Covid-19: How does Fair Wear support its members?

Many brands and factories will need support. With supply chains under pressure, Fair Wear will continue to work with its member brands and other industry platforms as well as civil society to find collective solutions – while also calling on (EU) governments to extend any support measures to businesses to include the negative impacts in supply chains. Through all this, it is crucial that brands continue to consider the position of workers in their supply chains and communicate about the issues they come across and the solutions they find.

We summarise here the ways in which Fair Wear is offering support to its members. We value our members’ feedback and will organise regular moments of contact during which we would appreciate any thoughts on further ways we can support the industry in protecting its workers.

Sharing expertise, relevant information and facilitating and exchange

Given the unclear and fluctuating situation, with a lot of uncertainty on how long the COVID-19 crisis will continue to paralyse the whole supply chain, we aim to provide the most recent information from our headquarters in Europe and directly from production countries. We would like to facilitate an exchange between members on how you are responding to this crisis. For those who are channelling the tension surrounding COVID-19 into interesting thoughts and/or solutions to support garment workers, please let us know. We would be happy to share your ideas among our member community. We will facilitate positive dialogue with NGOs, Trade Unions and other relevant stakeholders.

Influencing in production countries

The aforementioned guidelines form the starting point for our lobby and advocacy strategy in production countries. Together with our local teams and partners we work to influence authorities on responding to country-specific needs that will help garment workers during – and following – the pandemic. All economic and labour policies developed by governments during this time should involve the consultation of social partners. Fair Wear’s role is to facilitate dialogue and collaboration with local unions, employers’ associations and labour NGOs in a combined effort to reduce the negative impact on garment factories and its workers. Where we lack a local presence, we will share observations with our strategic partners FNV and CNV or with other relevant organisations, such as ETI, FLA, and CCC, to make stories heard from workers and across the supply chain.

Influencing in European countries

The COVID-19 crisis has impacts far beyond the influence of individual actors in the garment industry. All links in the supply chain will need to show solidarity in order to survive these unprecedented challenges. Together with other responsible business conduct platforms, we aim to create a framework based on unity and solidarity on how to address this crisis responsibly and ensure aligned action.

However, the garment industry is unlikely to face all challenges by itself. Therefore, we want to call upon national governments and multilateral institutions to support our industry. This includes the industry in their jurisdiction, but also the supply chain actors and workers in producing countries in case the national government is not able to support.

First steps to call upon our governments are made at the moment together with our key stakeholders. Within our strategic partnership, the lobby and advocacy group is working on bringing together Dutch employers’ associations InRetail and Modint, the trade unions, and the AGT to create a united message. The initial thought is to lobby for funds to support companies in keeping their commitments in the supply chain. The group is also scoping out possibilities to inform the Ministry and Dutch MPs on the situation in the garment supply chain and ask them to make funds available to create a safety net for supply chain actors and their workers. To better understand the situation in Germany, we are contacting key stakeholders in the German market and considering a tailored approach to organise federal support (in collaboration with the PST, our national stakeholders and member brands). BMZ has started initial talks with stakeholders on a crisis fund for emergency relief as well as structural support for systemic improvement in production countries.

Collaborating with other organisations in the sector

We are in close contact with other responsible business conduct platforms to align on what can reasonably be expected from garment brands in these times. In doing so, we hope to create a framework for the industry on how to address this crisis responsibly and ensure our respective member brands take aligned action.

How do we continue to support members with our regular activities?

Due to travel and meeting bans in many countries, Fair Wear has postponed and cancelled most audits and scheduled WEP training for March and April. This limits our ability to stay on top of problems, which means it is even more important for brands to communicate actively with their suppliers. In addition, brands should make extra effort to communicate with local trade unions or the worker representatives at their factories to ensure that they find out about key issues affecting the workers.  In the countries where we have local teams we will reach out to stakeholders and members for information. As soon as the situation improves, we will identify high-risk factories and recommend members to audit these. We will increase the number of WEP basic training sessions and use these to inform workers about their rights.

During the outbreak, we will:

  • Increase our complaints-handling capacity. In most cases it will not be possible (or wise) to send a team to factories to investigate complaints, but we will still collect information and consult workers and their representatives where possible;
  • Explore opportunities to work with local stakeholders, to collect information on workers’ situations; and
  • Explore opportunities to work with international organisations to find other ways to listen to workers’ needs.

After the outbreak, we will:

  • Investigate complaints whenever possible;
  • Increase audit capacity as much as possible;
  • Provide members with a remediation guide on government requirements; and
  • Provide more remediation support to members, either with our own team or by referring members to other organisations.