Fashion industry's COVID crisis hits vulnerable workers hardest

Brands must better support garment workers, says new report

COVID-19 has been devastating for the fashion industry, with 50 million garment workers around the world losing wages in early 2020, according to Baptist World Aid Australia (BWAA).

As clothing sales plummeted and fashion companies were forced to temporarily shut stores, the workers at the bottom of the supply chain were among the most affected.

Over 30 per cent of Bangladeshi garment workers reported their children had gone without food.

Baptist World Aid’s annual Ethical Fashion Report, released today, reveals the impact of COVID on some of these garment workers.

In Bangladesh, “more than half of garment manufacturers reported in March that the majority of their in-progress or completed production had been cancelled by major fashion brands. By May, over 30 per cent of Bangladeshi garment workers reported their children had gone without food,” BWAA says.

However, the 2020 COVID Fashion Report also offers some good news. Over 70 per cent of the 96 companies (representing 428 brands) assessed could demonstrate they had taken positive actions to support vulnerable garment workers during the pandemic.

Among the top-performing brands, in terms of supporting workers and following ethical fashion guidelines, were Aussie and New Zealand brands Country Road, Glassons, Retail Apparel Group (Tarocash, yd. and Connor) and Kathmandu. International brands, such as Patagonia, The Iconic and UNIQLO, also rated highly.

But there is still lots of room for improvement, especially as COVID’s impact continues to be felt by garment workers across the world.

The report found most companies (56 per cent) were unable to evidence actions in all six areas of BWAA’s “COVID Fashion Commitments”. These include actions such as supporting workers’ wages by honouring supplier commitments, listening to workers and ensuring workers’ rights and safety are respected.

“The pandemic has … the potential of reversing a decade worth of progress made in improving the rights and conditions of garment workers across the globe.” – John Hickey

BWAA CEO John Hickey said that “fashion companies have been literally fighting for survival in 2020.”

“But the wellbeing of the workers who produce the garments they sell must still be considered a core priority. Survival is critical, but it should not be achieved on the backs of their most vulnerable workers.”

Hickey continued: “The pandemic has impacted the fashion industry at great scale, with the potential of reversing a decade worth of progress made in improving the rights and conditions of garment workers across the globe. This special edition of our annual report aims to acknowledge the brands committing to stand with the workers during the crisis and motivate others to do the same.”

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2020 COVID Fashion Report

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