ASIA – Effects of the pandemic on workers in the textile industry: “Unimaginable human suffering”

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Bangkok – What is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Asian economy and, in particular, on one of the most important branches of production in many countries in the region? A study by the “Clean Clothes Campaign”, an international coalition that deals with the production chain of the textile industry around the world, analyzes the crisis in the sector in the seven most important Asian production countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan. The survey is based on statements from employers, surveys in the industry and among employees, studies of media inquiries about the impact of the pandemic, and takes into account claims for unpaid wages during the pandemic. It is an update of the August 2020 report, “Un paid in the Pandemic”,which estimated economic losses to textile workers between 3.2 and 5.8 billion dollars in the first three months of the pandemic. But, according to the study, “although brands and retailers are making profits again, the situation of workers has deteriorated further: having a year with withheld or cut wages due to unfair purchasing practices by the big brands and retailers, non-payment of orders, sudden cancellations and price reductions the workers are driven even deeper into the abyss. The growing number of Covid-19 infections also aggravates the picture “.
The new estimate with regard to who paid the actual price particularly dearly as a result of the crisis during the pandemic crisis in the course of the past year exceeds the previous data:
clothing workers have accumulated from March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, to March 2021 a credit of $ 11.85 billion in unpaid wages and severance payments as violations continue to grow.
“It’s a figure that represents unimaginable and often irreparable human pain”, says Khalid Mahmood of the Labor Education Foundation in Pakistan. “The report – he adds – aims to focus on a phenomenon that is not only taking place in that factory in Bangladesh or Pakistan but affects the entire textile industry. On the one hand, there are workers with a worldwide credit of 11.85 billion dollars, on the other, brands that have long been making profits again”.
In all of the countries studied, with the exception of Indonesia, workers face a wage gap that is at least twice their average monthly wage, and which the latest report estimates that in the seven countries studied, around 1.6 million textile workers were laid off during the pandemic – many of them even without severance pay. During times when they were on leave due to lockdowns or order cancellations, they often received only a small percentage of their normal wages, which was previously well below the level of a reasonable wage. As a result, the report said, many textile workers faced high levels of debt and starvation during the pandemic.
Finally, the Clean Cothes Campaign estimates that the amount owed to workers worldwide has continued to rise since March, as the pandemic not only was not overcome, but has re-emerged in many countries. The initiative calls on fashion brands to negotiate an agreement with trade unions and employers – individually or through their associations – that guarantees regular payment of wages, provides for a redundancy guarantee fund and ensures compliance with basic labor rights.