The first wave of Covid-19 dealt garment manufacturers a devastating blow. Now, with the pandemic resurging across North America and Europe, triggering further lockdowns and sending whole economies crashing into existential despair, the odds of their survival—let alone recovery—remain dim.
Brands and retailers in the global north are generally taking a wait-and-see approach to the coronavirus crisis, even as a number of them continue to amass profits.
“I work for a sourcing office and being an intermediary, we are directly witnessing the factories being destroyed over brands’ one-sided exploitative actions,” Bappy Nurul Muktadir, director of operations at Evelyn Textiles in Bangladesh, told Sourcing Journal. “As the orders get suspended indefinitely, and worse, canceled, factories face skyrocketing liability on top of repeated worker unrest for layoffs or shutdowns.”
Indeed, it’s the workers furthest upstream who are bearing the brunt of buying decisions, which are designed to protect corporate coffers to the exclusion of all else, experts say.
A survey of 50 leading brands, published in November by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre found a “mismatch” between the industry narrative of building back better and the lack of policy development to adequately protect the people who make its clothes. More than half (29) stayed in the black, yet nine had yet not committed to paying for any orders they canceled or suspended at the onset of the pandemic. Just one company—PVH Corp., which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger—had coaxed its suppliers to implement a “pandemic policy” to ensure vulnerable workers are not being disproportionately targeted for layoffs, though 25 said they had a pre-existing policy that covered this and seven said they had reiterated the same policy to their suppliers.