Asian garment workers have been deprived of nearly $ 12 billion in wages and severance pay as international retailers canceled orders and demanded price cuts in the wake of the pandemic, advocacy group says labor rights.
The Clean Clothes Campaign said about 1.6 million garment workers had lost their jobs in seven Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, and many of them were denied benefits. dismissal. Workers in the countries studied, with the exception of Indonesia, lost on average a salary equivalent to two months’ salary or more.
As factories across Asia closed due to closures or order cancellations, staff were made redundant or paid only a small percentage of their regular wages, creating huge problems for workers in an industry where low wages make saving difficult.
Khalid Mahmood, director of the Pakistan-based Labor Education Foundation, said layoffs and underpayments in the $ 2.5 billion global fashion supply chain “aren’t just happening at this factory. in Bangladesh or Pakistan “.
âIt happens throughout the garment industry [with] garment workers around the world owe $ 11.85 billion, âhe added.
Most western fashion retailers moved clothing production from their home countries to South and Southeast Asia decades ago in search of cheaper labor. This has gone hand in hand with the rise of what is called fast fashion – very cheap clothes that are only meant to be worn a few times and then thrown away.
When pandemic lockdowns hit Europe and the United States, many of the world’s largest retailers responded by demanding hefty retroactive discounts or refusing to pay for orders as they initially feared struggling to sell clothes. . Revenue fell at some mass market brands, but many large retailers returned to profitability as bottlenecks eased.
H&M, the Swedish fashion retailer, said it was aware that the hours of many Asian garment workers had been cut due to “widespread blockages around the world and decreased customer demand.”
“There is undeniably a need for structural change in several garment-producing countries with weak social protection systems,” the company told the Financial Times, noting that it had during “this unprecedented period fully supported our practices of responsible purchasing “.
Inditex, the Spanish owner of the Zara chain, which produces most of its clothing in Morocco, Turkey and Spain, said it had paid in full for all orders that had been produced or were in production at the time of the lockdown.
He also said he supported organizing and collective bargaining in his supply chain “as a way to promote workers’ rights and fair wages”.
The relationship between international fashion brands and those who sew the clothes has long suffered from an imbalance of power.
The drop in prices paid for clothing made in Asia, which has been evident for years, has been accelerated by the pandemic, said Christie Miedema, campaign and awareness coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign.
âThe speed at which prices are falling now is due to the crisis. . . many garment factories are in financial difficulty after the cancellation of the order and [are] desperate, âshe said.
The campaign group warned that as coronavirus infection rates continued to rise across the world, the situation for garment workers was likely to worsen. He estimated the loss of wages and jobs in the region based on statements from employers, industry and worker surveys as well as media reports.