, the brief lockdown, and the lack of supply chain disruptions, due to a swift recovery in exports from China, and an import diversion away from COVID-19 impacted countries. However, the slow growth in apparel orders this year indicates that the rate of recovery seen at the end of 2020 will likely slow down.

Media reports on the impact of the pandemic on garment workers, that resulted in global lockdowns, cancelled orders, unprecedented job losses, and hunger. One worker, Fatema Akther, said: “My line chief came and told me that I didn’t have to work anymore...My family runs on my single income. I don’t know how my family will survive.”

13 March 2021

Global: Media reports that as the world economy recovers from the severe 2020 downturn, global cotton consumption is expected to grow by 4.1% in 2021-22 season, substantially above the long-term average rate of 1.7%. World cotton stocks are expected to reduce by 3.2 million bales, according to the initial world and US cotton outlook for the 2021-22 season.

Cambodia: Media reports that garment workers affected by factory closures are demanding full compensation, as a report released by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre shows that thousands of Cambodians who produced clothes for some of the biggest global brands have yet to be paid wages owed to them since factories closed last year.  Lun Sophal, a former Violet Apparel garment factory, said:  “I still demand the compensation according to the law. I do not accept the amount which is estimated just about $1,000 — if they follow the labor law I would get up to $2,000 since I worked for the company for more than 10 years,”. He also states,  “I really do not understand why the factory announced they closed due to COVID-19 when its other three branches at the outskirts have remained open as normal.”

Myanmar: Media reports that garment workers in Myanmar who produce clothing for Primark were locked inside their factory by supervisors who tried to prevent them from joining anti-coup protests. The workers were employed by a Primark supplier GY Sen, where prior to the coup, they had faced pressure to complete excessive workloads and were threatened with dismissal if they refused extra shifts. Staff were paid as little as 1,200 kyat an hour (60p an hour) to work overtime. Andrew Tillet-Saks, a union organiser explains that garment workers' recent experiences of forming unions and fighting for better conditions meant they were able to organise quickly against the coup.

12 March 2021

Africa: Media reports that apparel exports from Africa are expected to increase in the upcoming period with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, particularly in its two major markets—the EU and the US. Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Madagascar, and Kenya were the top five apparel exporters of Africa in 2020.

Indonesia: Media reports that after staging demonstrations and strikes in protest against their factory's policy of paying holiday allowances in instalments in April 2020, workers at the CV Sandang Sari textile factory were convicted of breaking the law, resulting in 198 workers having to pay Rp. 500 million to the company, each worker required to pay Rp. 2.5 million. The workers have filed an appeal.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that 43 more workers at an apparel factory in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone have tested positive for COVID-19. The total cases identified in the apparel factory increased to 69.

War on Want are calling on Next to make a public statement recognising the FTZ&GSEU trade union at its Sri Lankan factory by 19 March 2021, and agreeing to start talks with the union before the end of March 2021. This follows an ongoing campaign, demanding Next recognise the campaign, after it was formed in January 2021.

Tunisia: Media reports that a major review has been launched into the Tunisian clothing sector's market positioning, in a bid to help manufacturers survive the ongoing political turmoil in the country, that has exacerbated existing problems caused by the pandemic.

11 March 2021

Global: A report published by Business & Human Right Resource Centre has found that among 8 factories supplying 16 major fashion brands, nearly 10,000 workers are fighting for wages and benefits legally owed. Meanwhile, in the last six months of 2020 alone, the brands they produced for brought in at least $10 billion in profits combined.

An op-ed by CCC addresses the slow progress of the Call to Action, and highlights that some of the brands that have signed the Call to Action are now using it to excuse their ongoing inaction. It calls for brands to take immediate action and commit to a wage assurance and severance fund. “The industry must stop hiding behind initiatives that use public money to fill the gaps they have wilfully profited from for decades. Instead, they should reach into their own pockets to address the issues in their own supply chains”.

