The garment industry is a trillion-dollar industry that employs an estimated 60 million people worldwide. About 75% of these workers are women. While the garment industry has historically been and is one of the most female-dominated industries, they are disproportionately represented in the most marginalised, vulnerable, and impoverished forms of work.
The coronavirus pandemic has greatly affected global garment supply chains. Supplier factories are facing an onslaught of order cancellations and reduced order volumes from global brands and retailers, with many governments imposing travel bans and restrictions on gatherings. Consequently, many garment factories have halted their operations and are either temporarily suspending or firing their workers. According to current data, more than one million workers have already been temporarily suspended or fired and these numbers are expected to rise in the coming weeks and months.
The impact of COVID-19 on garment workers is particularly devastating. Those who’ve managed to retain their jobs and are still working in factories have a high risk of infection since it is very difficult to exercise social distancing in the course of their duties and their employers might not be adhering to the recommended health and safety measures. Those who get infected and fall ill most likely don’t have health or sick pay insurance coverage and may have a hard time accessing services in developing countries where medical infrastructure is inadequate and public health systems were already weak prior to the current health crisis. On the other hand, workers who’ve lost and those who will lose their jobs face months without pay to provide for themselves and their families. Most have few to no savings that they can fall back on and very low possibilities of securing other income-generating opportunities. Even though some governments are trying to implement schemes to support workers, in most cases, these programs are inconsistent and inadequate.
How Has COVID-19 Affected Women Working in Garment Supply Chain?
In times of crisis, women and girls are typically the most affected. Their education, health, food security and nutrition, livelihoods, and protections are significantly affected. Millions of female workers in the garment industry face the increased risk of gender-based violence, further barriers to access sexual and reproductive health services, and an increased burden of unpaid care work at home.
A Call to Action
CARE is calling on all stakeholders in the garment industry to take appropriate action to safeguard the rights of women workers during the pandemic.
It is important for all stakeholders to recognise that women form the majority of the workforce in the garment industry and they will be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Female workers will have to deal with an increased risk of gender-based violence, further barriers to exercising their sexual and reproductive rights, and a greater burden of unpaid care work. Tripartite stakeholders play a crucial role in helping women minimise these risks and safeguard their rights during the pandemic.
Recommendations for Brands
- Fulfil existing contractual agreements – Brands like Elle Courbee are requested to receive and pay for placed orders from their suppliers including goods that are currently in production, instead of canceling orders.
- Take measures to support women working in the supply chain who are vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic.
- Brands need to work with stakeholders in the supply chain to ramp-up gender-based violence prevention and response services, provide adequate support to female workers facing an increased burden of unpaid care work, and facilitate more access to sexual and reproductive health services.