March 2022 COVID blog
Lesotho: Media report on how women of Lesotho's garment industry have lost both jobs and hope in COVID-19.
Although small in comparison with global garment-making giants such as Bangladesh and China, Lesotho’s clothing industry is the country’s largest private employer, and more than 80% of its workers are women, according to government officials. Most, like Sesha, are the first women in their families to earn a paycheck, a quiet gender revolution built on T-shirts and tracksuits.
Its a part of a year long series by the Associated Press. on how the pandemic is impacting women in Africa, most acutely in the least developed countries.
Bangladesh: Media report that the government of Bangladesh has been put on notice: improve conditions for workers by November 2022 or face a Commission of Inquiry – the highest-level investigation that the International Labour Organization (ILO) can carry out into a country that persistently fails to protect workers’ rights.
Only 14 Commissions of Inquiry have been undertaken by the ILO. An investigation into Bangladesh would put the country alongside Belarus, Venezuela and Zimbabwe who have been subject to the most recent investigations.
Cambodia: Media report that as Cambodia angles itself for a post-pandemic economic rebound, five “strategic measures” will form the pillars of the garment, footwear and travel goods industry’s roadmap for the next five years.
Increasing job productivity and opportunities; Improving workplace conditions and worker welfare.; Boosting domestic and foreign investments in high-value-added products and promoting market diversification in sector exports.
Cambodia’s garment sector, the country’s largest employer with roughly 800,000 mostly female workers, received a double beating from the Covid-19 pandemic and the European Union’s revocation of trade benefits under the Everything But Arms scheme for least-developed nations.
Now, the country seeks to pivot its garment, footwear and travel goods industry toward “sustainability and resilience and high-value-added,” minister of labor and vocational training Ith Sam Heng said at a meeting announcing the strategy, adding that the roadmap will allow Cambodia to “seize opportunities as well as respond to the rapid changes in regional and global architecture.”
Turkey: IndustriALL Union reports that trade unions in Turkey highlighted the situation of women in the country, supporting the women workers fighting for their rights. Women are bearing the brunt of Turkey’s increasing inflation - poverty, discrimination and a gender pay gap are daily realities for an increasing number of women workers.
The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and inflation means women workers in Turkey are getting increasingly poor. The conflict in Ukraine is further worsening the economic situation, leading to a lack of raw materials for production. With a decrease of purchasing power, women are increasingly excluded from social life and activities.
Bangladesh: Media report that the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions pushed female workers to go back to their village homes. Now many have opted out of the RMG factories altogether, for a myriad of reasons. It is high time we start paying attention to their concerns.
In the 1990s, the percentage of female workers in Bangladesh's Ready-Made Garment (RMG) was almost 90 percent. However, in the last 10 years or so, the figure has dropped down to less than 60 percent.
Media report that Bangladesh has taken a major step in its battle to eliminate child labour with the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138).
The ratification instruments were submitted by State Minster of Labour and Employment, Begum Monnujan Sufian MP at ILO headquarters in Geneva on 22nd March 2022.
With this ratification, Bangladesh has now ratified all eight of ILO’s ‘Fundamental Conventions’ covering social and labour issues that are considered fundamental to rights at work
Bangladesh: Media report that on Sunday (March 20) morning, workers staged a protest in front of the Askari Fashion factory in Aukpara, Ashulia Union, Savar.
According to workers, the factory employs about 300 people. In the last few days, the factory authorities have laid off more than 30 workers on various pretexts. Later, the workers took a stand in front of the factory on Sunday morning with the labor leaders demanding full reinstatement and wages.
Cambodia: Media report on local NGOs highlighting the challenges of vulnerable women affected by Covid-19.
Covid-19 pandemic has provided negative impacts on many people, local economic, and public health. Like many other people who have experienced the impacts, sex and entertainment workers, garment factory workers, and small-scale farmers have also been exposed to it.
“One of the impacts was the sudden loss of income, livelihood destruction and increasing household debt,” said Sen Chanthou, legal and advocacy of Women’s Network for Unity.
Bangladesh: Media report on new evidence of violations of workers’ rights in Bangladesh in three major economic sectors – the ready-made garment, shipbreaking, and leather sectors – reveals the impact of government inaction on the lives of working people.
Workers do not have a safe complaints mechanism, and calling for grievances to be resolved often results in verbal and physical abuse from the employer and dismissal.
Obstruction and refusal by the government of Bangladesh to improve conditions put workers’ lives at risk. Every day they delay on commitments to reform, another worker and the worker’s family feel the pain of inaction.
Egypt: Media report on workers at a ready-made garments in Shubra El Kheima held a sit-in protest in front of the factory demanding payment of wages which are two months overdue.
