11.8 million worldwide job losses in textile & garment sector
The impact of the economic crisis on the textile, garment, leather and footwear sectors has been dramatic. Since June 2008, over 8,200 factories have closed and an estimated 11.5 million workers have lost their jobs.
As many as a further 3 million jobs are estimated to be at risk. For many of these workers, the prospects of finding alternative employment are bleak.
The situation is particularly tragic for workers in developing countries where there are no social safety nets. In addition, as many as 80 per cent of the workers involved are women and again the vast majority are less than 24 years old and often the only breadwinner in their extended family.
Migrant workers are, as always, among the most vulnerable of these workers. Migrant workers typically owe recruitment fees - sometimes as high as US$5,000, the equivalent of ten years wages at the local minimum wage - and losing their jobs leaves them unable to pay off their debts.
Bangladesh alone has some 6 million migrant workers, many employed in overseas textile, garment or shoe enterprises and their forced return to their country will further increase pressures.
Those workers who are employed are often reduced to short-time working, face demands from employers for wage cuts, longer working hours and unpaid overtime, and this in an industry where wages for a standard working week usually fall well below what is needed to survive.
This situation has been made worse by the fact that many buyers from brands and retailers have been demanding price cuts, often in mid-contract.
Healthy companies that are able to expand - particularly those in the garment sector - often find themselves unable to do so because of the lack of liquidity as bank lending has dried up.
Unfortunately trade unions in many countries, after years of suppression, are weak and unprepared for the task of adequately representing and defending workers at this crucial time.
The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation noting that in this crisis, as in those that preceded it, workers are being asked to make sacrifices without any guarantee of reward when economic recovery returns.
It believes that urgent measures are needed to assist workers withstand the pressures of the moment and to establish a strategy for recovery. Such a plan should be comprehensive and should include the following elements:
• Governments must take the lead in relieving the crisis and preparing for recovery, providing economic, industrial and social infrastructure, including social safety nets, and strictly enforcing legislation, particularly labour legislation;
• The various stimulus packages currently being rolled out need to be increased and better targeted putting emphasis on the retention and creation of decent jobs;
• Manufacturing industry must be recognized as a key and essential element of all national economies;
• The consolidation of textile, garment and footwear supply chains should be based on shifting orders to suppliers who provide decent work through respect for international labour standards and no new suppliers should be added who do not meet this criteria;