Covid-19 rights rollback hits garment sector workers
(Photo: MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images).
MANY have been hit by a rollback on labour rights in the global garment industry due to Covid-19 as fashion brands pass on the pressure to their suppliers and that further to factory workers, as per two reports by labour advocacy groups.
The story of Abdul Wasid, 35, reflects the same.
After being sacked from his job at a garment factory in Pakistan in the beginning of the pandemic, Wasid was rehired three months later – for lower pay and longer hours, Reuters reported.
“I was desperate because I hadn’t earned anything for months after being fired and agreed to everything they said. Now I’m depending on small loans to survive,” he said.
Wasid also fears being fired again if he complains about the tough working conditions.
Labour rights campaigners said millions of garment workers around the world owed wages and compensation pay since the pandemic began.
“Wage theft is intrinsic to the business model of global fashion brands, and it has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee, international coordinator with Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), which represents garment workers.
In a report, “Money Heist”, which interviewed workers from 189 factories in six countries, the non-profit accused profitable global brands of “transferring the risks of business” to manufacturers.
Industry experts and campaigners said last year that livelihood of about 60 million garment workers around the world were risked after big brands failed to organise systems to support people working down their supply chains.
Moreover, brands refused payment for already delivered shipments or cancelled orders, the AFWA report said.
Some brands, however, made “significant efforts” to mitigate harm to workers, others did not taken a “responsible approach”, said Peter McAllister of the Ethical Trade Initiative – a leading alliance including retailers, trade unions and NGOs.
“In far too many cases significant damage was and in some cases continues to be done,” Reuters quoted McAllister’s email statement.
New research by Britain’s University of Sheffield and the US-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a labour advocacy group, revealed that more than a third of workers who changed jobs during the pandemic reported worse working conditions and lower wages.
Separately, a study based on interviews with some 1,000 workers in Ethiopia, Honduras, India and Myanmar revealed that more than two-thirds of workers who changed jobs were not provided written or oral contract.
“Growing indebtedness among garment workers is a result of chronically low wages in brands’ supply chains, compounded by brands’ pandemic response,” said Genevieve LeBaron, co-author of the report and professor at the University of Sheffield.
“This is an alarming trend given the well-documented links between debt and vulnerability to forced labour,” LeBaron said.
The “Money Heist” report found that garment workers’ debts surged since the start of the pandemic, while the Sheffield study said more than 60 per cent had borrowed money during the crisis.
“Workers were already not being paid fair wages and had little savings at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Zameer Awan, field worker with The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research, a charity.