Bangladesh: Media reports that in a list of budgetary demands, apparel exporters are calling for an exemption of VAT on various products and services purchased from domestic sources for the export-oriented clothing industry in the next budget. They also urged the government to bring down the tax at source to 0.25% from 0.50% and keep it effective for the next five years, and to keep the corporate tax unchanged at 12% and 10% for the certified green factory owners in fiscal 2021-22, highlighting the disruption caused by the pandemic to the industry. 

Cambodia: Media reports that Cambodia’s exports to the US are continuing its consecutive growth since last year, despite the global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Cambodia exported $580 million worth of goods to the U.S., an increase by 3.7% compared to the same period last year. 

Indonesia: Media reports that Asics is relocating its factories from China to Indonesia, after several of its factories closed , and another had been moved to Indonesia.

Jordan: Media reports that The Jordan Strategy Forum (JSF) has issued a policy brief exploring Jordan's textile sector to the national economy and labour market. It highlights that challenges posed by COVID-19 forced the industry to decrease the number of its overall employees, while others had no choice but to shut down their operations, or move production to other countries. By the end of September 2020, the decrease in national exports from the textiles sector reached 13.2% in comparison with the same period in 2019. It was the only sector that maintained employment for all Jordanians, even when they stayed at home with full payment of salaries, according to the policy brief. 

Thailand: Media reports that 1,388 workers have been dismissed by lingerie manufacturer Brilliant Alliance Thai Global Ltd, after its abrupt closure. The company announcement said it had been directly affected by the economic slump, which was made worse by the pandemic, and that a drop it exports and accumulated debts had forced it to close down.

Turkey: Media reports that workers from the shoe factory Çiftçiler Ayakkabı (Farmers Shoes) who were dismissed for being members of the Leather, Weaving and Textile Workers’ Union (DERİTEKS) protested at the factory gate. Protesters say around 200 workers were sent on unpaid leave last year in June and are still being put on unpaid leave. 

US: Media reports that apparel imports remained at high levels at the start of 2021, increasing by 13.4% month-on-month in January. Although there is usually a post-holiday season lull in imports in January, retailers are importing merchandise faster than ever this year, in a bid to capitalise on higher consumer spending and to try and work around ongoing congestion at US ports. Pakistan is the only supplier country with experiencing a year-on-year increase in apparel import volumes in January.

10 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that a little over 34% of at least 1,468 workers, including garment workers, are yet to recover from income losses they incurred between March and December last year due to COVID-19, according to a survey by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling. The survey also claimed that 49% of internal migrants returned to their villages due to job loss, no payment, decreased salary, or inability to afford expenses. 

Media reports that footwear sales in both domestic and foreign markets have not improved yet, despite the pandemic situation is improving. Sales reportedly fell by more than 40%. The President of the Leather-goods and Footwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association of Bangladesh, Md Saiful Islam, maintained that even though the cost of doing business has been increasing every quarter, the prices of export-oriented goods did not increase.

Sri Lanka: CCC network reports that at a COVID-19 Tripartite taskforce meeting comprising representatives of trade unions, employers' federations and the Department of Labor, trade unions were told they should work for the betterment of the country's economy and should not try to collapse the economy by informing the international community. They were also told it is they who will be responsible for reduced orders and job losses.

USA: Media reports that Mexican and Guatemalan Indigenous leaders in Los Angeles and across the state are playing a crucial role helping underserved communities that have born the brunt of the pandemic get vaccinated. Through word of mouth and social media campaigns, they are addressing language barriers, accessibility issues and mistrust in government agencies. Central American Indigenous communities have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with many working low-wage and essential service sector jobs, including garment workers. 

Vietnam: Media reports that  nearly 300 workers at Asia Garment Limited Company gathered to ask management to pay February salaries, and settle a social insurance debt of nearly 8.3 billion VND ($348,220), that has affected around 400 workers. Workers say monthly wages are deducted, but the company does not pay social, medical, or unemployment insurance. This has continued since August 2018. It is reported that financial difficulties have meant the businesses could not pay salaries, annual permits and overcome social insurance debts. Many workers have now filed a lawsuit against Asia Garment Co., Ltd. to claim their rights. 

