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The fashion industry's victims of COVID-19 that can't be seen

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

25 Mar 2020

Store closures, adjusted profit outlooks, tumbling share prices, empty high streets, these are the daily reports the fashion industry is facing during the coronavirus pandemic.

But aside from the dire circumstances endured by the big corporate retail players and luxury houses, most of whom will bounce back or be entitled to support from government stimulus packages, the real economic slump will be faced by the thousands of ‘behind the scenes’ workers, those making the products we wear.

Thousands of job losses

20,000 garment workers in Cambodia face job losses from factory closures because of shortages of raw materials from China and reduced orders from buyers in the virus-affected locations including the U.S. and Europe. Thousands have already lost their jobs in Myanmar. Garment workers in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are uncertain of their futures. India announced a 21-day lockdown this week, affecting factory workers, embroiderers and silk weavers amongst others.

Indirect workers more affected than direct employees

COVID-19 is affecting supply chains and disrupting manufacturing around the world. According to research from Martijn Boersma, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney and Justine Nolan Professor, UNSW Law, it is the millions of supply chain workers not directly employed by the brands for whom they produce goods, who can be left destitute when the work stops. As work dries up, desperation among workers grows. In such circumstances working conditions can quickly deteriorate at the hands of unscrupulous employers. This can result in modern slavery, which includes forced labour and human trafficking.

In an article published in The conversation, Boersma and Noland state some companies chose to take a narrow approach to investigating and reporting on what went on their supply chains after the introduction of Britain’s Modern Slavery Act in 2015. The first step for those companies that are serious is to understand what they can see and what they cannot.

Companies need to drill down beyond their direct suppliers. Some will be able to easily trace the origin of their raw materials, most will not. The second step is to understand risk correctly. It is important to consider not only risks to the business, but also the risks the business poses to others, including its indirect employees.

Image: courtesy Bangladesh accord; Article source: The Conversation

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