GoodWeave International, a nonprofit working to end child, forced and bonded labour in global supply chains, recently launched its COVID-19 Child and Worker Protection Fund to deliver immediate humanitarian aid and services to vulnerable populations in India, Nepal and Afghanistan. The focus is on reaching marginalised workers and children in producer communities where GoodWeave field teams are embedded. Nina Smith, CEO, elaborates on the project.
What is GoodWeave's understanding of the humanitarian situation (in the covid-19 context)?
Under usual circumstances there is widespread factory outsourcing in the South Asian apparel industry that taps an informal workforce. This informal workforce is unseen by brands that conduct their social compliance efforts primarily in Tier One factories. The informal, home-based workers are mostly women and girls, and conditions such as child and forced labour are prevalent. In the recent Tainted Garments report by Siddharth Kara, Blum Center for Developing Economies, University of California, Berkeley, findings show that in India, child labour makes up 17 per cent of this workforce, forced labour is 7 per cent, and the average wage is just over $1 a day. This situation already represents a humanitarian crisis of sorts. Add on top of that the covid-19 crisis, which has resulted in the complete loss of work and income for the informal workforce, as well as lack of access to health information and care, and we are now seeing widespread hunger and panic set in.
What have you noticed in the textiles-apparel-fashion industry in India, Nepal and Afghanistan? Has incidence of bonded labour gone up/down during the pandemic?
Right now it's too early to know what is happening in terms of bonded labour cases, since most manufacturing has halted. But with the increased vulnerability that these workers will face, we are expecting to see more bonded labour cases and are already preparing awareness programmes for exporters, sub-contractors and workers to try to prevent this, as well as interventions to enhance financial inclusion.
Nepal and Afghanistan do not figure much in the discourse when it comes to our industry. What is your observation about the state of workers in the textiles-apparel industry in these two countries?
Like in India, textile workers in Nepal and Afghanistan are typically informal, meaning they don't have formal contracts and documented conditions of work. They face difficulties organising themselves to bargain for minimum wages, let alone living wages. Women usually work in the home setting, and while they add significant value to the garment, for example with embroidery or beading, they face gross underpayment and "invisibility" to the buyers, which leads to exploitation of all types.
Could you add something more about the work that you are doing?
Brands and consumers can improve these conditions by insisting on full supply chain transparency and evidence that all workers are accounted for and ensured their rights. GoodWeave is working directly with apparel companies to help them gain visibility into their supply chains in Northern India, as well as implement best practices in prevention and remediation of child, forced and bonded labour. For more information on the programme, see http://goodweave.org/apparel/. Consumers can look for the GoodWeave label on select products.
This article was first published in the August 2020 edition of the print magazine.
Published on: 01/09/2020
DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.
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