9 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh’s apparel export to the United States stumbled in the first month of 2021 due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s apparel export to the US, in January 2021 fell by 16.61% to $519.37 million from $622.82 million in the same month of 2020. In addition, Bangladesh’s readymade garment export to the US in January decreased by $103 million in value and 20 million square metres in quantity compared with those in 2020.

Media reports that exporters of garment accessories and packaging products yesterday urged the government to set the tax at source at 0.25% and corporate tax at 12% for the next fiscal year to help the sector tackle the economic fallout of the pandemic. Currently, the apparel accessories makers have to pay 0.5% source tax and 32.5% corporate tax.

Jordan: Media reports that parts of two factories in Karak, employing 1,500 workers, may be dismantled after production was halted. This was reportedly done under the guise of the pandemic, as a source claims that there were plans prior to the pandemic to dismantle the factories. One of the employees of the company  said that if the company's intentions to end its project in Karak industrial city are confirmed, more than 1,500 workers and employees will lose their livelihood and will find themselves without work. In addition to the suspension of employment, all work associated with the company's factories, particularly workers' housing, public transport buses and commercial markets in Karak, will also be suspended.

Pakistan: Media reports that the unavailability of cotton yarn and sudden decrease in the value of rupee against the US dollar can harm efforts made by the garment and home textile segments. The fluctuations in the rupee-dollar parity and cotton yarn not being available has resulted in the textile sector being fearful of losing orders. Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA) Sunday urged the government to allow duty and taxes free cotton yarn import from India through Wagah border. Reports suggest that against annual predicted consumption of minimum 12 million bales, Ministry of National Food Security and Research expects only 7.7 million bales production this year. However, cotton ginners have given the lowest production estimates of only 5.5 million bales for this year.

Philippines: A blog post reports that at an International Women’s Day rally, the labor group Partido Manggagawa emphasised how women workers had suffered the most under the pandemic. The speech highlighted that while unemployment hit women the hardest, those in essential services and the manufacturing sector were forced to fight against mass layoffs and non-payment of wages and separation pay, as employers made the pandemic an alibi to cut the benefits or bust the unions.

Sri Lanka: Media reports that Sri Lanka’s merchandise export earnings recorded a slight slowdown in January, following the strong rebound in export earnings in December 2020, due to Brexit and impacts from the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic extending to 2021. On a month-on-month basis, the merchandise export earnings declined by 5.8% in January.  Furthermore, earnings from apparel and textile exports declined by 10.76% year-on-year to $421.28 million. However, export earnings from other textiles, mostly personal protective equipment (PPE), rose by 25.21% year-on-year in January. 

8 March 2021

Global: Remake launched their week of action in solidarity with garment workers, a year after the launch of the #PayUp campaign, providing materials to take action and educate yourself and others on the situation. 

An op-ed highlights the hypocrisy of brands celebrating International Women’s Day, despite the ongoing exploitation of their own garment workers, exemplified by the treatment workers have faced during the pandemic. 

Bangladesh: Media reports that Mostafiz Uddin, the managing director of Denim Expert Limited, has written an open letter to governments in the EU, UK and US, stating that ongoing lockdowns in the Western markets are killing Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry. He is asking them to reconsider the closure of stores, as many stores are able to remain open with safety precautions.

Media reports that garment manufacturers are adopting an array of strategies to cope with the impact of the pandemic, including reorganising capacity and utilisation plan, cost-cutting, efficiency enhancement. Practices such as taking orders below production costs were noticed amongst some enterprises, while other approaches included opting for new products and markets (e.g. online marketplace), and upgrading technology. A recent studied showed that 10% of the 620 factories survey stated they had taken 50-100% of orders that did not cover their product costs - this tendency was higher amongst factories (mainly woven units) located in Dhaka and Gazipur.

Indonesia: An Instagram post shows workers in Indonesia are calling upon Target, Nike,  H&M and Adidas to #PayYourWorkers. See other images on the Instagram account.

Singapore: Media reports that Singapore will start vaccinating migrant workers against COVID-19 as part of its national immunisation strategy, starting with 10,000 people living in the country’s five largest dormitories. 

