"Let’s show the world that we can do commerce with compassion."
- Smriti Irana, Minister of Textiles of India.
Whilst Covid-19 is affecting everyone’s lives globally, it is exposing the true realities of the instability of the fashion industry’s global supply chain. Global fashion brands are employing a survival mode by cancelling or holding production, causing factories to close down, and textile workers being left without pay, a job or security.
The long-term survival that the fashion industry should be adopting is the interdependency on one another, as when ‘normal’ life resumes, fashion brands are going to need garment factories to stay afloat, despite the current crisis.
Covid-19 affects on the garment industry
As stores are being closed, orders to suppliers are being cancelled, with fast fashion giants like Primark and Marks & Spencers refusing to pay for those orders. At least $3 billion in orders from fashion companies being cancelled or put on hold in Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). As the second largest garment exporter in the world, Bangladesh and other export-driven countries, are losing their biggest source of income as garment factories are closing.
As a result of this, ‘millions of garment makers have already lost their jobs as a result of the virus,’ according to IndustriALL and Governments cannot afford to provide a safety net for all workers. For example, Bangladesh contributed about $588 million for export-orientated industries to cover worker’s wages but this is nowhere near enough (according to the BGMEA).
Fashion brands are cancelling orders and most are refusing to pay
For the Factories that are keeping their doors open, the shortage of raw materials from China may prevent them from completing orders, putting a halt on more income for factories and garment workers. As well as fashion brands cancelling orders, 72% are also refusing to pay the cost of raw materials that the supplier has previously purchased, in turn, contributing to potential financial bankruptcy of garment factories (Report by Penn State and the WRC).
Effects on garment workers: Poverty
People who work as garment workers face a double threat - to their lives and livelihoods. The close proximity of garment factories means that they are at a higher risk of contracting the virus, however, if they do not work, how will they feed their families and stay out of poverty? Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity group, comments that "we have a cruel reality here. The global brands will lose a fraction of their profit … but the workers will be left without food and medicine."
But, as some factories are forced to stay open to remain in business, the reduced workforce because of those who have become ill can’t work, could lead to excessive overtime and added pressure for those still working.
Lack of Government safety net
There is a lack of a safety net for garment workers to fall back on in the current climate, as most workers are not covered under social security or health insurance, meaning they will not be able to pay for treatment if they did contract the virus. In Bangladesh, the reality is that they do not have the funds to pay all workers who have lost jobs because of COVID-19 without any income from the garment industry.
Brands are not doing enough to suppose their workers support
As governments, garment workers and factories are calling out to brands to help support them in this time, many brands are turning their backs on workers in their supply chains. "Clothing retailers must accept that if they choose a business model that relies on the labour of millions of garment workers overseas, then these people are their workers as well.” - Scott Nova. A shocking statistic reveals that ‘around 35% of factories do not have written contracts with brand buyers.’ This capitalization of fashion brands on suppliers, deems their workers vulnerable to unemployment, poverty and health risks.
Brand and supplier relationships should be maintained
The Indian minister of Textiles, Smriti Irani, addresses brands to maintain the relationship between buyer and suppliers, encouraging them to ‘show the world that we can do commerce with compassion.’ Because, effectively, when the world has recovered from this pandemic, life will return to ‘normal,’ but all that will be left is the damaged relationships between fashion brands and garment factories. Unless, fashion brands do something to serve ALL their workers. ‘The outbreak makes it clear that there is an urgent need to change this industry for good!’ Alexander Kohnstamm, Fair Wear Executive Director
- Contact Brands on social or write them a letter using Fashion Revolution’s Template to urge them to be accountable for supporting their suppliers and workers.
- Read Fair Wear Foundation Covid 19 dossier on how brands can protect people within their supply chains.
- Send or share these videos to fashion brands:
- GoodWeave International — Donate to COVID-19 Child and Worker Protection Fund to deliver immediate humanitarian aid and services to vulnerable populations in India, Nepal and Afghanistan.
- Donate to AWAJ Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded and led by garment workers in Bangladesh,Donations will go directly to workers who have lost their jobs. If you would like to make a contribution then please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Shop from sustainable brands with certifications, like Fairtrade, Organic, GOTS certified and many more, as they have longer and more stable commitments to their suppliers.