How garment brands can ease the impact of Covid-19 across the supply chain

[1 April, 2020] Fair Wear Verification Officer and Vietnam Country Manager Annabel Meurs lays out seven measures brands can take to ease the impact of the pandemic on suppliers and garment workers.

What are we going to tell garment brands about what they can do to navigate these uncertain and unprecedented times? That was one of the main questions after Covid-19 hit our member brands’ supply chains. For the past 20 years, we have worked with committed brands towards better labour conditions in garment factories. Our guidelines for brands have been clear. We know what the problems are and what steps brands should take – and are taking- in order to do better. But we have never experienced something as extraordinary and disruptive as this. While brands and retailers are closing shops and are struggling to keep their businesses afloat, on the other end of the supply chain, workers are being subjected to massive layoffs. Every day, our local teams update us on the often upsetting developments impacting the livelihoods of garment workers in their countries.

These are the times that both governments in garment production countries as well as European countries need to step up and take responsibility for the people who make our clothes. And although garment brands are facing extreme difficulties, there are still many things that they can do, too. At Fair Wear we see it as our role – during this crisis as well as in general – to support our member brands in upholding their responsibility towards the garment workers in their supply chain. Despite these challenging circumstances, Fair Wear still expects its member brands to uphold their obligations towards garment workers in their supply chains. Responsible purchasing practices are needed now more than ever.

Below you will find a selection of measures that every garment brand should take to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on their suppliers and workers. You can also find them in Fair Wear’s Covid-19 dossier that we’re updating as the situation develops.

  1. Do not cancel orders that are (almost) ready to be shipped, that are already in production or for which fabric has already been purchased and/or cut.
  2. Anticipate changes or delays in production and be flexible about delivery dates, payment terms and financial liability.
  3. Good communication with suppliers and customers is essential.
  4. In collaboration with suppliers, consider the following measures where possible:
    • Prioritise orders based on real demand.
    • Accept extended lead times and push back sales meetings to allow for later delivery.
    • Investigate whether slowing down capacity and spreading orders over a longer period is an option. Or whether some orders can be split or prioritised over others.
  5. This situation should not automatically lead to the postponement of scheduled payments. We understand the predicament brands are in to even ensure the payment of brand staff’s salaries, but also investigate how to avoid passing this on to suppliers.
  6. If a factory is forced to close or is struggling to pay its workers, assess whether it is possible to support your supplier financially to help pay wages, especially if you take up a high percentage of its production capacity or if you own the factory.
  7. Make sure workers and their representatives are included in negotiating changes to factory policies and the measures the factory is taking. Ensure workers can access the Fair Wear complaints helpline.

For more information and guidance on the impact of Covid-19 on the garment industry, have a look at Fair Wear’s full Covid-19 dossier.