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam’s textile and apparel industry has survived three waves of COVID-19, thanks to its decision to produce face masks and personal protective equipment, and will focus on sportswear and yarn.

7 March 2021

Cambodia: Media reports that the Prime Minister of Cambodia has called for returnee migrants from Thailand to be transported directly to their home provinces, rather than be quarantined, as COVID-19 community transmission in Thailand has been contained. 

China: Media reports that China's export growth jumped to the highest in over two decades, in a sharp bounce-back from the coronavirus outbreak that had brought activity to a near halt. Electronics and textile exports such as masks contributed to the spike in outbound shipments, as demand for work-from-home supplies and protective gear against the virus outbreak soared during the pandemic. 

6 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that small to medium-sized factories have experienced a crisis during the pandemic, with hundreds of factories closing down and failing to keep up with the losses brought about by cancelled orders. The article highlights that while big factories have been able to gain access to loan packages from the government, there were no such initiatives for small to medium factories. More than 300 small to medium-sized garment factories have closed down due to various reasons, and as a result, 50,000 workers have lost direct employment opportunities. It calls for further help from the government to support these factories. 

Media reports that nearly 50,000 women migrant workers returned to Bangladesh from 21 countries amid the pandemic.

Indonesia: An Instagram post shows workers from PT Beesco, an Asics supplier, have joined the #PayYourWorkers campaign. The workers have faced mass dismissals and continue to protest their back wages. 

Turkey: Media reports that Istanbul-based companies achieved $6.1 billion worth of exports last month, taking a 38.2% share in Turkey's exports. In February, the  ready-to-wear and apparel sector exported the most products from Istanbul with $1.3 billion of exports, taking a lion share with 16.9%. 

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam's textile and garment export revenue totalled nearly $4.8 billion in the first two months of this year, down just 0.01 per cent against the same period last year.

5 March 2021

Cambodia: Media reports the concerns of garment workers at the Y&W garment factory, who have been told they must continue working, despite a worker testing positive for COVID-19. One worker explained, “In short, we’re still afraid, but we still have to continue working as they still force us to. They don’t care whether we get infected. They care only about their work.” 

Bangladesh: Media reports that garment factory owners are asking for an incentive loan of 5,000TK crore before the two upcoming Eids, to cover labour costs, as well as long-term opportunities to repay their loan instalments.

Media reports that garment workers employed by Moon Readyware Limited staged a human chain and protested against the dismissal of 100 workers on 4 February without any notice The workers also report that the factory owners filed a case against the workers, claiming their involvement in theft and beating.

Media reports that garment manufacturers in Bangladesh are sourcing fabric from local sources more often, due to the disruption caused by the pandemic and rising costs of importing fabrics. Demand for locally-manufactured fabrics increased by around 20%.

Egypt: Media reports that textiles and apparel exports from Egypt declined by 29%  in 2020, and are expected to drop again by 15% this year. Several manufacturers, especially in the cotton textiles industry, have reduced production, while 30% of the nation’s textile and apparel factories shut down. 

India: Media reports that Trident Group, an Indian business conglomerate and leading global player in home textiles, has announced that it will provide COVID-19 vaccines to all its 14,000 employees and their family members free of charge. 

Thailand: Media reports that a new initiative in Thailand will employ prisoners in factories, to replace migrant workers who returned home during the pandemic.

4 March 2021

Bangladesh: Media reports that several hundred workers of Padma Wears Limited demonstrated in front of Chattogram Press Club on Wednesday, as the Padma Wear authorities reportedly closed the factory without paying their arrears. Md Nazrul, a worker of Padma Wears explained that that the garment authorities locked the factory on Wednesday morning without serving any notice. ‘The authorities did not pay our arrears and we didn’t find any management official at the factory in the morning.’

Media reports that knitwear manufacturers and exporters are reporting soaring yarn prices, that fluctuate abruptly. Textile millers claim cotton yarn prices increased due to the surge in cotton prices in the global markets. 