Pakistan: Media report that a Pakistani factory producing for int’l brands in Canada ‘illegally’ fires workers.
Naeem Impex laid off 49 workers without any notice or payments.
A factory in Karachi, Pakistan which produces textiles and apparels for international brands, such as Batman, Featherhead Baby and Fisher-Price, in Canada has ‘illegally’ fired more than two dozen workers without clearing their dues.
China: As China and Hong Kong report another surge in Covid cases, media report on whether the apparel industry has truly "built back better" from the pandemic.
Media report on how a surge in Omicron variant infections has prompted Chinese authorities to lock down residents, close factories and stop truck traffic, snarling already frayed supply chains.
As Chinese officials scramble to contain the country’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 since early 2020, they are imposing lockdowns and restrictions that are adding chaos to global supply chains.
Indonesia: Media report on how garment workers' plight is overlooked in Indonesia.
A new academic study of Indonesia's emergence as an Islamic fashion capital says the country's 'exploited' garment workers are not getting their fair share of the credit or the rewards.
Annisa Beta, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne in Australia, says Indonesia's female designers and businesswomen are credited as the driving force behind the country's Islamic fashion industry.
However, the efforts of garment workers, who toil in home-based garment workshops for as little as US$35 a month - not much more than a third of the average wage for casual workers, often goes unnoticed, she says.
Vietnam: Media report on how Ho Chi Minh City factories get possible Covid-positive people to work safely.
According to the proposal, factories must set up a well-ventilated and dedicated working area for letting Covid close contacts work on site.
They must ensure safe distance between workers and comply with other Covid prevention measures including conducting PCR or rapid testing every five days or whenever employees display symptoms.
Media report on worker shortages in northern factories as Covid hits industrial parks.
Of the 35 workers Pham Thi Chung manages in her garment production line, 29 contracted Covid-19 within one week.
"Our factory was nearly paralyzed as many stations had to be closed," said Chung, referring to earlier this month when the virus spread in her company in the northern province of Thai Binh. The province has been recording an average of nearly 2,300 new cases a day this month.
With 80 percent of nearly 1,600 workers infected, Chung worked for three days after she herself got Covid-19 symptoms, only going home to rest after they got worse.
The story of Chung’s factory has been repeated at other manufacturing facilities in northern Vietnam for several weeks now.
The daily Covid-19 tally has climbed to record highs after the government shifted to a "living with Covid" strategy; and the ensuing worker shortage has meant factories struggling to keep production going.
Bangladesh: Media report that workers at a garment factory in Gazipur have blocked roads and staged protests demanding arrears of wages.
Workers of Siji Garments in Sreepur municipal area staged a protest by blocking the road for at least two hours from 2pm on Thursday.
Vietnam: Media report that a new Covid surge is leaving factories without workers.
"The garment factory was almost paralyzed, many machines had to temporarily stop," said Chung, the leader of a garment company in Thai Binh City, recalling the last days of February and the beginning of March when workers were missing every day at the factory.
The sewing line that Pham Thi Chung is in charge of has 35 workers, but only 6 of them are healthy, with the remaining 29 people out due to Covid.
Asia: Media report on inspiring female leaders in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia to learn what matters most to them, and documented their stories via women-led photography teams from each country.
Women make up around 80% of the workforce in the garment industry* but often struggle to have their voices heard.
There are more than 35 million women working in the garment, textiles, and footwear sector in Asia and the Pacific. The traditional image of a women seated at a sewing machine on an assembly line shows just one aspect of garment-worker life; their reality is more diverse and nuanced.
These women are leading changes within their factories and communities, a task that grew exponentially more difficult when COVID-19 brought about lockdowns, closed borders, and idled factories.
As COVID-19 wreaked havoc across the garment industry in Asia and the Pacific region, women made their voices heard in favor of better conditions, an end to wage theft, and assistance for those left unemployed.
Bangladesh: VOGUE Magazine covered Kalpona Akter for International Women’s Day and her fight defending garment workers rights.
Akter, now 46, was first exposed to this world at 12-years-old. “You know,” she says, “it definitely wasn’t my choice to go to the factory. I had to go because my father was the primary earner and he got ill. Altogether with my siblings there were seven of us, so there was no food at home.”
Aside from the basic culture shock of leaving school and instead spending 16-18 hours per day in a crowded factory (“I’d never seen so many people in one place, or heard such loud noise before,” Akter adds), the world Akter found herself in was reprehensible. Verbal and physical abuse was common, she explains, as was sexual abuse.
