Pandemic leaves Asian textile workers even more unprotected

  • Many employees have stopped receiving or lost their jobs without compensation due to the reduction or cancellation of their order as a result of the health crisis

The fashion industry has been reprimanded for years by poor safety and working conditions of factory workers who, mainly in countries of Asia, they make pieces of clothing piecework so that every week there is a new collection in western stores. According to the organization Clean Clothes Campaign, based in the Netherlands and working with the European Commission to monitor respect for labor rights in the sector, the coronavirus pandemic has aggravated the problem. Many workers in Asian countries have stopped getting paid or have lost their jobs without compensation due to the cancellation or reduction of orders of brands as a result of the health crisis, thus bearing the greatest impact of the global production stoppage.

“The pandemic has revealed more than ever that many fashion brands they use their power in the market to impose unfair trade deals to its suppliers “, highlights the organization.

Living wage

But before covid-19, their situation was already very precarious. Strenuous hours to meet fast-paced delivery times and harsh and unsafe working conditions “for half or a third of the living minimum wage, which in these countries is above the minimum wage set by governments “, explains Mathilde Charpail, founder of the NGO Sustain Your Style. In Bangladesh, for example, the second is set at about 85 euros per month for textile workers , while to be able to live with dignity about 350 euros are necessary.

According to a Clean Clothes Campaign investigation carried out in 2019, none of the big fashion brands was able to demonstrate that workers who produced their clothes in Asia, Africa, Central America or Eastern Europe were earning wages to lift themselves out of poverty. “Factory owners say they have no choice but to keep wages low due to the low prices that buyers pay (…). Governments, for their part, have kept minimum wages low due to the pressure from brands and distributors, and in an attempt to create or protect jobs, increase export levels and increase GDP “, adds this organization, which criticizes the opacity to identify which brands work with which factories, thus preventing rights violations from being reported.

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Health and Safety Code

Despite these obstacles, the United Nations, the European Union or the International Labor Organization (ILO) legislate and promote global agreements to improve the conditions of these workers. Earlier this October, the ILO adopted a code of practice on health and safety in the industries of the sector, where the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka (Bangladesh) is still very present, a building that housed textile workshops that collapsed in 2013 and caused the death of more than 1,100 people. These recommendations, which could benefit more than 60 million workers, offer advice on how to control the main risks related to chemicals, tools, machinery, as well as the safety of buildings and fires.

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