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Companies should protect workers: Clean Clothes Campaign

Apr '20
Pic: Shutterstock
Pic: Shutterstock
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the grossly unequal power relations that define global garment supply chains, with workers paying the price, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign network, whose member organisations recently called for action from brands, retailers, governments and other stakeholders to mitigate the impact of this crisis on workers.

The aim should be to build towards a future in which workers have access to living wages and a social safety net, the Netherlands-based Clean Clothes Campaign, a global network dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries, said in a press release.

As soon as the pandemic hit the world’s major garment companies, they responded with their customary reflex, by pushing risk and costs down the supply chain. This has left many factories without the financial means to pay workers their wages, even for work already done. Millions of workers are now without income and job security, at a time of already extreme anxiety about health risks, the network said.

Now is the time for brands, retailers, and e-tailers to stop taking advantage of suppliers and workers and start paying back for the years of profits made on the basis of poverty wages, little-to-no social security, and the accumulation of risk at the bottom of the supply chain, it said.

To act responsibly at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, brands, retailers and e-tailers need to honour their obligations to suppliers and workers by paying for orders that are completed or in production; ensure and enable payment of wages or severance to all apparel, textile, footwear and logistics workers who were employed at the onset of the crisis; ensure that workers who work during the pandemic can follow World Health Organisation protection standards and are provided with additional labour protection including childcare facilities or allowances, health insurance, paid sick days, and hazard pay; and ensure that workers can refuse unsafe work and workers who are ill, or whose family members are ill, can stay at home without being penalised.

“The absolute minimum that brands and retailers must do during this crisis is to pay for work already commissioned. When the practice of most brands to cancel orders was criticized, several major apparel companies back-tracked their decision, to the relief of factory owners,” said Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum.

“However, several major players in the field, including C&A, Gap, Nike, and Uniqlo, continue to stand by their decision not to pay for work already in process or completed, or have turned to insufficient alternatives, such as Primark’s proposal for a fund to pay for the worker wage portion of its cancelled orders,” she said.

To alleviate the plight of the workers whose livelihoods are threatened by this crisis, it is necessary to create emergency relief funds and financial support packages specifically for the garment sector, with contributions from international financial institutions, donor governments, as well as brands and retailers, the network said.

Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign International Office, said: “This crisis is the worst wake-up call imaginable to show that the total absence of social security as a concept in current supply chains is not sustainable. If supply chains start functioning again, they must start to operate with a radically changed pricing model that allows for the payment of living wages, social benefits, and worker safety.”

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (DS)

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