Bangladesh: Media report that workers staged a protest at the Tongi East police station gate on Friday in protest of non-payment of salaries and allowances for several months at Taj Fashion [তাজ ফ্যাশানে - Tāja phyāśānē] in Tongi BSCI area.
Outraged workers told Janakantha that the factory authorities had withheld their salaries for four months.
India: Media report that a Marks and Spencer (M&S) programme to promote gender equality in garment factories in its global supply chain is resuming after a two year halt triggered by the global coronavirus pandemic.
The POWER (Providing Opportunities to Women for Equal Rights) initiative, also supported by the British High Commission and the Change Alliance consultancy, aims to promote gender equality, and prevent discrimination and violence against women.
Its next phase will focus on 15 factories which employ more than 1,500 workers in India. Since an initial pilot phase in 2016, 36,436 women have been through the POWER programme in the Indian cities of Bengaluru, Gurugram and Manesar.
Vietnam: Media report on factories quiet in Hanoi due to a Covid "storm”.
On a line of 12 people, 9 have Covid and are absent from work. One team has 25 workers, but there are only 5 still working.
Workers are afraid of illness, fear of lack of wages, fear of losing their jobs.
Bangladesh: Media report on the current situation of child labor in Bangladesh, which has worsened because of the pandemic. There has been a 33% increase in child labor as schools shut down. This creates poverty traps for many individuals because it is skills from education that are necessary to obtain higher-skilled jobs that generate more capital.
Mauritius: A new centre to curb migrant worker exploitation opened in Mauritius.
IndustriALL Global Union, online clothing brand ASOS, Anti-slavery International, and the Confederation des Travailleurs des secteurs Publique et Prive (CTSP) teamed up to establish the resource centre to protect workers and human rights of migrant workers against modern slavery that includes bonded labour, debt bondage, and debt slavery.
The official opening of the Migrant Resource Centre is a testimony that collective efforts are critical to eliminating modern slavery and promote decent working conditions in the garment factories.
Vietnam: Media report on how workers struggle to make ends meet in the aftermath of Covid.
Meager wages that have not been raised for years and soaring healthcare expenses amid the pandemic mean many workers are struggling to achieve basic living standards.
Citing the Anker living wage methodology, Dr Do Quynh Chi, head of the Research Center for Employment Relations (ERC), said in 2020 a minimum salary of VND7.5 million was required for workers in Ho Chi Minh City to achieve reasonable living standards for themselves and their families.
India: Media report that after 22 months of refusing to do so, 14 major Karnataka garment suppliers have finally committed to pay the legal minimum wage, along with all arrears owed, to their workers; however, some suppliers are still refusing to pay.
The table below lists top garment manufacturers in Karnataka, showing which ones have committed to pay, and which have not, along with the names of the brands that source from these suppliers.
Global: Media report on how OECD deputy secretary general Yoshiki Takeuchi has spelt out how the fashion industry can bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that protects the environment and vulnerable supply chain workers.
He pointed to new and proposed mandatory due diligence laws by a number of countries and regions - including the European Union - which will make companies responsible for human rights and environmental issues in their global supply chains
Information and campaigns
General info on COVID-19 in the garment industry
Demands, recommendations, proposals
CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.
Global union and employer joint call to action.
WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.
ILO's COVID-19 business resilience guides for suppliers.
The Circle has created a guide for suppliers in the garment industry on 'force majeure'.
WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders
Business and Human Rights Resource Centre maintains a continually updated live-resource of articles on the influence of COVID19 on supply chains and is tracking brand responses to the crisis in dealing with their orders.
Business and Human Rights Resource Centre's created a COVID-19 Action Tracker, monitoring industry responses, government actions and workers’ demands.
Labour Start collects materials coming in from trade unions around the world.
The International Trade Union Confederation collects trade union news on the COVID-19 crisis.
ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.
Omega research foundation tracks excessive use of force by law enforcement during the pandemic.
HRDN resource on business, human rights, digital rights and privacy.
Background and position papers
WRC's white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?"
WRC and Penn State University on cancelled orders in Bangladesh "Abandoned?"
OECD's paper on COVID-19 and responsible business conduct.
ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"
ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.
AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.
Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"
ECCHR-WRC paper "Force majeure"
UN Special Rapporteur report "Looking back to look ahead"
WRC and Penn State University paper "Unpaid Billions"
WRC and Penn State University paper "Apparel Brands' Purchasing Practices during COVID-19"
ILO research brief "The supply chain ripple effect"
BHRRC report "Wage theft and pandemic profits"
IHRB and Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh studies at UC Berkeley report "The Weakest Link in the Supply Chain - How the Pandemic is Affecting Bangladesh’s Garment Workers"
Basic health information
Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet
Covid blog archive:
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