The garment trade is ignoring the plight of its employees | Opinions Information
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the extreme vulnerability of textile workers to the fore as clothing brands responded to the economic crisis sparked by this unprecedented public health emergency by cutting jobs and refusing to pay for those who were already in production.
The result was massive job losses. An estimated 10 percent of textile workers were suddenly unemployed, and many received neither severance pay nor the wages they were already owed.
These workers are in producing countries that often do not offer social security or safety nets. They are desperate, starving, unable to pay rent or support their families. These workers are the backbone of the global garment industry, valued at trillions of dollars, and yet the front runners, the brands, are only paying lip service to their plight.
The ongoing crisis in the apparel industry began in February 2020 when workers in Southeast Asia were sent home without pay because fabrics from China did not reach their factories. With wages always completely inadequate, that first missed paycheck immediately sent many families out of poverty into poverty.
When it became clear that there was no end to the crisis in sight, the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and IndustriALL Global Union recognized the need for a coordinated response and launched a call to action in April 2020 (CtA) with the support of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
To date, more than 130 industry stakeholders, two-thirds of which are brands and retailers, have signed the CtA, which aims to protect textile workers and manufacturers from the worst economic consequences and to establish sustainable systems of worker social protection.
While the CtA is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, workers in need of emergency assistance cannot wait for their protection to be put in place. Additionally, some of the brands that signed the CtA are now using it to apologize for their continued inaction.
When asked in October 2020 what brands would do to ensure workers get their full pay, Michael Levine, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Under Armor, a member of the CtA working group, replied that brands “couldn’t are to do this make additional contributions “beyond the CtA. However, participating in the CtA in no way relieves brands of their responsibility to ensure that workers are paid, especially since brands are not required to contribute funds to the CtA.
The fact that signing the CtA does not offer an absolution from accountability in the supply chain should go without saying. The CtA working group decided early on to focus its efforts on eight priority countries – Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Pakistan. This approach left out countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, which, according to ILO reports, are also experiencing mass layoffs in the garment industry and have no meaningful social security mechanisms. Many brands that have signed the CtA, such as B. Primark, manufacture garments in countries that are not prioritized by the program.
In addition, the CtA is not able to find quick solutions to problems in the supply chain even in the countries it has prioritized. The progress was meticulously slow. In an update from October, the CtA announced “successes” in Bangladesh, where the European Union and the federal government had pledged 113 million euros (135 million US dollars) – a commitment that was not used by the CtA and which only required another 1 , € 8 million (US $ 2.15 million) – as well as Indonesia, Cambodia and Ethiopia, where a federal government-funded ILO multi-donor initiative released 2.2 million, 1.95 million and 4.9 million respectively . Euro (US $ 2.63 million, US $ 2.33 million and US $ 5.86 million, respectively). No numbers have been given for the other priority countries.
Even the more sizeable funding that Bangladesh received, according to our sources, resulted in fewer than 2,000 workers receiving direct income support. Without an obligation to make brand contributions and without corresponding figures, European taxpayers will probably pay for brand defects through government donations.
These amounts are absolutely insufficient to meet even a fraction of the urgent need for aid in the clothing industry. Last summer, we calculated that textile workers in Bangladesh were owed $ 500 million in the first three months of the pandemic alone. We have estimated the wage gap in Indonesia to be more than $ 400 million and in Cambodia to be nearly $ 125 million. Textile workers worldwide are owed at least USD 3 billion for the period between March and June 2020 alone. Not only is this an economic crisis, but there is evidence that it is also a driver of other labor rights violations, such as: B. Union Breaches.
The project to build social protection in countries where it is currently lacking is of immense importance, but workers also need immediate support. For this reason, unions and other labor rights organizations are calling for brands to publicly commit to a wage and severance payment guarantee fund and to reassure workers in their supply chain that they will be paid during this crisis and that they will receive the severance pay they owe if they lose their jobs . For just 10 cents a t-shirt, brands can ensure textile workers get the economic relief they need now and strengthen unemployment protection for the future.
The industry needs to stop hiding behind initiatives that use public money to fill the gaps it has deliberately benefited from for decades. Instead, they should reach into their own pockets to address the issues in their own supply chains. Brands that commit to setting up a wage protection and severance payment guarantee fund will not offset the inequalities at the core of an industry that has its roots in colonialism, but it will be a crucial step to rebuild better. Paying for what you owe is a prerequisite that everything else should grow on – everything else is complicit in wage theft.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.