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A group of fourteen organisations working on better labour conditions for garment workers has released a statement on responding responsibly to the Covid-19 crisis, calling on garment brands and governments for urgent action. They are deeply concerned about the livelihoods of millions of workers and demand better social protection and that businesses act responsibly. Read the full statement below, or download it here.
We have come together as a group of organisations working on responsible business conduct in the garment industry to collaborate in these unprecedented times. Together we represent more than 2000 garment brands and retailers committed to improving working conditions. As a group with shared interests, we are exchanging resources, tools, good practices, and guidance for our members and supporting advocacy with governments and multilateral institutions.
Two priorities that urgently need our attention in response to Covid-19 and its impact on the garment industry and its workers:
The impact of Covid-19 has magnified existing inequalities, systemic vulnerabilities, and challenges in global garment supply chains. The health and livelihoods of millions of garment workers and their families – who often cannot rely on savings, loans, or public safety nets – are at risk. The majority of garment workers are women, often concentrated in low-pay, low-power positions, underrepresented in unions and with additional unpaid child, elderly and sick care duties. Covid-19 has put them at a particular risk, not only for their immediate health but also for their immediate and long-term financial situation.
We call upon brands, retailers, suppliers, governments, trade unions, industry associations, civil society and multilateral organisations to work together to enable factories to maintain employment relationships and make changes in the workplace in order to protect the health of garment workers.
Factories must ensure on-time payment of salaries to workers who remain actively employed. If facilities have to close temporarily, it should be a top priority of all stakeholders to support workers directly or in accessing finances to bridge this period that they cannot work. When worker retrenchment cannot be avoided due to long-term factory closure or bankruptcy, all workers should receive their full legal entitlements, including wages, benefits, and severance pay.
We welcome the global call to action Covid-19: Action in the Global Garment Industry setting out priorities and commitments for joint industry action to respond to the pandemic. We plan to align each other and other key stakeholders to implement these two priorities.
Covid-19 has massively disrupted the current way of doing business. While the immediate effects of the crisis have been severe, the situation offers a unique opportunity to rebuild structures in a more sustainable and fair way. A key point of attention will be building functioning social protection floors for workers, including unemployment benefits. Fair and collaborative relationships between retailers, brands, and suppliers, as well as prices that cover the cost of responsible production, should form the foundation of future global supply chains. We look forward to the results of the dialogue among global social partners which will likely set out priorities and commitments for joint industry action to respond to the pandemic. We plan to align each other and other key stakeholders to implement these two priorities.
This first joint statement is focused on the crisis and early recovery phase and:
We are working on additional guidance concerning the recovery phase and post-Covid-19 period.
Governments of garment-producing countries certainly have a duty to protect and care for their citizens. We also call upon governments of countries where the head offices of our member brands and retailers are based to take into consideration the impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak throughout global supply chains. We call upon our governments to coordinate with multilateral institutions to provide relief funds directly to garment workers and prioritise employment when providing relief to companies.
This crisis demonstrates the need for long-term, sector-wide improvements securing social protection floors for workers in sourcing countries. We call upon governments and multilateral institutions to establish and maintain strong social protection floors, and to extend social protection for workers and employers in the garment industry, consistent with ILO standards including health and sickness benefits, unemployment, employment injury, and medical insurance, involving trade unions and industry associations in the process. To ensure the long-term sustainability of garment supply chains, we call on governments to financially support a collaborative, coordinated approach to create and strengthen these social protection floors in producing countries.
We understand garment brands and retailers are facing extremely difficult times and are focused on keeping business afloat. Despite these challenging circumstances, companies must continue to uphold principles of responsible business conduct. This includes understanding how their decisions during the crisis will impact workers in their supply chain and doing everything they can to mitigate negative impacts. We provide country-specific guidance on our websites (see annex) to help members stay updated on the situation in production countries and encourage them to pay close attention to concerns flagged by local stakeholders; in particular trade unions. We call on companies to communicate transparently about the measures they take in this crisis to ensure accountability and peer learning. Each organisation is working directly with its members to provide more detailed guidance, resources, and examples of good practices (see annex). We call upon our members and all garment brands and retailers to implement the following key responsible practices during the crisis and initial recovery phase.
Note: Fair Wear has issued this statement to call upon brands, including its members, to follow the guidance on responsible sourcing decisions. If you have a question related to this guidance and a situation in a factory that supplies one of our members, please contact us here.