Media reports that earnings from exports declined 3.92% year-on-year to $3.19 billion in February because of a fall in apparel shipment, impacted by the lingering coronavirus pandemic. Shipment of garments, particularly woven ones, are yet to fully recover because many major export destinations in Europe and the US are still under lockdowns due to the second wave of the Covid-19. Another media report adds that Bangladesh’s export earnings in the July-February period of the current financial year fell by 1.45% to $25.86 billion from $26.24 billion in the same period of the previous fiscal year, also due to the impact of the pandemic. 

Cambodia: Media reports that the Ministry of Health together with the Dangkor District Administration has now ordered the temporary closure of the Y & W Garment factory,   following a garment worker testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

El Salvador: Media reports that over 100 women occupied their garment factory, after the factory closed due to COVID-19, and they were denied their wages and severance pay. Three workers went on hunger strike to reinforce their demands, and the workers have filed a lawsuit to get their wages back. The Minister of Labour met with some of the workers and pledged to provide food aid and put pressure behind the lawsuit. The factory has now been owned by the women for over six months, and they use the space for feminist workshops and legal advice, One of the hunger strikers states, 'Does this hunger strike still serve anything. That gives me satisfaction. My colleagues will reap the benefits of my struggle.'

India: Media reports that despite much celebration following an increase in GDP September-December 2020, with India's top companies amassing profits, there was a significant number of unemployed individuals recorded, with a jump of nearly 20% compared to 2019. 

Indonesia: Media reports that Indonesia’s manufacturing growth slowed down in February, after hitting a six-year high the previous month, due to flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the sector. The country’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) dropped to 50.9 in February from 52.2 in the previous month.

Philippines: Partido Manggagawa (Labor Party) reports that mass layoffs and income losses continue, despite the easing of restrictions and the initial rollout of vaccination. As women are significantly impacted by the pandemic, members of the Nagkaisa labor coalition are demanding another round of ‘ayuda’ or income support, public employment program, and the protection of labor rights, and has arranged a rally at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). In one particular case of union-busting, Jessica Guerrero, PGA Union-FFW president explains, "Using the pandemic as an excuse, Provision Gloves Apparel closed its factory in Batangas, only to find out that their main factory remains in operation, under a different name. Management is busting our union and avoiding collective bargaining. This should stop."

Sri Lanka: Media reports that a new fabric processing park, funded by the government’s investment promotion agency, is to be built, and will be operational by the last quarter of 2021. It is suggested that developing this park will enable the country to be better prepared for disruptive events, after the pandemic hit both the supply of materials and export orders. 

Turkey: Media reports that with a 9.6% hike year-on-year, Turkey's exports registered an all-time high February figure at $16 billion.

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam’s textile and garment export revenue totalled nearly $4.8 billion in the first two months of this year, down just 0.01% against the same period last year. In February alone, Vietnam’s textile and garment export declined 6.4 percent year-on-year to $2.1 billion due to the impact of the latest wave of new COVID-19 cases in the country. Over the two-month period, local garment enterprises have been constantly receiving new orders, according to the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association. The growth in new orders was due to the recovery of global demand following the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, said the association. 


3 March 2021

Global: BHRRC has published a report, addressing the increased attacks on communities and human rights defenders last year, where in at least 80 cases, COVID-19 was a key factor. This included union-busting and the targeting of union leaders across the garment industry.

Bangladesh: Media reports that Bangladesh overtook Vietnam in garment exports last year, earning $1.6bn more on exports than Vietnam. 

Cambodia: Media reports that Cambodian garment exports to the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) dropped by 36.6% year on year between 2019 and 2020. The decline in exports to the EAEU occurred between April and June of 2020. Export volume began to make a recovery in July.

Media reports that more than 700 garment workers at the Y&W garment factory have tested negative, after a worker from the factory tested positive earlier. 

India: Media reports that the micro, small and medium enterprises sector has emerged as the growth engine of the economy and is showing signs of revival after the pandemic-led de-growth in early part of the current fiscal, according to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Shaktikanta Das. 

