What apparel brands’ have done has posed so many life-altering questions before the Asia workers. Workers are worried if and when they’ll get their wages? And when will garment workers go back to the mills and factories where they work so they can work and get their wages. The Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity has also expressed concern over the same and mentioned that workers are worried about paying for food and rent. The garment retailers and fashion brands have cancelled more than $ 3 billion worth of orders and even denied to pay for already produced clothes or in production.
Brands’ turning their back on garment workers has led to job losses, temporary layoffs and non-payment of wages. Their acts are contrary to the human rights responsibilities mentioned in United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and OECD Due Diligence Guidance for responsible supply chains in the garment and footwear sector. Due to their inconsiderate actions, the suppliers in Asia are suffering from cash crunch and hence, not in a position to pay their workers.
Brands should implement measures to minimize the plight of garment workers in their global supply chains and for their families who depend on this income for their survival.
Human Rights Watch has interviewed 11 manufacturers and industry experts about the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic on brands and supplier chains and their workers in Asian Countries and has reviewed email communications from brand representatives to their suppliers and interviewed their workers’ rights groups.
The brands’ and retailers’ sales have crashed due to the pandemic. Many have willingly closed their retail stores to contain the spread of virus whereas others did it due to the mandate of lockdown issued by the governments. However, many brands and retailers have taken advantage of unfair purchasing practices that stimulate labour abuses.
Big brands and retailers do not make advance payments and have longer payment windows after goods stand as ‘shipped’ whereas small and medium sized brands have better negotiating terms i.e. pay up to 30% of purchase order price at the time of raw materials purchase and make the remaining payments on delivery or order completion or shortly afterwards. However, most of the brands do not have favourable payment terms.
However, not all the brands have behaved irresponsibly. Brands like H & M, Zara, and Target USA have taken great steps i.e. committed to take delivery of good already produced or in production and pay for them as previously agreed upon. Many institutional investors have also urged that apparels’ brands should maintain supplier relationship and make timely and prompt payment to suppliers to ensure fair treatment of workers, minimizing job loss, payment of wages, and combat labour abuses.
Few brands have changed their supply altogether and started the manufacture of PPEs, gloves and masks for medical purposes. However, there is a need to ensure that workers involved in manufacture of essential supplies also follow the guidelines provided by WHO to combat COVID-19 i.e. social distancing, washing hands and objects frequently, etc.
Though governments should ensure the welfare of workers in garment industry but not all the governments in Asia are in a position to provide financial relief packages. Hence, international brands, UN Agencies and donors need to step ahead to mitigate the hardships in such nations.
Article Written By- Muskan Sharma
Law Student– Jamia Milia Islimia
(HRDI Work From Home Internship)
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