Billions of dollars’ worth of orders cancelled . . .
A recent report by the Washington, D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) is the latest to tell the story of the COVID-induced collapse of the garment industry and the subsequent loss of wages and livelihoods for garment workers worldwide. WRC interviewed hundreds of garment workers in Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, among other places, between August and September. It found that as the fashion industry cancelled over C$20 billion-worth of existing and planned orders at the onset of the pandemic, workers were left with decreased or no wages and thus unable to cover daily living expenses, including food.
Loss of wages and jobs, debt and food insecurity . . .
This study is yet another sign of the vulnerability of labour in this sector. While global brands depend overwhelmingly on Asian labour, their responsibility to them appears to be something else. Even the 60 per cent of respondents who reported no change to their employment status have reported monthly wage decreases, an average loss of 21 per cent between March and August. Others reported no pay during suspensions or not receiving their full legally-entitled severance pay. As a result, 88 per cent of respondents said that their families had decreased the amount or quality of food intake. A staggering 75 per cent reported accumulating debt to buy food over the course of the year.
Avoiding liability . . .
Many clothing brands have force majeure clauses in their contracts, allowing them to avoid liability and cancel orders in the event of catastrophes. This includes brands often seen in Canada, including Adidas, Gap, H&M, The Children’s Place, and Lululemon. The limits of what can and should be included under a force majeure catastrophe continually evolves and varies by country. Most recently, the clauses appear to include pandemics. The WRC is calling for medium- to long-term systemic change to the industry and the relationship between brands and investors and the workers and factories on which they depend. In the short term, Canadians could make a difference by educating ourselves on the issues, deciding how and where we buy our clothing, or by encouraging multinational companies to enact terms more favourable to workers.
- The Guardian: 'Thrown to the wolves': how Covid-19 laws are being used to silence garment workers
- International Labour Organization: Asia-Pacific garment industry suffers as COVID-19 impact ripples through supply chain
- Worker Rights Consortium: Hunger in the apparel supply chain: survey findings on workers’ access to nutrition during Covid-19