Malaysia/Thailand: Media reports that migrant workers from Myanmar are struggling to send earnings back home to dependents following the coup, heightening the impact COVID-19 has had already on migrant workers from Myanmar and their families. Own Mar Shwe, a migrant worker living in Bangkok, expressed her worries for her family, including her 76-year-old mother who is sick and relies on her income to buy medicine, "I'm concerned about how (my family) will get through each day…I don't know what to do.”

Thailand: Media reports that exports are expected to continue growing in February, and could fare better than 4% growth this year, driven by the world's economic recovery ignited by the Covid-19 vaccine distribution. The Commerce Ministry reported on Feb 23 that exports rose for a second straight month in January, edging up by 0.35% from the same month of last year after a 4.71% year-on-year surge in December 2020. 

Vietnam: Media reports that Vietnam attracted around $5.5bn of foreign investment in January and February this year, down 15.6 percent against the same period last year.

2 March 2021

Global: WIEGO have published a blog post highlighting the significant wage losses and lack of social protection informal garment workers have faced during the pandemic. Together with Asia Floor Wage Alliance, they call on brands and retailers to pay a once-off COVID relief grant (Supply Chain-Relief Contribution) to informal workers in their supply chain. 

Amsterdam: Clean Clothes reports that campaigners in Amsterdam have demanded Hema pay for cancelled orders earlier this year, by delivering orders at their doorstep and plastering #PayUp messages on their shopfronts across the country.

Cambodia: Media reports that hundreds of staff at a Phnom Penh garment factory are being tested for COVID-19, after a worker tested positive for the virus. One building at the Y&W Garment factory has been shut down and 500 staff told to stay home, but more than 4,000 staff are expected to continue working, a factory administrator said, raising concern of the virus spreading. Pav Sina, a union leader, is calling for the factory to suspend operations.

India: Media reports that India’s exports dipped marginally by 0.25% to $27.67 billion in February, and its trade deficit widened to $12.88 billion. 

Media reports that Madhya Pradesh has witnessed a 19-fold jump in unemployment registration in the last two months compared to 2020. This comes after the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent nationwide lockdown from March 25, 2020 that took away jobs of close to 10.9 million people. 

Philippine: IndustriALL reports that 25 leather workers at Provision Garments Apparel’s (PGA) Manggahan branch are on strike over the illegal closure of the factory, demanding immediate reinstatement of all workers with back pay and that collective bargaining is resumed.

USA: Media reports that the human trafficking prevention organisation Liberty Shared is calling for a deeper investigation into UK brand Boohoo’s business practices and engagement with modern slavery. These claims are now being considered by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This follows a report from June 2020, that exposed poor working conditions in factories supplying Boohoo during the pandemic.

1 March 2021

Bangladesh: In an op-ed, Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim Expert Limited, reflects on a year since the coronavirus pandemic began and brands first started to cancel orders. He highlights how the issue suppliers now face are smaller orders and reduced unit prices from brands, and the need for partnership between brands and suppliers, as suppliers cannot afford to cover the costs of building a fairer, more resilient garment industry. “In all of this, I keep coming back to the question: where is the money for our industry to bounce back better? Who will fund the necessary sustainability overhaul our industry so badly needs to make (and I am talking about both social and environmental sustainability here)? We know factories cannot afford it. We know that, in many cases, Asian governments cannot afford it, or are unable to commit more money to struggling businesses. So where will the money come from?"

China: Media reports that China's factory activity expanded in February at a slower pace than a month earlier, hitting the lowest level since last May and missing market expectations, after brief COVID-19-related disruptions earlier in the year.

India: Media reports that manufacturing activity fell slightly to 57.5% in February from 57.7% in January, however, employment decreased further amid COVID-19 restrictions related to shift work. Goods producers expect output to increase over the year. 

Sri Lanka: Media reports that Sri Lanka’s apparel exports had a gloomy start in 2021, with export earnings recording an 11% decline in January, as constant COVID-19 related disruptions undermined buyers’ confidence concerning timely delivery of export orders, combined with growing competition. In January, apparel export earnings hit a five-year low of US$ 397.61 million, according to export figures released by of Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAF). 

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

BHRRC report "Wage theft and pandemic profits"

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

published 2021-03-31