According to a labor rights organization, due to international retailers canceling orders and demanding price cuts after the pandemic, Asian garment workers have been deprived of nearly $12 billion in wages and severance payments.

The Clean Clothes Campaign said that in seven Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, approximately 1.6 million garment workers have lost their jobs, and many have been refused severance payments. In the countries it surveyed, with the exception of Indonesia, the average loss of workers’ wages was equivalent to two months or more of wages.

As factories across Asia are closed due to blockades or cancellation of orders, employees are fired or paid only a small part of their normal wages, which poses huge problems for workers in industries where low wages are difficult to save.

Khalid Mahmood, director of the Pakistan-based Labor Education Foundation, said that the global fashion supply chain with layoffs and wages of less than US$2.5 trillion “is not just happening in a factory in Bangladesh or Pakistan.”

“This is happening throughout the clothing industry [with] Garment workers worldwide are owed $11.85 billion,” he added.

Decades ago, most Western fashion retailers moved clothing production from their home countries to South Asia and Southeast Asia in search of cheaper labor. This is closely related to the rise of so-called fast fashion-very cheap clothes, worn only a few times and then thrown away.

When the pandemic blockade hit Europe and the United States, many of the world’s largest retailers responded Request a significant retrospective discount Or they refused to pay for the order because they were initially worried that it would be difficult to sell the clothes. Revenues of some high-street brands have fallen, but as the blockade measures eased, many large retailers have returned to profitability.

Swedish fashion retailer H&M stated that it is aware that the working hours of many Asian clothing workers have been cut due to “widespread lockdowns and reduced customer demand”.

“It is undeniable that some garment producing countries with weak social security systems need structural changes,” the company told the Financial Times, noting that it “fully supports our responsible sourcing practices in these unprecedented times.”

Inditex, the Spanish owner of the Zara chain, where most of the clothing is produced in Morocco, Turkey and Spain, said it has paid in full for all orders that have been produced or are being produced during the lockdown.

It also stated that it supports joining unions and collective bargaining in its supply chain “as a way to promote workers’ rights and fair wages”.

The relationship between international fashion brands and sewing makers has long been in a state of power imbalance.

Christie Miedema, Activity and Outreach Coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign, said that the pandemic has accelerated the decline in the prices of Asian-made clothing, which has been obvious for many years.

“The rate at which prices are now falling is due to the crisis… Many garment factories are in financial trouble after their orders are cancelled. [are] Desperate,” she said.

The movement warned that as the global coronavirus infection rate continues to climb, the situation of garment workers may get worse. It estimates wages and unemployment in the region based on survey statements by employers, industries and workers, as well as media reports.


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